Mike Iaconelli seems to be well on his way to a worldwide bass fishing tour. After touring Italy last year about this time, Ike went to Japan this month mixing business, fishing and sightseeing, and it was all a pleasure.
“It was sick, just a dream trip for me,” Iaconelli said. “I landed in Toyko and for nine days toured the country.”
It was set up with fellow Elite Morizo Shimizu, who had visited Ike in New Jersey last year to film some shows. Ike wasn’t sure he’d get the reciprocal trip until Shimizu asked when he was coming.
“Part of it was coming to fish with Morizo. Part of it was working on ‘Going Ike,’ which we’re expanding next year,” Iaconelli said. “It was an opportunity to film for my show, and also to film for Fishing Vision, which is sort of like a pay-for-view fishing channel.
“Another part of it was to do work for some of my sponsors, Pure Fishing. Berkeley and Abu Garcia have a big Japanese division with a lot of products. Then there’s BassCat – it’s a really popular brand in Japan. The last part was just exploring the country.”
Ike, Shimizu and Seigo Saito, who photographs for B.A.S.S. and served as Ike's interpreter, worked their way from Toyko west to Shimizu’s hometown, Osaka. Ike had three days free of obligations, so they took in the culture at some historic sites.
“He surprised me and we went to some of the old original temples. We wore traditional kimonos as we toured and walked around that day,” Ike said of the popular Kyoto Kimono Dress-up Experience. “It was Morizo’s first time in a kimono, too. It was unbelievable. A lot of people in traditions garb, getting into original culture.”
Iaconelli was blown away by seeing ancient structures and rock walls more than a thousand years old.
“Morizo was great because I got to see it better than a normal tourist would see it. I got the inside on everything, and Morizo is so fun,” Ike said.
And the fishing? Iaconelli said he thought he knew pressure living in New Jersey, but he said Japan’s bass lakes are as crowded as advertised.
“Fishing was difficult,” Ike said. “It was good but it wasn’t easy. I’ve never seen more people bass fishing on all these lakes we hit. On any given day of the week, it didn’t matter, there were hundreds of boats on the water. A 150 to 200. It’s crazy. Then any place we’d go, there were shore fisherman, and I’d say 80 percent of them were bass fishing.”
Ike said they were readily recognized on the water, especially Shimizu as he holds Kevin VanDam status in Japan. He has a long running fishing show and is known there as The King. Fans were courteous, simply waving, bowing and taking any pictures from afar. They never intruded or approached.
The fishing trips were memorable, especially on Lake Biwa when Ike landed a pair of giants, but he was more enlightened and stoked after his visits to tackle shops.
“Along that way, we stopped at four tackle stores and two marinas and did a little sponsor work and got to really see the tackle,” Ike said. “I got to do a little shopping – the stuff they have over there is crazy, big swimbaits, soft baits even cutting edge terminal tackle.
“The tackle and the techniques I came back with, I’m actually going to talk about this on the next Ike Live and my blog.”
Shimizu went out of his way to let Ike experience everything as an insider, and that included food. Ike didn’t want anything to do with the American eateries in Japan, opting to immerse himself in the local cuisine and that included trying just about anything and everything. Weirdest food?
“A sea urchin,” he said. “That was really good, I had never had that before. Quail eggs. Chicken skin. There was weird stuff. I did eat octopus; takoyaki. Octopus balls, like a little fried ball.”
As a kid in the 1980s, Ike recalls reading Bassmaster Magazine with envy about the Japan trips taken by icons likes of Clunn, Brauer, Cockran, Hibdon and Cook.
“I was like, oh my God, one day,” he said. “In all these years, it never worked out. I had been invited but it just never worked out. After all these years, I finally got to go.”
Last October, Iaconelli and wife Becky spent 10 days touring Italy, so he’s thinking he might have to make an after-season trip an annual worldwide deal, like maybe next year spendingt time with Carl Jocumsen in Australia.
For now, he’s just getting over jetlag and a head cold, then prepping to go after a second Bassmaster Classic title.
“I really tried to enjoy the entire experience in Japan,” he said. “I hope I make it back.”
For images of Ike's trip to Japan, click here.