With a little luck, a little bit of help from new friends and some increased efforts out of himself, Mike Iaconelli kept alive the longest active streak of qualifying to consecutive Classics.
“It’s amazing what just happened,” Ike said. “I had mentally sort of checked out when it looked like I wouldn’t be at the Classic next year. We started looking at the positives of not making it … But I’m so excited. I can’t believe that I’m in again.”
By winning the Bass Pro Shops Central Open on Grand Lake on Saturday, James Elam double qualified for the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods. That opened a spot from the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year point standings, and Ike was next up.
The March 16-18 Classic on Hartwell will be Ike’s 17th consecutive appearance – the 45-year-old from Pittsgrove, N.J., last missed the big show in 2001. In his 19 appearances, Iaconelli has eight Top 6 finishes, including his 2003 title on the Louisiana Delta.
The record for most consecutive Classic appearances is held by Rick Clun, who had 28 from 1974-2001. Kevin VanDam stands second with 24, which ended in 2014, and Larry Nixon third with 18. Ike has tied Gary Klein for fourth all-time at 17. Aaron Martens has the second-longest active streak at 15.
On Facebook, Iaconelli posted a photo of Elam posing with his Open trophy, and he thanked his newest best friend. He also said he owes a bit of gratitude to Jesse Wiggins, who won the Southern Open the week before. That put Steve Kennedy in the Classic and moved Ike one rung closer.
“I’m certainly happy to keep the streak alive,” Iaconelli said. “I’m happy to be fishing, not watching. I’m just fortunate it happened the way it happened.
“At the same time, I helped put myself in that position. I worked hard at St. Clair and Mille Lacs. The work that I put in is really what did it.”
After placing 93rd at Lake Champlain, Ike’s Classic hopes appeared grim. He fell to 55th in the point standings and knew he needed a top finish in the last regular season event just to make the 50-man field in the AOY Championship. A 31st on St. Clair sent him to Mille Lacs at 46th, then his 11th moved him to 41st in the points and eventually to the last man in.