Every bass fishing nut knows who Michael Iaconelli is. Besides his primal screams after catching a bass he is known for being one of the best tournament anglers to ever wield a fishing rod. How did this kid from Philly become one of bass fishing’s superstars?
Whether by luck or by fate, Iaconelli regards stepping-stones throughout his life to be just as essential to his success as any tournament he has ever won.
Born in Philadelphia, he lived in south Philly with his mother, Roberta, uncle Don Fort and grandparents Joe and Edith Fort. His father died in an auto accident when he was 2 years old.
His grandfather and uncle introduced him to fishing early in life. He has photos of himself at 2 and 3 years of age holding a rod on the banks of the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers.
“If I didn’t have a fishing family this never would have happened,” Iaconelli said of his career.
When he was 6 years old his family moved to a house in Runnemede, N.J., 10 miles from Philadelphia. Regular bank fishing trips to local waters continued. Family vacations to the Poconos Mountains and the Jersey Shore also focused on fishing. These involved casting live bait for anything that would bite and included saltwater outings on backchannel bays from a rented boat.
Another major stepping-stone took place in elementary school where Iaconelli befriended Brian Stockl, Tom Hrynyshyn and Dave Borodzuik who were also into fishing. They continue to be good friends to this day.
“We were the oddballs because nobody else fished,” Iaconelli said.
At some point Iaconelli got his hands on a stash of Bassmaster Magazines from Tom Hrynyshyn’s father who was a B.A.S.S. member. This was another stepping-stone. It was the first time he realized that bass fishing was a “thing.”
He eagerly soaked up the articles and began to experiment with techniques he read about. That year he caught his first bass “on purpose” twitching a Rapala on the surface.
“That is what really started a burn, a desire to fish for bass,” Iaconelli said.
In high school during the 1980s, Iaconelli formed his own company, Baseline Disc Jockeys, and spun records at parties, weddings and other events. He ran the business through college. This is when he learned the breakdancing backspin he employs on the deck of his bass boat.
Iaconelli and his fellow goonies joined the Top Rod Bassmasters in 1990, the year they graduated from high school. It was another step toward stardom for Iaconelli. All the members fished from small boats. The 12-foot polyethylene Coleman Crawdad he received as a graduation gift fit right in. The older anglers in the club were a treasure trove of bass wisdom.
“As mundane as it sounds, fishing against 10 to 15 guys in small boats on little lakes was a big step for me.”
Iaconelli continued to compete in club tournaments while attending New Jersey’s Rowan University where he earned a degree in public relations and advertising. He also fished three Bassmaster Top 100 tournaments as a co-angler.
If there is a pivotal event in Iaconelli’s career it is when he won a Top 100 as co-angler at Lake Norman during his sophomore year. He was awarded a fully rigged bass boat.
“That’s really when it hit me that bass fishing was something I wanted to pursue professionally,” Iaconelli said.
He began fishing B.A.S.S. Nation as a boater in 1995 and Red Man events as a boater in 1996. In May of 1999 he won the B.A.S.S. Nation National Championship. All these experiences expanded his fishing knowledge and skills.
After graduating from college, Iaconelli started applying for jobs in the field of public relations. When he entered a Dick’s Sporting Goods store to buy baits for an upcoming tournament, he spotted a sign that read, “Fishing Manager Wanted.” He applied for the job and was hired on the spot. It proved to be another important stepping-stone.
“It was a random act of luck,” Iaconelli said. “I had to learn the retail aspect of fishing, merchandising and what makes the industry tick. It gave me important contacts in the fishing industry.”
Dick’s district manager, who had previously fished B.A.S.S. Nation tournaments, and the store manager supported Iaconelli’s quest to become a bass pro. They gave him the time off he needed to fish the Bassmaster Invitationals. He worked at Dick’s until he qualified for the Bassmaster Top 150s in 1998. The rest is history.
In 2006, when Iaconelli’s pro career was rolling, he worked at an ICAST show in Vegas. On the first evening of the event he went to an after hours party and met Becky Mattes, who was the field manager for a wholesale beverage distributor in Washington D.C. They married two years later and have been blessed with four children.
“She’s an awesome lady,” Iaconelli said. “She’s a friend, a mom and she’s smart, smart, smart. She took our business to the next level.”
Their Pro Edge Fishing umbrella includes Bass University, Ike Live, digital and television assets which include the My World television show. The company also does public relations and marketing for a handful of professional bass anglers. Their “gem” home is in a country setting in southern New Jersey.
At age 49 Iaconelli concedes that time is beginning to take its toll physically but not so spiritually.
“I’m still as competitive and energetic as ever,” he said. “Every time I launch boat in a tournament I want to win.”
About 10 years ago the Iaconellis started the Ike Foundation. It introduces fishing to kids who have little or no connection to the outdoors.
“We target kids who were like me,” Iaconelli said. “It feels good all these years later to come back full circle.”
Iaconelli’s sponsors include Toyota, Bass Cat, Yamaha, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Rapala, Flambeau, VMC, Tackle Warehouse, AFTCO, Power-Pole, Lowrance, Missile Jigs, Molix, Hobie Kayaks, Renegade Sunglasses, Spike It, Pro Guide Batteries and Panther Vision.