PART V: HATS OFF TO ELITES
This is Part 5 of a five-part series on Elite Series anglers and their relationship with hats.
For Mike Iaconelli, every piece of his fishing equipment needs to be in concert; his rod, reel, line, bait, hat.
“A hat is very important element to fishing,” Ike said. “You think about the equipment, the rod and reel, the line, the bait, the boat, it’s not as important as a hat – from the standpoint of getting a lucky hat.”
“I’m serious. I’m not super superstitious, but this is the way I operate. I’ll practice with hats, and if I have a bad practice day, I change my hat until I find a hat that’s working. That’s when a fishing hat transforms into a catching hat.”
This is actually kind of easy to believe because of how ritualistic anglers can be: gotta go to gas station X for my sausage biscuit; landing a fish on the first cast is a bad omen; no bananas, etc.
Wear your lucky hat at all times actually makes this Top 10 fishing superstition list, so Ike and others might be on to something. If they think they’re going to do well, that confidence might really help them. You can call it silly or crazy, but you can’t discount the “catching hat” theory, or any other thing that gives an angler good vibes or that winning edge.
“If I find a good hat in practice, I’ll keep that hat through the event as long as I continue to have a good day,” Ike said. “If I have a bad day, I change the hat. You can make it last sometimes a tournament, sometimes two or three, then it will fall out of favor.”
Iaconelli and his hat success cannot be denied. He won the Bassmaster Classic in 2003 wearing a red Mann’s hat he still has. Three years later, he captured season-long magic from one hat.
“In 2006, I got on a good hat in the first tournament of the year and I rode that hat to an AOY win,” he said. “Toyota red, that’s hardly red anymore. I still have that. That’s a piece of memorabilia I kept.”
Davy Hite, who has two AOYs and a Classic victory, doesn’t seem like the superstitious type, but he said it’s really a simple rule to follow as far as hats.
“If it’s feeling good and you’re catching fish, you keep wearing the same one,” he said. “If you don’t catch fish, you throw it away and get another.”
Winners always get top billing. After his first Elite victory on Winyah Bay, South Carolina’s Britt Myers said the Mercury hat he wore might just be his “lucky hat.” Bernie Schultz, who actually wears visors instead of hats, said his favorite one is “the one I’m wearing when I’m catching good fish.”
Stephen Browning breaks down the wear-what-has-ya-catching-'em philosophy.
“My take on hats is I carry about six to eight hats on any given fishing day,” he said. “The reason is, there’s one in there that’s going to make me think better than the rest of them – a thinking cap.
“If things aren’t going real well, I simply change hats. The deal is, you hope you don’t run through all eight in a day’s fishing time. If you do, you had a really bad day. If you only run through one or two, it’s a pretty good day.”
In the end, Browning said the hat really never ends up getting any real credit.
“If I have a really good tournament, like a win, and there’s one specific bait I caught those fish on, I cut it off and put it in that trophy’s mouth,” Browning said.
Ok, then why doesn’t that hat receive credit?
“The bad thing is I might have had to run through seven or eight hats to get that trophy,” he said.
WRONG HAT FOR 32 YEARS
The early bass anglers adopted the baseball cap, although there were other hats like Boonie or bush hats, and the similar bucket hat – the type a trout angler would hang his flies on. The ball caps were light cotton with rounded crowns and a stiff bill, which kept some sun off their faces.
Rick Clunn came to the realization a decade ago that the long days on the water requires more.
“Basically, we stole the baseball game’s hat and it was really an improper hat for us,” he said. “I’ve been at it 42 years and I’d say I used the wrong hat for 32 of those years. We’re still pretty much living in the dark ages when it comes to hats.”
Clunn said about 10 years ago Byron Velvick starting wearing big brimmed Sunday hats to protect more of his head from harmful sun rays. Clunn, Randy Howell, Brian Snowden and several more also wear them in the harshest sunlight.
“We should have been doing that 30 years ago,” Clunn said. “If you start that way, you can probably get accustomed to it. Our hands, I think the covering of our hands now also makes a lot of sense.”
B.A.S.S. co-owner Jerry McKinnis said he regrets not wearing a hat during much of his 44-year career of taking America on the water in The Fishin’ Hole.
“If I could go back, that’s the one thing I’d probably do differently – wear a hat,” he said.
His relationship with a dermatologist has been more frequent than he’d like, as has the freezing, snipping and clipping of potentially cancerous growths.
Mark Davis just went through a well-publicized battle with cancer on his lip from sun exposure, and a number of other Elites, like Kelly Jordon, have had scares with skin cancer and espoused covering up better.
“I know a problem with evolving to the correct hat is running at 70 miles an hour,” Clunn said, noting the chin straps on certain sun hats. “Even now, when you run it tries to choke you. That’s the problem with a fisherman’s hat.”
More anglers are wearing buffs or balaclavas to help protect themselves from over exposure, but Clunn isn’t convinced of their effectiveness. He said he doesn’t know if pro bass fishermen will ever get the perfect headwear because, “I would have come up with it by now,” he said.