The Iaconelli playbook

New Jersey angler troubleshoots his way to tournament success.

SANDUSKY, Ohio — Michael Iaconelli so dreaded tests as a college student that he spent hours writing answers for mock questions to avoid poor grades. The outline of “what ifs” became his go-to list for overcoming academic weaknesses.

Iaconelli graduated with a marketing degree and moved on to his next test. He’s performed much better as a B.A.S.S. pro than college student. Ironically, it’s that same formula of applying a written outline in his tournament strategy that has paid big dividends over the span of a 15-year career.

This time it paid off with a win at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open #3 held on Lake Erie.

The season has been a challenge for Iaconelli. At stake was a string of 12 consecutive appearances in the Bassmaster Classic. Iaconelli had failed to qualify through the Bassmaster Elite Series. His only shot for a Classic berth was through winning an Open event. The mental anguish wore on him as the season progressed.

“It has been a tough year and I’ve had a lot of demons running through my mind,” he said. “That makes the mental side of the game even more important.”

“I’ve been doing this same thing since my days of fishing at the B.A.S.S. Nation club level,” he said. “It’s how I got through college exams, and it’s how I get through tournaments when there are so many mental hurdles in the way.”

You watch football coaches pace the sidelines with a written plan of the plays in hand. Look in Iaconelli’s boat and you’ll find something similar. Tucked away in the console is a notebook. Inside its pages are lists of “what ifs.” They are Iaconell’s go-to moves for troubleshooting fishing game plans gone wrong.

“You can have so many things run through your mind during the day,” he said. “That list of scenarios helps me make good judgment calls and adjustments.”

Those situations can be anything from a changing wind direction to lost time due to rough water. Iaconelli encountered both factors on a magnified level at Lake Erie.

“It really helps me sort through the scenarios and quickly get back on track,” he added.

Iaconelli filled his limit today by 11 a.m. The catch included a 3-pound smallmouth he desperately wanted to cull. Weigh-in time neared and Iaconelli pulled out the notebook. Inside one page is a list of last-minute fishing spots, in progressive order, between the main lake and weigh-in site.

The first spot produced a 5-pound, 14-ounce smallmouth that allowed the cull and sealed the win. Look for that page of the notebook to be saved as a token of Iconelli having aced one of the biggest tests of his career.