3 True Stories From The Tournament Trail

Here are three stories - all true - that happened the first year that Mike Iaconelli ever tournament fished.

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Starting at the very beginning for me. When I say the beginning, it was the beginning of my professional career, the first year I ever fished professional tournaments and it was the second event I ever fished as a pro.

Gosh, I remember it like it was yesterday. It was in the fall of 1999. It was on Lake Champlain, again, the second event I ever fished as a pro, still kind of a little intimidated, all my heroes are out here fishing around me.

Had a great first day, had an amazing second day, weighted 24 pounds and I'm leading going into the last day of the event and trailing me is Rick Clunn, David Fritts, gosh, Randy Fite, all these guys that I've read about for years and what an unbelievable feeling. We've got a Bassmaster camera crew on me and, man, to say I was nervous is an understatement.

We had a major cold front come through on the final day of the event and I had been catching early limited smallmouth that only weighed 13 to 15 pounds and then I would go run and fish for largemouth. I used to mostly isolate a largemouth, I was flipping around boat docks and reeds and isolated logs and tire reefs and all these kinds of things and I was getting really big, quality largemouth bites.

Well, the last day of the event rolls around and I get to my first place and I decided before to forgo the smallmouth altogether. I said, "You know, if I want to win this tournament, I want to fish for these big largemouth right off the giddy." And I get to my first spot, I drop the troll motor and I look at the water temperature gauge and the surface temperature had dropped 10 degrees, literally, over night.
I go to the first spot and fish 30 minutes without a bite. I go to the next place 30 minutes. Well, after about 2 hours, 45 minutes of doing this, I don't have a single bite yet, not a single largemouth.

And so I end up in this area and I've got this camera on me, I'm kind of half-embarrassed. I'm not catching them and I'm thinking that I'm going to blow this thing and I look across and there's a smallmouth place where, in practice, I hadn't fished it the whole event, but in practice I caught a few 2-3 pound class smallmouth and I thought, "You know what? Let me run over there while I'm here, go try to get a limit real quick to settle me down and then I'm going to go back and flip for largemouth."

Well, I run over there and remember the camera boat's with me this entire time, I get over there and drop the trolling motor and I'm headed up, getting close to this waypoint and I'm casting a jerk bait and I throw that jerk bait out there and I'm getting closer to my waypoint and all of the sudden, I hook one. I've got the first bite of the day and I'm fighting it and I see him jump way out there and it's not big. It's like a two-pounder, I'm just like, "Okay. It's the first fish, I'm excited."

And as it gets closer to the boat, Lake Champlain, crystal clear water, as it's getting closer to the boat, I look down as I'm fighting this fish and I see this massive black cloud behind this little two pound smallmouth that I'm fighting. It's almost like time stopped and I looked at that cloud and I was like, "What the heck?" And in my mind, I'm thinking, "Is it a sea creature? Is it the blob? It is something from Creep Show, the movie?"

And as I looked closer, all of sudden, I stopped breathing and I realized what it was and it was a massive school of smallmouth from two to four pounds, there must have been several hundred of them all following this one smallmouth I had hooked. I couldn't even breathe. I couldn't even concentrate. I grabbed the buoy and dropped it. I kind of had to turn away, I couldn't even look anymore. I flip the two-pounder in and on every cast for the next 45 minutes, I caught a fish. It was the most unbelievable little flurry of smallmouth action I ever had.

But here's where the story gets more interesting. So, the action was so fast and furious and, at the time, you were allowed to use a net in BASS in BASS events and I was hooking these fish on the jerk bait and a lot of times, they would get caught, the treble hooks would get caught in the net and, to save on time, they kept getting caught and I was getting frustrated. I was getting scissors and every time I cut, I'd cut the net just a little bit because I wanted to just save on time.

Well, finally I get to where I've cut a big hole in the net now and I finally hook a good one, like a four-pounder. I'm fighting him on the jerk bait. I go to net him, it pops out of the jerk bait, but I'm excited, I'm like, "Yeah!" I lift the net in and the fish, I had cut a hole in the bottom of the net and the fish falls out of the hole. And I lose the best fish of the day.

But wait a minute, it gets more interesting. So, I shake that off. I go back to throwing the jerk bait and now I'm about an hour in to catching them almost every cast. I'm not using the net anymore. I'm swinging them in, but they stop biting the jerk bait real good. But they start biting a tube. What's happening is, I'm able to see the fish follow the jerk bait, they stop on it, but I have a tube rigged up to the eyelet on another rod and I quick reel a jerk bait in, I pick up a tube and, if I fire it out there real quick, over to where I saw that fish, I'd catch them.

So, now I'm like, "Oh my gosh. This is the most unbelievable thing." It's all happening, it's the last day of the event. And so I see a good one, like a three and a half pounder, follow the jerk bait and just stop. He doesn't want it. I quick reel the jerk bait in and I put it down and I go to grab my other rods on the other side of the deck and I go to grab it and I go to flick open the bail and as I go back to make the cast, I hear a splash.

I hear, "Kersplash!" Out of the corner of my eye, I look and my jerk bait rod is flying into the water. So I hadn't made a cast yet with the other rod and I barely grab it by the handle and, in one motion, swing in this three and a half pounder. Well what had happened is, when I reeled that jerk bait in real quick, it was laying on the top of the water and these smallmouth were so aggressive, he came up right next to the boat and ate it off the top and it was unbelievable.

Kind of three neat stories, all true stories that happened the first year that I ever tournament fished. And I ended up winning that tournament and won the second pro event I ever fished. But they're the kind of things that happen on the water all the time too. So keep listening because every blog we do, every time I talk to you, we're going to have a new story for you.


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