LEWISBURG, Pa. — Mike Iaconelli isn’t ready just yet for the annual “offseason” of the Bassmaster Elite Series. This weekend he’ll compete on what he claims to be home turf on the Susquehanna River at the Yamaha Rightwaters Bassmaster Kayak Series powered by TourneyX.
In fact, Iaconelli will join fellow Elite pro Greg DiPalma in the tournament. The playing field is the upper reaches of the massive river that concludes as a tidal fishery where it empties into the Upper Chesapeake Bay, where Iaconelli won a 2021 Bassmaster Kayak Series event. Iaconelli is so passionate about kayak tournament fishing that his trophy sits beside his Bassmaster Classic trophy as a testimony to its value in his hall-of-fame fishing career.
“I got into kayak fishing about 12 years ago because it fills a lot of voids for me,” Iaconelli said. “It reminds me of how I grew up fishing small waters in canoes, and it enables me to stay competitive, which I need.”
Like anything else he does, Iaconelli got serious about his kayak fishing gear. Hobie even designed the Mirage Pro Angler 14 360 Mike Iaconelli Edition from which he competes. He competes at the same level of energy, and not just because that defines his angling persona.
“I’ve had people ask me during practice why I’m going down a level, backwards in my level of competing,” Iaconelli said. “That’s not it at all, because these kayak anglers are as good and competitive in their craft as the Elite guys.
“These kayak dudes put in just as much work, are just as competitive, and when you beat them, you’ve accomplished something legitimate.”
Iaconelli grew up in the Philadelphia area and when he returned to his angling roots, annual pilgrimages to the Susquehanna were a summertime ritual.
“The upper river is a real gem; I’ve fished up here for about 15 years now,” he said. “What makes it so great is, in the stretch where we compete, it isn’t accessible to a fiberglass bass boat, which also deters tournament pressure.
“The tournament stretch is also catch-and-release only, and it’s not uncommon to catch over 50 smallmouth a day.”
Iaconelli described the tournament zone as relatively shallow, with moderate current, ultra-clear water and rocky habitat, making it ideal for river smallmouth. The section supports a healthy ecosystem of forage, including shad, redhorse sucker chubs and river shiner, adding to the viability of the smallmouth fishery.
On his first practice day, Iaconelli caught 50 smallmouth, and he identified two priorities in focus for completing his game plan.
“First, I’m looking for a stretch of river that has quality smallmouth, and by that, I mean 16- to 18-inchers, compared to the 12- and 14-inchers that are common,” he said. “Second, I’m looking for concentrations of bait that are beginning to form into schools for the fall period.”
Iaconelli planned to fish a different section of the river each of his allotted practice days to find that combination of needs. Current is a key ingredient to making those two come together in the same place.
“Smallmouth here will move 10, 15 miles to find bait, and that’s easy for them because they just swim and float downstream with the current, just like the bait fish do,” he said. “When they find the bait, they school up and feed in that same area.”
Find the bait, find the bass. That’s a textbook approach to fall fishing anywhere. On the upper Susquehanna, Iaconell will also key on current breaks that form the textbook ambush points for the smallmouth as the bait comes downstream.
He sees two emerging pattens in play, both with the overarching theme of a fall bite that is underway. Those are power fishing for smallmouth on the move, and a finesse approach for the ultra-clear water.
“The river is low and clear, and finesse fishing will be a dominant pattern for catching wary fish,” Iaconelli said.
The weather could be a factor in the Oct. 7-8 event. A low-pressure system will move across the area over the weekend, bringing showers and a significant change in temperatures. Nighttime lows on Saturday night will drop to the mid-40s. A 10-degree temperature drop is forecasted for the Sunday finale, with highs in the mid-50s.
This is the finale of the 2023 Bassmaster Kayak Series season, with the final berths to the championship begin awarded, and the Dakota Lithium Bassmaster Kayak Series Angler of the Year to be decided.