GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. – Michael Iaconelli’s ever-evolving game plan for the Diet Mtn Dew Bassmaster Elite at Lake Guntersville took another drastic turn during Saturday’s third round.
The New Jersey pro switched to a Carolina Rig – a technique he calls his “next-to-least-favorite way” to fish – and managed a five-bass limit that weighed 16 pounds, 7 ounces. It pushed his three-day total to 69-8 and kept him in the lead for the third straight day.
Iaconelli’s margin dwindled, however, dropping from nearly 5 pounds as the day began to just 2-2 entering Sunday’s championship round. California pro Skeet Reese caught 25-1 Saturday and jumped into second with 67-6, followed by Tennessean David Walker (67-4) and Oklahoma angler Jason Christie (65-7).
“My least-favorite way to catch fish is with a jiggin’ spoon,” Iaconelli said. “After that, it would be Carolina-rigging. But if I had not pulled out that Carolina Rig, I probably would have only weighed in about 11 pounds today.”
Iaconelli worked the same area that produced catches of 28-2 and 24-15 the first two days. But the fishing was much tougher due to strong winds that made the lake choppy and eventually caused some areas to become stained with mud.
He said he’ll have to decide before take-off Sunday whether he’ll stick with the area that’s been so good to him or finally make a move.
“I still believe in my heart that the area I’m fishing is the winning area,” Iaconelli said. “It’s so hard to leave. My mind keeps thinking I just need to stay in there the entire day and commit. I’m going to go home and think about it tonight.”
Iaconelli did leave the area briefly Saturday to check out a spot where he had found several fish on spawning beds during practice. But after inspecting that area, he said he abandoned any thought of sight-fishing the rest of the way.
“I took it off the table,” Iaconelli said. “When I ran in there today, there were dudes on the bank everywhere. So I just decided I’m not bed fishing.”
Though it helped him hang onto the lead Saturday, Iaconelli said he believes another 16-pound catch Sunday will sink his chances for a wire-to-wire victory. He thinks it’ll take 20-plus pounds, possibly even mid-20s, to win.
With heavy hitters like Reese and Walker on his heels, he may be right.
Reese, who still maintains he had a dismal practice for the event, turned in his best catch so far with 25-1. Unlike most anglers, who said the wind made their days tougher, he said it actually helped him.
“I really did have a horrible practice here,” Reese said. “But one thing I learned is that what I was doing in practice sucked. So why continue to do that? I just kept adjusting and changing and trying to find something new, and I did.
“The wind blew and really helped the bite today, but it’s supposed to be slick tomorrow. I may have to change up a little bit.”
Walker continued what has been a great bounce-back event for him after finishing 107th last month in the Elite Series opener on the Sabine River. After catching 23-1 and 25-5 the first two days, he added 18-14 Saturday and slipped from second to third with 67-4.
Unlike Friday, when he landed a 5-pounder on his first cast, Walker said Saturday was more of a grind. But once he slowed his approach, he caught a good limit that included a 7-pounder, and he was able to steadily cull his way to a solid catch.
Walker wasn’t nearly as happy about the wind as Reese.
“The wind was not helpful at all,” he said. “It got to a point where you had a very small range to throw in. If you tried to throw too far this way or that way, your line just got out of hand.”
The one positive to the wind, Walker said, was that it made things tough for everyone in the area he was fishing.
“One thing that gave me a huge advantage over some of the other people who were fishing around me was those Power-Poles,” Walker said, referring to his shallow-water anchoring system. “I could put them down and stay there and fish, while a lot of people were spinning around and struggling to stay put.”
Other anglers who made the top 12 and qualified for Sunday’s championship round were Carl Jocumsen (64-8), Derek Remitz (64-8), Greg Vinson (64-3), Byron Velvick (63-10), Keith Combs (62-15), Dean Rojas (62-10), Chad Morgenthaler (60-15) and Brent Ehrler (60-9).
The pros will launch from Guntersville City Harbor at 6:15 a.m. Sunday with the final weigh-in scheduled for 3 p.m. back at the park. A $100,000 first-place prize will be on the line.
Local host for the event is the Marshall County CVB.