Last-gasp bass takes Classic

NEW ORLEANS — A 3½-pound bass caught with five minutes left in his fishing day earned New Jersey pro angler Michael Iaconelli the 2003 CITGO Bassmaster Classic crown and a $200,000 paycheck.

"I feel proud. It was an amazing punctuation to the day," the 31-year-old Woodbury Heights, N.J., fisherman told reporters after winning on the Louisiana Delta. "I stayed focused until the very last minute that I had to leave."

"I can sum this up in two words," he said of the victory, "Yeah, baby."

His final bass taken in the Venice section of the Delta allowed Iaconelli to cull a 1¼-pound bass from his livewell and gain about 2¼ pounds of total weight on his five-fish limit. His 37-pound, 14-ounce three-day total was 1¾ pounds heavier than the nearest competitor. Iaconelli boated 10 pounds, 14 ounces of bass on Sunday.

Second place and a $50,000 check went to Gary Klein, 45, of Weatherford, Texas, on a total of 36 pounds, 2 ounces (11 pounds, 14 ounces on Sunday). Harold Allen, 58, of Shelbyville, Texas, finished third for $40,000 with a total of 34 pounds, 3 ounces (11 pounds, 14 ounces Sunday). Roland Martin, 63, of Clewiston, Fla., claimed fourth place and $35,000 on a 31-pound, 9-ounce total (11 pounds, 14 ounces Sunday). And Curt Lytle, 34, of Suffolk, Va., took fifth and $25,000 on a final weight of 31 pounds, 3 ounces (10 pounds, 9 ounces Sunday).

Klein, who had finished fourth at three previous Classics, said coming close but not winning makes him even hungrier to win.

"It's going to make me more determined. I'm a fighter," said Klein after completing his 21st Classic. "I've got to get better at my sport."

Klein said his opportunity to win the tournament slipped away Saturday, when he lost a 4-pound bass and a 3-pound bass. "That was my opportunity to close the door, and I missed it," he said.

In a bizarre incident Sunday at about 11 a.m., a camper on shore shot a gun over Klein's boat, he said.

"I was driving my boat south in Bayou Camp Town and a man in a camp on the west side of the bayou was aiming a long gun at our boat," Klein wrote in a voluntary statement to the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff's Office. "As we passed by, he shot over my boat."

Klein plans to press charges if authorities catch the shooter.

Allen said having to leave his best fishing hole early might have cost him a shot at winning. He had been fishing in an isolated canal when a man in an airboat pulled up and told him it was private property and to leave. The same man had told him another canal where he was fishing Saturday was also private property. Allen said there were no signs at either canal indicating they were private property.

"I was pretty messed up mentally," said Allen, who did not catch another bass for more than two hours after being asked to leave the canal. "I feel like we might have had sort of a chance to win this thing or maybe finish second if things had not gone the way they did."