Usually around this time we tend to switch gears from fishing. We get all of our gear packed; boats winterized and prepare for hunting season. I started to do this exact thing until I heard the Toyota Angler of the Year Championship was coming to Escanaba, MI. With the event came some big name pros to battle it out for the title one being Michael Iaconelli. Coming from an amazing win at the Bassmaster Elite at Delaware River in his home state, I had to meet him and talk with him. I had the privilege of meeting him at the place he was staying at with is uncle Don and asked him for an interview. “I look forward to hearing about the article” he said while setting his boat up. I was completely amazed I got everything set up with Ike to do an interview for Saturday, which was his off day.
I went to Day 1 of the championship and watched the anglers take off onto the water, went to the weigh in to see how everyone did. Friday comes and they cancel Day 2 due to high winds and a small craft advisory. I was completely shocked, Day 2 was going to take place on Saturday “There goes my interview” I thought. I went by the house and left him a note to give me a call to set up a different time to meet up. I ended up going to Day 2’s launch only to see them take their boats out of the water; they canceled Day 2 because of high winds and a small craft advisory. Maybe I might get my interview after all, I might still have a chance is all I was thinking all morning. At 9:30 am on Saturday morning I get a phone call from Ike asking if we were still on for 10am. Trying to gain my composure I told him I’ll be there. I got to the house and was greeted by Iaconelli, we talked for a long time about everything, getting to know him on a personal level was something I’ll never forget. We sat down for my first ever interview and this is what happened!
Jay:Is this your first time fishing in Upper Michigan? What are your thoughts on the fishing in Bay De Noc?
Mike:Yeah, it is my first time, up in this particular part of the lake. I’ve fished Green Bay and the Travers City area but this is the first time fishing the very top of the lake up here. It’s phenomenal. My first impressions are that it’s way under fished for bass. You can just tell by the way they’re biting and by the way they’re living that there’s a lot less (fishing) pressure than other parts of the Great Lakes. Lake Erie and Lake Ontario has a lot more small mouth pressure than you see here. Second is, although it’s the same, it’s a little different than what I've seen in other parts of the Great Lakes, even other parts of Lake Michigan. There’s a lot more of, what I call sand breaks, than I’ve seen in other parts of the lake. It’s not all rock; in my mind I kind of expected more rock and sharp breaks. But there's a lot of flatter stuff here. A lot of sand and that was a little bit of a surprise. But besides that, the fishing has been phenomenal. The biggest factor here is the weather. That’s the X-Factor, it’s not the fish or the fishing. You’re going catch them, the question is can you get to them.
Jay:Looking at your boat and truck, it’s quite a set up. What are some of your favorite features about your boat?
Mike:About the boat, well the boat in professional bass fishing the boat is one of the most essential tools you have; it’s a key piece of equipment. I think a lot of times when you talk about a angler you want to think about the rod, reel, line, baits and that's important but the boat is super important. Especially on a place like this, I don't want to sound like a commercial but there are a few things. I love my BassCat Boat, plain and simple. The motor is important; having a solid motor that can get you out there, push you around all day, and get you back is what you need. Finding one that is super reliable, has tons of torque and a great hole shot, now that's what you want. My Yamaha 4 Stroke is ridiculous in big water because it has huge low end torque. You see a lot of these guys running competing motors with 4 blades, 5 blades, the 5 blade prop. I run the same 3 blade 27 pitch prop I run the rest of the year because I don’t need anything else. The motor has such great low end torque and never has trouble in big waves. A good trolling motor is important too, the boat itself too! (laughs).
Out here when you start to fish these vast waterways, especially when you get off the banks, electronics are pinnacle of what’s important to me in this type of event. We fish other events a year where it’s very visual with your eyes. Like the Delaware River, where I won this year. A good depth finder helps a little bit but it’s a lot of you see that piece of wood or you see that sunken barge. You can see it with your eyes but out here when your 3 to 5 miles offshore, you’re on a subtle sand break and you’re trying to find that one boulder or that group of rocks that hold small mouth. It’s then that your electronics become a lot more important. I have a Lowerance HDS12 with structure scans, its so good it’s (disgusting). It cuts so much time and guessing. I remember when I started doing this at a semi-professional level in the mid 90’s electronics were very basic and very optional. Fifteen years later, the electronics have really advanced. Oh my god the structure scans are amazing. It’s so sensitive you can see the wash marks in the sand! It’s ridiculous. Technology has gotten better and that helps tremendously on a place like this. You see what’s underwater now there's no guessing game, is that a fish, is that a boulder I mean you can literally see zebra mussel clusters on the rocks. It’s insane that it’s good now. Definitely a big part of my boat.
Jay:I know your career has taken you to some great places. What has been your favorite stop on the tours? Why?
Mike:Man, that’s a good question. I think every region of the country has shining stars, things that stick out in my mind. Up here for sure, this would be one, Lake Michigan all of the Great Lakes you can’t find small mouth fishing like that anywhere else you go. South Texas would be another one that sticks out Amistad, Fork Lake, Falcon Lake. Falcon Lake I broke 100 lbs. mark there in a 4 day tournament. I weighed in at 103 pounds at the finals, that was amazing! Then you got that South East part of the country, we call it the Tennessee River Chain, Pickwick, Guntersrville, all those lakes Chickamauga, unbelievable! Two more I would mention would be the West Coast fisheries are phenomenal Clear Lake and California Delta. Getting there is the tough part but once your there it’s amazing. Then the last one is the Delaware River, It’s still one of my favorite places to fish. You always fall in love with your home fishery, the history of it, that fact that it’s got a 7 foot title swing its very challenging and I like that.
Jay:What are your favorite cover spots to fish for bass?
Mike:Types of cover, the interesting thing is what I’ve found over the years of doing this and fishing so many different variations is cover is cover and it changes on different parts we go to but we always relate to it the same way. First thing I want to step back and say a lot of people get the term structure and cover mixed up. Structure is just the bottom contour, the changes at the bottom, structure changes, structure breaks and that's important. Fish always migrate or move around structure change. So even on a lake like this with very subtle 2- 3 foot differences in the bottom contour that's the highway those fish will travel. Most of the time they stop and they feed on cover objects which are physical objects. On a lake like up here most of its natural here you got weed, weed breaks, weed edges you have rock, super key on a lake like this. A natural laid down tree, not in this lake but they would be natural forms of cover. I've seen other places where its man made its concrete walls, break walls there's a little bit of that here in Little Escanaba Bay metal sea walls, and pilings.
At home, I’ve caught bass out of shopping carts all that cover stays the same but all that becomes an important part and when you can find that cover where it sits on a structure change, that's a sweet spot. That’s a lot of times what we look for out here. The area where I fished day 1 and will hopefully get to fish tomorrow is a area that has both a structure change, a contour break and a cover scenario. Its actually really unique because its, I don’t know if we talked bout this already but its kind of a flat point that sticks off a island and on the left side of this flat point its got a elbow like a turn in where the deeper water turns in a little bit. Right on that turn in spot it goes from sand to a little bit of rock to a weed break right where it drops and so now you got like 3 or 4 different things happening in one little area and that concentrates the fish. That’s called a sweet spot and that’s what you always look for the cast, that magic cast and that always doesn't happen. I come out here fish hard during practice and your always looking for that magic spot and I have one here. And that's what you always want to find that magic spot.
Jay:Day 2 was canceled on Friday and now today for Saturday. What are your thoughts on the cancellations?
Mike:Yeah, man we talked about that a little bit ( laughs), you got mixed emotions about it because I think on the one hand where all competitors and the main reason I fish professionally is because I love to fish, I love to tournament fish, I want to be out there fishing, that's what I do. You’re disappointed and on a day like today they have to make a judgment call and it don’t look as bad as the weather says. I’m looking out there it seems pretty flat. You think “Gosh, I want to be out here” so there's disappointed and at the same time I think that safety is a big concern. I’ve been out on Lake Michigan different parts of it I fished the 2000 Bassmaster Classic out of Chicago and we had north winds for 3 days and I saw 10 footers and 12 footers and I know the dangers of big water. From that standpoint the other side of me gets it and I appreciate the fact that they got to make the call and safety is important. They don't want to see anyone get hurt or boats swamped and I get that. You’re kind of like a little split personality on that happening. Most of our events are 4 day events, this one was three and now it’s going to be 2 and that's a little disappointing, but it is what it is.
Jay:One of Trails-N-Tails Outdoors fans asked, how many tournaments do you enter in a year, how many have you won?
Mike:That’s a really good question so I fish anywhere from 15 to 18 major events a year. That mainly consist of the Bassmaster Elite Series, The Northern Bass Opens, and a sand alone or specialty events and some events that I cherry pick. Texas Toyota Bass Classic, Major League Fishing 2 events of those each year. I like to cherry pick a few like if there's a FLW Ever Star if it’s near the house, I’m a tournament rat so I like to fish tournaments. 15 to 18 major events a year and I got to tell you that it’s very hard to win. PERIOD. My goal every year is to go out in win every event I want to win the Classic and I want to win Angler of the Year and they're ridiculous goals that are very hard to accomplish, you’re thinking big. You have to you got to believe you can win in every event to have a shot to win but it’s very difficult to win. I can tell you in the 16 years I’ve been doing this I think I’ve only won 9 major events maybe another 1/2 dozen semi pro events. That average of winning is not great if you’re fishing 15 to 18 events a year. More realistic goal that I set and one I’ve accomplished the last 2 years is I try to win an event each year.
I've been fortunate the last 2 years to do that I won Lake Erie last year for the Northern Bass Open and I won the Delaware River Elite this year. That’s something hard to do and I appreciate a win more now in this stage of my career 42 going on 43 than I did when I was in my 20’s. In your 20’s you feel invincible you think you could do anything. You’re just green, and that's a good thing you’re just hungry but the older you get and the more you do this you realize how difficult it is to actually win. It’s a very special thing everything has to go perfect, it’s got to all line up. When it happens, man you don't take it for granted, you savor it because it’s a very tough thing to actually win.
Jay:Another one of our fans asked. What is your best strategy for winning tournaments?
Mike:Wow, that's a good one, best strategy for winning tournaments, there's a couple. I’ll start with the most general one which is to prepare for an event and to come up with a game plan. Even before you get to the event and during the event as it progresses that's one of the big things for a win for me. I can’t remember a single event I ever won where I didn't think about it or didn't prepare and just showed up without practice and just went fishing. It’s happened, guys do that occasionally but for me I start thinking about it months before the event I buy the maps, I do internet research. I’m out there in the garage preparing baits, ordering baits and tweaking them. Looking at a map and thinking about seasonal patterns and eliminating portions of the lake. A game plan, for me is very critical for winning an event, so that would be one part. Second part would be, and this would be the exact opposite of what I just said which is to fish the moment. That’s something I talk about a lot and it’s the simplest thing to explain and it’s the most difficult thing to do because were human.
At the end of the day, when I go out fishing everyday including tournament days I need to fish for that moment of time. That cast and current conditions, that cast is its own cast and I need to let go of what happened yesterday or on Monday of practice or 30 days ago when I was here Pre-fishing. You kind of need to let go of that and fish the moment it’s a hard thing to do because its human nature, right. I’ll go back tomorrow and I’ll go sit on that little elbow I told you about and I’m going to want, in my mind, I know how I caught those 3 1/2 4 lbs. and I’m going to want to do that. I’ll start doing that but really you need to just, fish the moment and every bite is a piece of the puzzle for that day. The guys that win consistently are very good at doing that they're goodat being free. They might start out on a place where they think they're going to do well and 15 min in they think “It’s not happening here” and they got 20 lbs. there during practice. They happen to look over “Wait a minute, the winds blowing over there on that bank, wasn’t doing that during practice.” They go over there pick a different bait up and get a bite. That kind of natural flow of just fishing for that current condition, man that's so key to winning and it’s hard to do because of human nature to fish your history, to fish what you know. If you can learn how to do that every time you’re out there your very successful. It’s funny because when you fun fish your more prone to do that, right. There’s nothing on the line, you’re out with your buddies and your fishing just having fun and it’s easy to do that but in a tournament scenario guys get to much in the box. They're very constrained because your trying to win, points, pounds, a 8 hour day all these other things factor in and you become more constrained. You got to learn to fish the moment, that's key.
Jay:You donate money to Autism Speaks. What other foundations do you work with?
Mike:Yeah, the Autism campaign is a big one and not just Autism Speaks but I work a guy in Massachusetts and he has a program called My Little Buddies Boat. That’s a big one because I met him probably 10 years ago at a show and it was one of those things where if you don't know somebody that has a autistic child, you don't really realize the impact of it and how big it is. Now it’s like 1 out of every 8 or 10 children especially boys has some form of Autism, that's staggering when you think about that! That’s been a big one, historically that's been a big one for me but a lot of the Autism campaigns regardless of who’s in it because there's a lot of them. There’s the ASA, Doug Flutie Foundation all those are raising awareness and money to help research to figure out what’s going on, so that's one. Another one is the Jimmy V. Foundation which we have supported since day one which is a cancer research program. My Uncle, right there who is walking around over there at the park he was a big reason I wanted to back a cancer foundation. He was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2001 and he beat it, which is very rare. Cancer is another thing where I think everybody's affected by it.
The last one I want to mention to you, this is actually a new one that’s going to become my biggest platform for the rest of my career. We’re going to launch it in January we started something called The Ike Foundation which is basically is a youth fishing foundation. The mission of our foundation is to get more kinds fishing because the biggest question I get from doing shows all over the country is “ Dude, how do we grow this sport?” how do we get more people fishing, how do we get fishing bigger. And the easiest answer is you got to start from the bottom up you got to get kids involved. Society is different today than it was 10, 20, 30 years ago there's more stuff going on for kids to get involved in. The mission of our whole foundation is to get more kids fishing especially in urban centers like Chicago, Green Bay, and Philadelphia where you don't traditionally have those outlets for kids to go fishing and we’re really going to try to help that. It’s going to start out where we support existing youth organizations in those areas and we supply them with product. I’m working with my current sponsors to get rods, reels and line. I think eventually it will be more than that were going to be doing grants and funding and all that stuff. That’s going to be an important part of what I do for the rest of my career, it’s exciting!
Jay:I know this is pretty cliché but what are some of your favorite techniques when fishing for bass?
Mike:There are 2 big categories, then there's like individual techniques within those categories and I’ll give you both. The 2 big categories are what I call power fishing which is bigger casting rod with a little bit heavier line and lures that you can cover a lot of water. Your moving fast, constant movement and that just fits me it’s hard for me to sit still ya know, I’m very energetic and I want to move and I love fishing like that. Out here crank bait, jerking a X-Rap as hard as you can covering 10 miles i love that, power fishing, reaction fishing. The deal with that is you can get fish to bite that aren’t hungry and I love that! You have that small mouth sitting on a flat and he’s already fed all morning before the sun came up he’s already had a dozen crayfish. He’s sitting there and all of a sudden this clown jerk bait comes by his face, a million miles an hour and his instinct is to grab it. I like fishing like that, probably one of my favorite styles but then the other one, which is the polar opposite is finesse fishing. I love that too, I gre
w up fishing in New Jersey on a lot of very small bodies of water. So you think about, if we had a map up here of where I grew up Philadelphia is 10 min to the west, New York City is a hour to the north, Delaware is 30 min to the south. There is 8 billion people that live in this little tri-state area and you have a lake that’s over 1,000 acres, that's not even a bay here, right? There are all these people that fish
and growing up with that kind of fishing pressure I really learned how to finesse fish with light line and I love that too. It’s still one of my favorite techniques especially when things get tough, ya know, cold front, a lot of boats, crystal clear water, skittish small mouth, whatever the tough scenario is light line, smaller baits, spinning rod. The categories in finesse fishing, here’s my top 3 shaky head, 1 or 2 drop shot would be right up there, and then like a little wacky rig would be up there. Those are my 2 favorite ways to fish. My least favorite ways to fish would be super deep and I think it’s just a lot of growing up where I did. Deep water where I lived was 10 foot, 20 foot was oblivion when I was a kid growing up. So, when I get out and when those fish get deeper than 30 foot, and they do a lot, I still need to get better at that. When they're 40, 50, 60, and sometimes 70 feet deep I struggle with that and I need to get better at that. Another one I struggle with is sight fishing it’s something that I’ve never been great at, I had good tournaments doing it, I don't love doing it you need a lot of patience and you got to sit a
nd work a fish. It’s not my favorite way to fish and I’m not that good at it and that's another one I’d like to get better at it. So I have some favorite ways to fish and not so favorite ways to fish. That’s fishing you have strengths and you try to ply on your strengths whenever you can!
We had to wrap it up so Mike could get ready to go to the Bass University seminars he was scheduled to be at. It was a pleasure getting to meet him and his Uncle Don. Turns out they canceled Sunday due to high winds, AGAIN! Monday would be the final weigh-in. I also heard some anglers and B.A.S.S staff had to leave early due to scheduling. On the last day of fishing I talked with Mike’s Uncle Don quite a bit and I told him about how grateful I was to do this interview with his nephew. And he said “Mike’s a great guy, when he says he’s going to do something, he stays true to his word.” That statement couldn’t have been truer. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Mike Iaconelli and what he does next with his career, I know I’ll be there cheering my friend on at whatever he does next!