Off the shores of Oneida Lake — on the final day of the B.A.S.S. Northern Open—there are two anglers sharing the same water. Of the two, one is the famous and animated GEICO Bassmaster Classic champion, Mike Iaconelli, and the other is Wil Hardy, a youthful, modest, five-year tour journeyman from a small Georgia town.
The sharing of water, that one or more anglers find, has been a recent theme in tournament fishing. In most cases, the viewers see the darker side of this controversial topic.
“To date, there is no hardcore written rule that addresses (sharing water), it’s very gray, and it has been since the mid-nineties…there’s been nothing written in stone about it,” Bassmaster Elite Series Pro, Mike Iaconelli said.
“I think that what happened at Oneida, is a great example of how it should happen [when it comes to sharing water].”
In this case, it was an instance of mutual admiration between a fiery-veteran observing the blossoming of a new name in bass fishing.
Iaconelli explained the process of deciphering sections of an area. “[Hardy] kind of got on his own little deal, which geographically was more northwest of this spot, and I got on my own deal, which was the area I found in practice, that was more southeast of this deal. As the tournament progressed I recognized that was his stuff, and he recognized I liked the stuff below…and we each fished and respected our own section of water.”
Though the waters were respected, there was no lack of competiveness between the anglers.
“I’m a competitor, I want to go out and win. I want to win every event. In the Lake Oneida event, I wanted to beat the fish’s brains in every day,” the eight-time B.A.S.S. winner Iaconelli explained.
Iaconelli would squeeze into the Top 12 cut by 4 ounces, while Hardy led the field with a two-day total of 35 pounds, 9 ounces.
Iaconelli told the young Georgia pro that what they found was special after the first day of competition. “That was the winning school of fish, [we both knew it].” But even a machine like Ike has a human side that he seldom displays during tournament competition.
“We worked great together. On the last day, we could [each] see every fish we caught. Every time he caught one, the competitor in me was ‘Like ah [shoot he’s] got another good one, but the human in me is like ‘Man that’s a good one, that’s gonna help him.’ I was really rooting for him, as we were competing against each other.”
On the final day, Hardy would prevail with a second consecutive 18-pound limit, garnering 53-13 to bring home his first B.A.S.S. title and a GEICO Bassmaster Classic berth.
“Man I was proud of his good work, I’m proud of him winning that because he’s a young up-and-coming angler. He’s the new generation of angler. He’s what we need to keep this sport going. The human side of me loved it; I was rooting for him, that part of me. [The competitor] in me wanted to beat his brains in, and yet I was still rooting for him,” Iaconelli said of his defeat.
Admirably, the typically shy Harlem, Ga., pro who joked prior to weigh-in, “I don’t know if I’m more scared to talk on stage or win this thing,” did an un-Hardy like thing. After his initial acceptance, Wil Hardy turned to B.A.S.S. Senior Tournament Director Chris Bowes, tapped him on the shoulder and asked, “Can I say one more thing?”
The loquacious Bowes gave the newly crowned champ the microphone. “I just need to say one more thing, Iaconelli and I shared water all week and it was a great experience and show of sportsmanship.”
Iaconelli added, “I think a lot of veterans in this sport, think in the same terms. It’s a great thing to see a kid like that have a great tournament, fish a perfect event, make the Classic, [the kind that gets you] to the next chapter of his career.”
The Previous Chapter
Wil Hardy began fishing at a grassroots tournament level at the age of 16, where he fished as a co-angler on multiple circuits before transitioning to the front of the boat in 2010 FLW Tour season.
Hardy credits his father, Jim Hardy, for the opportunity to begin tournament fishing.
“I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” the youngest Hardy said after watching an episode of Bassmasters on ESPN.
His passion soon turned to trade.
In 2013, Hardy and tackle-industry veteran Jon Hair set up shop in Martinez, Ga., and created Greenfish Tackle, which now may as well be deemed “Brownfish Tackle” after Hardy’s recent smallmouth venture.
Greenfish specializes in hand-tied jigs, buzzbaits, spinnerbaits, terminal tackle and an assortment of custom balsa baits. One being key to Hardy’s victory, a 3/4 ounce Greenfish Creeper Head paired with a Zoom Speed Craw.
A few years after the inception of Hardy’s pro career and his newfound tackle company, Hardy’s father, Jim, and Miyu Fukae, wife of bass fishing-millionaire Shin Fukae, went to breakfast after an early morning blast-off and became instant friends.
The Fukae’s, 12-years removed from Osaka, Japan, now live on the Hardy’s property in their R.V. when the two are not trekking between the Bassmaster Opens and FLW Tour events.