Daily Limit: Ike mulling Elite requalification

When asked to comment about his latest B.A.S.S. success, Mike Iaconelli yelled out his satisfaction.

“Wheeww!!! Yeah!!” he bellowed, followed by three indecipherable sounds that signified a high sense of joy. “That’s my quote.”

Ike finished second in the Basspro.com Northern Opens Angler of the Year point standings, earning a Bassmaster Elite Series invitation and leaving the burning question of whether he will he accept.

Of course, he couldn’t answer with a simple yes or no. It’s Ike.

“It was good to be back fishing the full Open schedule. The last few years I’ve had to cherry pick tournaments,” said Ike, who won the 2019 Open on the James River. “A lot of people think because it’s the Opens, the level of competition is not there. That’s a totally false statement. Those guys are as good as the Elites. You got the best locals, the hottest young guys, an immense talent of anglers, a very, very difficult field to compete against. To finish in the top three of those guys, I’m proud of that.”

Coming from a well-decorated pro with victories in every B.A.S.S. circuit, that speaks strongly. Ike, 49, began his B.A.S.S. career with a Federation Nation Championship in 1999 and went on to win eight Bassmaster tournaments, including the famed “Never give up!” Classic in 2003 and an Angler of the Year title in 2006.

Ike is a huge commodity in bass fishing, a well-known brand for his tournament career, complete with antics, and a plethora of shows, complete with more antics. Yet he seemed truly humbled by his Opens standing.

“You know how many years I fished and couldn’t finish in the top three — like 20,” he said. “I don’t take the Opens lightly. I’m proud of the accomplishment. The young guys, I know how much work and time they put in, and I’m proud I could hang. That’s the next crop of fishermen. They’re really, really talented.”

Going into the Opens, requalifying for the Elites was on his mind. The top three in each of three divisions earn invites to fish the top B.A.S.S. circuit, as well as the top three in the overall Falcon Rods Bassmaster Opens Angler of the Year standings.

“My goal was to come in the top three to give myself that option when the time came to make a decision. That’s the truth,” he said.

And now for his answer, which had already been heard on an Ike Live.

“I don’t know if I’m going to fish the Elites next season. I’m going to literally make a decision the day before or the day of the deadline. And I don’t even know what that is,” he said.

So let’s dive into what will factor into his decision. Among the considerations is his latest show, My World with Mike Iaconelli, where he steps into the venue of sports figures like NASCAR’s Martin Truex and pro bowler Kyle Troup, among others, and brings them into his.

“I would call it life,” he said of what he will consider. “Part of it is family, and part is business.

“The show has taken up a tremendous amount of time. I hope people like it, enjoy it. If we end up doing 13 more episodes, I don’t physically see how I can do both. I don’t think it’s possible. Let me not forget to sprinkle in, The Ike Foundation, Ike Live, Bass University, Going Ike. It’s 9 to 5 every day.”

With Ike’s voicemail full, his wife, Becky, was contacted to check his availability. She confirmed her life is full helping manage the chaos, and that she’d have him call when he got off the water practicing for an event. He did, relating that having his MLF tournament schedule canceled by COVID last year presented a new perspective into family.

Mike Iaconelli’s kayak trophy proudly next to his Classic and AOY trophies.

“It was the first time in a really long time I had been home for multiple weeks in a row, and man I enjoyed myself. It felt really nice to be home and to be with the family,” he said, mentioning the joy of doing dad and husband things. “It was a wakeup call for me. I love fishing. Fishing is my life, and I’m a competitor. But there is more to life than fishing. I miss this stuff. Witnessing games, graduations. It was just fabulous. It felt good to be at home more.”

However, the competitive fire still burns. Along with great family time in Pittsgrove, N.J., Ike was able to somewhat quench that thirst in the Northern divisions of the Opens and Toyota Series. In the Opens, Iaconelli was 17th at the James River, fourth at Oneida Lake and 33rd at the St. Lawrence River for a three-way tie in the Northern Opens division.

Iaconelli, who has earned $2.67 million in B.A.S.S. events, added a B.A.S.S. Nation Kayak Series title in August to his accolades, which include two Open wins and a hometown Elite title on the Delaware River. He held the longest active Classic streak before leaving the circuit. He could rest on his laurels.

“You fulfill dreams and win, but the competitor in you wants to win more,” he said. “I do have a level of satisfaction because a lot of my childhood dreams I fulfilled — Classic, AOY, Federation National champion, Open win, now a kayak win. I think if you’re a competitor, you still want to compete.

“Now do I miss the Elites? Do I miss that high level of competition at B.A.S.S.? I absolutely do. I miss it. I miss you guys. I miss the staff. I miss my fellow competitors, the friendships, the comraderies, (Mark) Zona, (Dave) Mercer. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss it.”

Yet there’s that life thing again. It’s pretty fluid, but he said there are certain things that would help him decide.

“It’s a mix of three things,” Ike said. “One business. If the show didn’t continue, or all the sudden there’s a way to step away from some of the responsibility. Two, if the family, Becky and the kids said, ‘Hey dad, we want you back out there. We see it in you. We want you to keep competing.’ I would go back out.

“And the third thing, and this is a hard one to ignore, because every time I post, I see it. The fans really want me to come back. I know that a lot of my fans would love to see me back at that level, at the Elites. Fans have been great. My career has been built around the fans. They are part of the equation too.”

Iaconelli added that if it’s not this year, it might still come down the road, if and when he requalified through the Opens. That’s a lot to say “I don’t know yet,” but that’s the way it is. Ike did say he looked at the 2022 Elite schedule for a couple reasons.

“I looked at how the venues were laid out. Looked because (Open tournament director) Chris Bowes called and said from this moment on you can’t receive any info,” he said. “I like the whole schedule. I really like Oahe. I like the X factor.”

Anglers qualifying through the Opens have approximately two weeks after the final Open, Oct. 21-23 on Grand Lake, to decide whether they will accept the Elite invitation, so expect his final word to come in early November, most likely announced on Ike Live. (He did say he’d alert the Daily Limit, but I’m not holding my breath.)

“If it’s not this year, my intention will be to continue to fish the Opens. Maybe five years, 10 years from now it will be right again,” he said. “I’m going to wrestle with it. It’s not going to be an easy decision.”