Bassmaster Elite Series pro Mike Iaconelli has long been known as one of the fiercest competitors in pro bass fishing — and one who doesn’t always handle failure well in the moment.
But when the moment has passed, he always shows two qualities in the wake of a failure: professionalism and a staunch determination to learn from his mistakes and do better next time.
The former has benefited Iaconelli tremendously during the months since he finished 84th out of 94 anglers in the 2022 Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year race.
He’s heard question after question about it, and he’s handled it like a seasoned veteran who knows pro fishing is not all puppy dogs and rainbows.
“Having done it this long, there are very few people who are immune to having a bad year during their life and career,” said Iaconelli, the 2003 Bassmaster Classic champion and 2006 Bassmaster Angler of the Year. “For me, when I look back, I’ve had a bunch of them.”
That’s something some fans probably forget because 2022 marked Ike’s return to the Elite Series after three years away. But he insists not every season of his career has gone exactly as he would have liked.
“I’ve actually had a bunch of bad seasons,” said the outspoken New Jersey native. “The one that I can remember that really mimicked this one the most was my 2003 season, which was terrible. The only way I made the Classic was through the old Invitationals — and then I won the Classic.”
Despite making the Classic 18 times from 2002-2019, Iaconelli describes his career as a “roller coaster.” Though last year was a low point on the ride, he says he’s looked back hard at the experience and learned things that will help him moving forward.
“I think you have to look back on a year like that and ask yourself what you did differently, what did you get away from, what should I have done more of,” he said. “When it’s all said and done, when I look back on last year, I don’t think I did a lot of things differently than I have in the past.
“When I look at my Opens performance last year, it was right where it needed to be. On the Elites, it was one of those years where sometimes it just happens that way — sometimes things just lay out where you miss it by 50 feet.”
Iaconelli actually finished sixth in the Northern Division standings of the 2022 St. Croix Bassmaster Opens — and with his season in the books, he took some time to unwind.
First on his offseason slate was a trip to Italy with Abu Garcia Europe and Berkley Europe where he did appearances, fished an event and took in some of the sights.
When a super-cool work trip was done, it was time for a trip to the Bahamas — just him and his wife Becky — that was a gift she purchased for his 50th birthday back in June.
“That trip was sane,” he said. “That was actually a vacation. No work. We bonefished for a day. We did some snorkeling. We vegged out. It was great.”
He came back recharged and feeling a little more like his old Elite Series self.
“If anything really changed for me last year, I think a little bit of that mindset — ‘Hey, I want to win every event’ — might have crept back in for me,” he said. “That was exactly what happened to me in 2003 when I had such a bad season. I was out there swinging for the fences at every tournament, and it kind of got inside my head a little bit.”
Last year being Iaconelli’s first back on the Elite Series since 2018, he says he might have been pressing a little.
“At the subconscious level, sometimes I think you want something a little too much,” he said. “It was my return year. I wanted to come back with a win. It was something I had dreamt about [while] being gone from B.A.S.S. Maybe I just wanted it too much; I don’t know.”
One thing he does know — and here’s where that trademark determination comes in — is that he expects to hold a blue trophy over his head again.
“Getting to spend this last part of my career at B.A.S.S. — I need this to happen,” he said. “And I will leave you with this: I will win again before I’m done with B.A.S.S. It might not be in 2023, but before I’m done with this sport, I will win again. I promise you.”