SANDUSKY, Ohio — In his last best chance at qualifying for the 2014 Bassmaster Classic, Elite Series pro Mike Iaconelli capitalized in a big way as he sacked 24-9 today on Lake Erie, giving him a two-day total of 48-8, nearly four pounds better than runner-up and Erie ringer Joe Balog.
“It’s not real, man, it’s not real,” Iaconelli said in disbelief of his first Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open win. “When these moments happen, it’s magical. I remember all my wins from club tournaments to this one, and they’re all special.
“It’s been a weird year. I had a bad year on the Elite trail, and I had a lot of downs, and I just kept my head in it and kept working and it turned around finally.”
This win punctuates six weeks he’s been on the road, and signifies a giant weight removed from his shoulders. Ike, who had a string of 11 consecutive appearances in the Bassmaster Classic, failed to qualify through the Bassmaster Elite Series points standings or from winning an Elite tournament. His only shot for a Classic berth was through winning an Open. The mental anguish wore on him as the season progressed.
“There was so much pressure coming in here and more than once I had a feeling like I should give up because so much wasn’t going right,” he said. “It really wears on you when you’re out here by yourself and not doing good, and there were moments where I wanted to turn back and go home.
“That’s the thing about fishing and life in general; you just keep pushing and these things happen when you least expect them to. They’re magical things.
During the shortened two-day tournament, Iaconelli relied on one-two punch for Erie’s smallmouth. Eighty percent of his fish fell for a drop shot rig comprised of a 3/8-ounce VMC pencil drop shot weight below a 1/0 VMC wacky rig hook of his own device holding a Berkley Havoc Flat Dawg, also of his own creation.
“That bait is designed to be a shallow water stickbait, but in practice I found it’s a killer drop shot bait,” he said.
His best color was watermelon silver with red flake. When the fish weren’t eating the drop shot, he threw a Rapala DT-14 crankbait, especially when the lake was flat. He targeted the tops of the humps when the fish moved higher in the water column. The color he used was smash.
Besides the Bassmaster Classic berth, Iaconelli won a brand new Triton 19XS with a 200-horsepower Mercury Optimax ProXS outboard and roughly $5,000 cash.
With this win, Iaconelli has seen success at every level of B.A.S.S. competition from the B.A.S.S. Nation to the Elite Series and Classic, as well as a Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year win.
“This trophy is going right next to my AOY and Classic trophies; it means just as much,” he said.
Behind Iaconelli is Joe Balog, who caught 23-4 today for a two-day total of 44-10. In third place was CJ Shaver with 44-2 and Dave Lefebre is in third, also with 44-2. In fifth place is Hunter Shryock with 43-8.
On the co-angler side, Paul Marchaza caught an astounding 15-0 from this three-fish limit, giving him a two-day total of 28-9. Marchaza was nearly at a loss for words following his win.
“This is unbelievable. I never, ever dreamed this could happen,” the 30-year-old said. “I put in a lot of hard work and studying; I’ve never even dragged a tube on Lake Erie. Jamie Caldwell took me out the first day and settled my nerves and showed me what to do, and that settled me down for today. I didn’t catch a fish for the first four hours of the day today, then we went out deep and I caught them all drop shotting.”
For his win, he took home a brand new Triton boat with a 115-horse Yamaha outboard.
In second place is Mike Fedio with 27-7, in third is Gary Walker with 25-7, in fourth is Nick Habuda with 25-3 and in fifth place is John Terry with 25-0.
The Carhartt Big Bass award for $500 for the largest single bass caught at the tournament was awarded Jams McMullen for his 6-6 on the pro side, while Chris Van Vliet won the award on the co-angler side for his 6-7.
The Luck-E-Strike Heavyweight was awarded to Mike Iaconelli the pro side and Paul Marchaza the co-angler side for catching the biggest bag in their respective divisions. Each received a $250 Bass Pro Shops gift card.
The Livingston Lures Leader award of $250 was presented to the pro angler in the lead on Day 2, Mike Iaconelli. The leader on the Day 2 co-angler side, Paul Marchaza received a Livingston Lures gift pack valued at $250.