GROVE, Okla. — After twice missing the cut, Michael Iaconelli has one final shot at qualifying for the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods.
He hopes the third time is a charm, just like it was last week for fellow Bassmaster Elite Series pro Steve Kennedy. He qualified by default after Jesse Wiggins did the unheard of, which was triple qualify for the Classic. Wiggins did that by winning the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open on Lewis Smith Lake.
Wiggins’ win opened up the Classic spot for the next angler outside the qualifying points from Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year. Last week, that man was Kennedy.
Now, it’s Iaconelli’s turn to let fate determine his chances of fishing a 17th consecutive Classic. He finds out on Championship Saturday at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open.
Iaconelli missed the cut after finishing outside the AOY qualifying points. He then missed it again after being eliminated in the second-chance Bassmaster Classic Bracket tournament.
Last week, including Wiggins, were four anglers already qualified for the Classic who could help Kennedy get in. Iaconelli has four pros on his side this week at Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees.
His best friends are James Elam, Mike McClelland, Carl Svebek III and Josh Bertrand. McClelland qualified last April after winning Central Open #1 on Table Rock Lake; Svebek won the next event on the Sabine River. Elam and Bertrand qualified through the AOY standings. The Classic berth opens up should any of them win the tournament.
Another longest of long shots also comes into play. The tournament winner must have fished both previous Central Opens in order to qualify for the Classic spot. On the pro roster are 31 anglers from Oklahoma, and not all entered the previous Central Opens. Iaconelli gets in should one of those anglers win this week.
What else are at stake are five invitations for the 2018 Elite Series. Behind leader Bertrand are Randy Sullivan of Breckenridge, Texas; Drew Sloan of Scurry, Texas; and Elite Series pros Chad Morgenthaler and McClelland. Both Sullivan and Sloan have expressed interest in joining the Elite Series.
Bertrand, Morgenthaler and McClelland should requalify for the Elite Series through their standings in AOY points. That leaves the potential for moving down the list in order to fill the spots. Chance Woodard of Paris, Texas; Roy Hawk of Lake Havasu City, Ariz.; and Lee Livesay of Longview, Texas are sixth, seventh and eighth on the point list going into Day 1.
The potential Elite Series anglers considering the opportunity face a tight timeline for securing the sponsors and gaining funds to meet the deadline for entry feed deposits. November 7 is the deadline date for submitting deposits and accepting the invitation.
This final event will close out the Classic qualifying spots available through the Opens. John Cox qualified through the Southern Opens after wining the second event on Lake Chickamauga. Wiggins won the first and third Southern Opens. The Northern Opens qualified veteran B.A.S.S. pro Rick Morris, winner on the James River; Stanley Spyeck Jr. won at Oneida Lake.
After Day 1 the angler most likely to help Iaconelli in his Classic campaign is Elam. The native Oklahoman is third with 14 pounds, 13 ounces. For now, the likelihood of a Kennedy-type repeat is in play at Grand Lake.
What is unlikely is Iaconelli sitting in the stands at a college football game like Kennedy was when learning his fate.
What will Iaconelli be doing on Saturday afternoon? The answer might just be what he enjoys doing the most. Fishing.