Iaconelli brings fiery bass brand to Columbus

Columbus – Two weeks before the Bassmaster Classic, Mike
Iaconelli was in a likely spot, flipping a jig named after him into
some cover that held promise for largemouths.

That Iaconelli was doing so while standing atop a fish tank at
the Columbus Sport, Vacation, and Boat Show was a secondary point.
Talk about sight fishing.

“You’d think I’d be off practicing, being that we’re right on
the doorstep of the Classic,” said Iaconelli, who flew in from
Cherry Hill, N.J., by way of Philadelphia, for a couple days of
demonstrations in Columbus. “ … But, I’m usually on the show
circuit from Jan. 1 through mid-February, taking care of sponsor
commitments.”

So, after mimicking a few trademark clenched jaw hook sets for
the Columbus crowds who came out in masses to see the 2003 Classic
champion, Iaconelli was gone just as quickly. He planned to leave
his South Jersey home the following morning for Lake Hartwell in
Greenville, S.C., site of this year’s Classic, Feb. 22-24.

“In this business, you’re either practicing or you’re getting
ready to practice,” said Iaconelli, one of the better known bass
pros for his boisterous personality, tatoos, and wrist bands.

Sports Illustrated called him “the bad boy of fishing” in a
cover story several years ago. Over the past few years, Iaconelli
has perpetuated his rock star persona through appearences on late
night talk shows, and inauspiciously being named “one of the 10
most hated athletes” by GQ magazine for his signature yelps or his
impromptu break dance routines on the bow of his bass boat. In
fishing circles, he’s the Limp Bizkit to the old guard’s Waylon
Jennings.

The exposure is aided by the fact that Iaconelli is a fairly
decent fishermen. In addition to the Classic title, he was the
circuit’s 2006 Angler of the Year and he’s made more than a million
bucks catching fish.

His fiery personality, however, has also cost him at times. In
2006, he was disqualified from the Classic for a profanity-laced
tirade on his boat after discovering a malfunctioning livewell.

“I love to fish and I’m passionate about it and sometimes I wear
my emotions on my sleeve,” said Iaconelli, 35. “That can be good
and bad, and obviously it has hurt me at times.

“I’m not perfect. I’m human. I have bad tournaments, but that’s
just all part of fishing and anybody who does this knows that,” he
said.

In Columbus, wearing a flat-billed ballcap cocked a bit
sideways, stone-washed blue jeans, and black canvas sneakers,
Iaconelli could easily pass as an X-Games snowboarder rather than a
professional bass fisherman.

The attention of celebrity follows him, as evidenced by a throng
of autograph seekers who lined up in Columbus to get a picture with
Iaconelli or just chat him up so they could tell their buddies
about it later.

“I get recognized a little bit at airports I think just because
of the media exposure in the last three or four years,” he said.
“If you’re in the south, it happens more just because people seem
to relate to (bass fishing) a bit more.”

There’s also the YouTube videos that show all of the highlights
of his fist-pumping, Tiger Woodsesque reactions to landing the big
one.

It’s what bass fishing fans have come to expect from a guy who
grew up in hardscrabble South Philly, playing street hockey and
further honing his competitive skills in breakdancing
competitions.

“Breakin’ and fishing. Different sports. Same mentality,”
Iaconelli writes in his 2005 autobiography, Fishing On the
Edge.

Iaconelli’s fishing demonstrations, on the other hand, are
fairly low key aside from the sprinkling of the word “dudes” in his
delivery (“So, you pull up into a cove, and 20 dudes ahead of you
have thrown their jig at the same stump …”), and biting the ends
off plastic worms (and then chewing on them) for better head sets
on Texas rigs. After all, the guy did learn to cast in the aisles
of a sporting goods store where he was a manager.

“It was a lot more entertaining than I thought it would be,”
said Trevor Scherner, a Lake Michigan walleye and salmon guide.

Iaconelli delivered a straight-faced story about a squirrel in
search of a nut he once saw creep out on a branch extending into a
pond. When the squirrel got to the nut and the end of the branch,
the furry critter was met by a largemouth exploding from the water
in a spray of bad intentions.

Just like that, the nut was gone.

And so was the squirrel.

“And then I looked over and that bass had put the nut back on
the end of the tree,” he said, a toothy grin spreading across his
face. “True story.”

Iaconelli did have a serious take-home message for the Columbus
crowd.

“Forget about all that nonsense I told you earlier,” he said.
“Fishing is awesome, isn’t it? Do me a favor. Take a kid
fishing.”

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