Mike Iaconelli is one of the most successful tournament anglers in the world. Although he's been known throughout his career as a troublemaker or the bad boy from Jersey in the pro circuit, that could be just his confidence, which in his own words, "borders on cockiness." Ike, now 44, has mellowed in attitude, but his competitive spirit is still on fire. We had the chance to sit down with him and ask the pro a few questions that we thought you'd like to know the answers to as the bass fishing world turns its attention to the Bassmaster Classic. — John Geiger and Bailey McBride
Q: You've been doing a lot of traveling lately — Italy and Japan, in particular. What have you learned from fishing in these foreign waters that you'll use on the trail this year?
A: A bass is a bass, but I've seen many new, different techniques and methods and learned a lot. I know I have at least a dozen things that I will tap into on the trail, like using new colors that I've never seen before, bait shapes and actions. In Japan, I got schooled in "Punch Shotting," which is a combination of punching and drop-shotting. It's really unique. The rigs and terminal tackle are very different. I hope to convert that experience into tournament wins.
Q: Giving back, especially to children, is a passion of yours and is evident in your work with The Ike Foundation. Why is this work so important to you?
A: Our youth are the primary way to grow this great sport. But the foundation also has roots in getting kids fishing who come from areas where they aren't fishing. It's awesome, and is the most important thing the Foundation is doing.
Q: What's the best piece of fishing advice you ever received?
A: Fish the moment. History of a lake or bite is good, and memories of a successful catch are good for planning and strategizing. But at the end of the day, every lake, every day, every minute, things change. The water temperature, time of year and other factors make the bite different. Practically every minute it's new and changing. When I was club fishing, an older guy in the club told me that.
Q: So your favorite snack is Little Debbie Honey Buns. Any other peculiar tastes or interests?
A: Yes, I love those Little Debbie Honey Buns and have one with me every time I head out to fish. I also carry healthy stuff, but I love those Honey Buns. Off the water, I actually have gotten into gardening with my wife. It's very therapeutic after being in intense fishing competitions. And I don't know if anyone else knows this, and it might sound weird, but I have always been into collecting old ink bottles. You can dig in areas where there were people in the 1700s and 1800s and find these pieces of history. It's really fascinating. My uncle got me into it when I was a boy, and I've collected them ever since. I have one that goes back to the late 1700s and some as recent as the 1930s.
Q: What's your No. 1 weakness as an angler?
A: Super deep water, 50-60 feet. I don't feel like I am good at it. Where I grew up fishing in South Jersey, there was no deep water. The deepest is the Delaware River, and that was like 20 feet. It intimidates me.
Q: You've been fishing Major League Fishing since the beginning. How do you think it's changing the sport?
A: We have to grow this sport to keep it healthy, to get new people to watch, take notice and get excited. It takes new programming, formats and challenges to get other people interested. That's what's great about MLF, that's what excites me about it. In my seminars and travels, I hear from a lot of people who have an interest in competitive fishing because they've watched MLF.
Q: How are things between you and KVD [Kevin VanDam] nowadays?
A: LOL. I knew him before I even fished professionally. I've known him a long, long time. The stigma or story is that we're enemies. I have never had a real problem with him, and he's never had a problem with me. Yeah, we've had some problems on water, and that's really just competition. As we've both gotten older in the sport, our relationship is now better now than ever. He's been to my home and works Ike Foundation events. He's a really good dude.
Q: When you decided to be a pro angler, how confident were you that you'd be able to succeed?
A: Confident to the point that I had a backup plan. Confidence has always been important to me. You have to be confident to succeed, almost to the point that it borders on cockiness.
Q: If you weren't doing this, what do you think you'd be doing now?
A: In college, I really enjoyed advertising, PR, marketing, copy writing and coming up with campaigns. I bet I'd be doing that kind of stuff. I was also a DJ for a while. That's a tough road, but I would have loved to do that full time.
Q: When did you feel that you'd "turned a corner" in your fishing career?
A: My second major win on Lake Seminole in the early 2000s. That was when I felt like I belonged. The first major win was in my rookie year, on a lake I was very familiar with (Champlain), for smallies. But that Seminole tournament, down in Bainbridge, Ga., was in my third year as pro. It was a different region against some of the best anglers who had been fishing that lake all their lives. That was good.