With his colorful tattoos and booming hip-hop sound track, Mike Iaconelli has turned the world of big-money competitive bass fishing upside down. In Fishing on the Edge, Iaconelli tells his own story–and it’s a whopper: a Philly-born, Jersey-bred Yankee who’s been stealing the spotlight from bass fishing’s traditionally all-Southern anglers, attracting fans and dominating one of the fastest-growing sports in America.
How did Mike Iaconelli, a college-educated kid from New Jersey, come blasting into a sport
dominated by old-school stars like Gary Klein, Kevin VanDam, and Denny Brauer? How did Mike, aka “Ike,” take a secret childhood passion and turn it into a profession, earning million-dollar sponsorships and a storm of media attention, ranging from ESPN’s SportsCenter to profiles in The New York Times and Esquire? While Mike has attracted both fans and foes on the tour,
his success speaks for itself, especially his victory at the 2003 CITGO Bassmaster Classic, the Super Bowl of competitive fishing.
Forty-four million Americans fish, but no one does it quite like Mike Iaconelli. In Fishing on the Edge, he lets you in on the secrets to his extraordinary success–how he developed his “power” fishing style, how he attacks the water, positions the boat, and perseveres through those days when the bass just aren’t biting. With sidebar tips that can be used by any fisherman–from using spinner baits to picking out the right rod to his no-fail “secret weapons”–this is an intensive, informative, and often raucous journey through the life of a brash young man destined to do for fishing what Tony Hawk did for the X Games: take the sport to a whole new level. At the same time, it’s the compelling first-person story of a man who prepared carefully every step of the way, kept notes on every fish he ever caught, and executed the perfect plan to get to the top.
A tale of passion, competition, and extreme personality, Fishing on the Edge is a book for anyone who loves the sport of fishing, wants to turn a hobby into a career, or is simply fascinated by a man’s unstoppable drive to succeed.
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MIKE IACONELLI won the 2003 Bassmaster Classic. In only five years of professional fishing, he has won four majors and earned close to a million dollars. He’s been fishing regularly since he was two years old. His list of sponsors includes Dick’s Sporting Goods, Yamaha outboards, Ranger Boats, Mann’s Bait Company, Fitovers Eyewear, Stren fishing lines, Daiwa tackle, Tru-Tungsten weights, and Carolina Lunker Sauce. He lives in New Jersey.
ANDREW AND BRIAN KAMENETZKY are screenwriters and frequent contributors to a variety of magazines and websites, including ESPN The Magazine, ESPN.com, and Blender. They both live in Los Angeles.
CATCHING “THE ONE”
By the time I was twelve, I had been fishing trout in the Poconos with my family for over ten years. I'd caught a few bass up to that point, but they were little. A fingerling (a couple of inches long) to maybe half a foot, tops. And I had never caught one on purpose. The only time I even used artificial baits was trolling around, usually with basic inline spinners. So heading up to the lake that June, I was just looking forward to another week of catching trout and having fun. I had no idea my life was about to change.
Pop had a great tackle box, a hip, roof-style green Coleman with a brass latch that opened in three tiers, with a built-in ruler inside. At the time, it was state of the art, and held every piece of tackle I'd ever seen. Hooks, weights, line, swivels, mineral oil, everything. And the smell was incredible, you know? All musty, old, and watery. I had been in awe of it since I was little. This was Pop's box, the Holy Grail of tackle boxes. He'd open it and light would pour out, the angels would sing, and I'd bow down. All hail the Coleman!
More than anything, I was mesmerized by his small collection of lures (even today, building up my collection of cool lures is part of the sport's appeal). I can still remember every lure in there, some of the most old school stuff ever sold, bait you'd see now and say, “What is this crap?” He had these spinners called CP Swings, a basic in-line spinner. There were old Cream baits, tiny rubber imitations of a cricket or a frog. He even had red-and-white Daredevil spoons, silver-backed, spoon-shaped metal slabs with a picture of a devil in the center. The only other artificial lure he had was a Rapala, basically a floating minnow bait with a small lip on the end.
Pop was incredibly protective of his tackle box. He'd see me looking around in it and snap, “What are you doing in there? Stay out of my box!” Again, always with his little smile. Pop was Fred Sanford, all bark and no bite. But at six or seven years old, even Fred Sanford was enough to keep me out of the Coleman.
Crossing the Line
The first morning of that summer's trip to the Poconos, I hit the dock to cast a few before Pop and Uncle Don came out. It was just gonna be another day of trout fishing, but today, Pop's box kept calling my name. Maybe it was the excitement of being back at the lake, but I couldn't resist
going in and grabbing something to throw off the dock. I pulled out a 9S Floating Rapala–black on the back, silver sides, two treble hooks: one on the belly, one on the tail. At the time, I didn't even know what it was. I just reached into the Coleman and pulled it out.
The scene is still vivid in my mind. I'm out on the end of the T-dock, there's a little fog on the lake, and the water is slick and calm. My rod was still rigged to catch panfish and trout, which meant line out of the reel attached to a swivel, a snelled hook, and a Water Gremlin split shot.
So I pinched the ears of the Gremlin, popped it off, and attached the Rapala, with absolutely no idea how to fish it or what it was going to do in the water. All I knew how to do was cast, which by now I did pretty well. I threw out the Rapala in a big, beautiful arc and it hit the water, ripples moving away as it hit the water. It just floated there. That's what it was supposed to do, but I didn't know.
For the first few seconds, I just stared at this strange, floating bait. Then I gave the reel four or five cranks, watching the Rapala's swimming action. I was astonished. I'd never seen a lure behave like that. And as I thought, “Okay, it's a bait you cast, swim and reel in,” the bait floated back to the surface, where I let it sit for another couple seconds. Whoosh! This bass–not a giant, but at almost three pounds it was the biggest fish I'd ever seen– blew out of the water, mouth wide open, swallowing the Rapala. The visual was the most intense thing I'd ever seen. In trout fishing, you drag live bait along the bottom of the water, watching your rod tip or bobber. I had never seen a fish explode out of the water after a lure. I don't even think I set the hook! If the bass hadn't totally engulfed that lure, I probably wouldn't have brought it in.
I could barely breathe, as I used every ounce of energy to land that fish. It gave me a fight like I'd never experienced, bulldogging me and splashing all the way back to the dock. I was flipping out, thinking, “If that line breaks, I'm gonna have to fess up to taking the lure, and replace it . . . And nobody's gonna believe I caught it to begin with!” It was a situation where I had to beat that fish, the first of many over the course of my career.
Why Don’t You Just Keep That Thing?
Once I had it on the dock, I started screaming bloody murder, running back to cabin 3, where we were staying that year. I didn't even know how to hold a bass back then, so I just ran with the fish hanging off the end of my line. “Aaaaaaagggghhh!” My family must have thought I was being stabbed to death by some lakeside killer. I busted through the door, the bass dangling off my rod tip like a hanging grenade, and everybody freaked. Pop thought it was the biggest fish in the world. And not being a catch-and-release guy, the first thing out of his mouth was “Get
my stringer! Put him on the stringer!” My new buddy was getting some Crisco and breading that night. By now, Pop knew I had raided his box, but he was too proud to care. In fact, he gave me the bait, saying, “Why don't you just go ahead and keep using that thing.” I had gone from “never go in there and touch that” to throwing this awesome Rapala lure whenever I pleased.
Hooked on Bass
After that day, I couldn't think about anything but catching more bass. That was a breakthrough point, not just because it hooked me on bass fishing, but also because it changed me as an angler. Later that morning, I felt antsy sitting while still-fishing, waiting for the trout to bite. Just sitting . . . and waiting. I wanted to be throwing and moving, seeing that bass torpedo out of the water. I had already started developing what would become my power-fishing style, where I'm constantly moving not only my body on the boat but also the lure in the water, working it fast and hard.
I didn't catch any more bass that trip, but I returned to Runnemede obsessed with getting that next fish. I wanted to learn more. I told my friends the story, and they were psyched. Everyone started taking a bigger interest in bass fishing. That summer, my buddy Tom Hyrnashon gave me one of his dad's old Bassmaster magazines. It was the February 1985 issue, and the cover was a bass being caught on a 11G floating Rapala. I saved it, and just about every Bassmaster magazine that has been produced after since. (I still have them cataloged at my uncle's place in Runnemede.) Soon afterward, my buddies and I started playing with the Rapala on Stewart Lake and other local fisheries, learning its strengths and weaknesses. Each day I got more excited catching bass, each new experience feeding on the one before.
Bass on the Brain
But it really wasn't until I returned to the Poconos the following June that I became hard-core obsessed with bass fishing. That first day back, I didn't even wait for my family to unpack before I ran to the dock. I tossed that same Rapala into a couple of patches of lily pads, and caught three in a row. Boom! Boom! Boom! The third was a five-pounder, a massive beast! It looked like Jaws coming out of the water.
If I wasn't completely hooked before, I was now!
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