Ike ponders next move

There's no arguing that New Jersey pro Michael Iaconelli is one of the more colorful characters in the history of professional bass fishing.

He’s been known to pull a prank or two in his life.

But in spite of all that, he insists he’s not goofing around by making us all wait to see if he’ll accept an invitation to fish the 2022 Bassmaster Elite Series. In fact, he wishes he knew the answer because it would make his life a lot easier.

Iaconelli, a Bassmaster icon who left the Elite Series in 2019 to pursue other pro ventures, requalified this year by finishing second in the Basspro.com Bassmaster Northern Opens points standings. The automatic berth is his for the taking — that much he knows for sure.

But there is much to consider beyond a simple “yes” or “no.”

After the pandemic shutdowns of 2020 and spending a year away from the major national trails in 2021, Iaconelli has spent more time at home with family and friends the past two years than he has in three decades. He admits it’s something he’s gotten used to, and he wonders if he shouldn’t just keep enjoying a life outside the rigors of the pro circuit.

So, there’s family to consider.

Then there are his other business ventures that have taken off like rocket ships. His television show My World with Mike Iaconelli was recently picked up for a second season. His podcast Ike Live is more popular than ever, and things like Bass University and The Ike Foundation — two ventures aimed at introducing people to and educating them about fishing — are booming thanks to all of the new interest generated in the sport by the pandemic shutdowns.

So, there’s business.

Then there are sponsors like Rapala and Toyota that have been loyal to him for years.

“I want to have some serious discussions with my sponsors and ask them how things worked this past year with me not fishing a major national trail,” Iaconelli said. “If they say, ‘Hey, we need you back out there,’ then that’s obviously going to go a long way toward my decision.”

So, sponsors are part of the mix.

Then last, but certainly not least, are the fans — the rabid members of Ike Nation who’ve turned a boisterous, lanky, young Northerner who’s prone to getting a little overexcited with every fish into an absolute legend.

Iaconelli genuinely cares what they want him to do — to the point that he’s floated several straw polls on social media and his podcast.

When I saw Ike’s number show up on my phone the other day, I didn’t even say, “Hello.” I immediately asked if he was calling to give me the scoop on his decision.

After he was done laughing, he said, “I wish it was that simple.”

Unfortunately, it’s been an exercise in agony.

“It’ll probably go down to the very last minute for me deciding,” Ike said. “The night before the decision just has to be made, I’m gonna feel like I’m fishing a tournament needing 15 pounds or I’ll miss the Classic.

“I don’t expect to sleep much that night.”

As someone who’s covered him for many years, selfishly, I’d like to see him back where he belongs.

But mostly, I’m glad he has options — and I want him to have peace.