Mike “Ike” Iaconelli – In It To Win It
Bass fishing icon Mike “Ike” Iaconelli has put together an incredible professional bass fishing career that spans nearly two decades and includes more than 200 tournament appearances. And it’s far from over. At age 44, midway through the 2016 Bassmaster Elite season, he’s fishing as strong as ever.
Highlights of Ike’s run include nearly 150 money finishes, 100 top twenties and eight victories. He also holds the distinction of being the only angler to have won the Bassmaster Classic, Angler of the Year title and B.A.S.S. Nation Championship.
We asked the tireless competitor what fuels his high-octane pursuit of success, as well as his goals for the future and what it’s like crisscrossing the continent as a touring pro.
People ask what drives me. It's actually a combination of things, including a love of fishing, my competitive nature and a desire to be the best at what I'm doing.
I've loved to fish since I first chased trout, bluegills and catfish at an early age. Bass became a major focus when I got hooked on them at age 11 or 12, but I still enjoying catching anything that pulls back.
Once I started fishing club tournaments in 1991, I really enjoyed the challenge of trying to figure out how to catch more fish than everyone else in the event. To this day, that remains a major motivation. I always want to put the puzzle together better than my competition.
Grassroots events were the start of my tournament career, but the deal that took me over the top was fishing pro events as an amateur in 1993, when I was a sophomore in college. That really opened my eyes to the sport and marked the beginning of my dream to pursue bass fishing as a profession.
Throughout my career I've evolved as an angler in a number of ways. You have to, if you want to remain competitive. The first big step forward came in 1994, when I won a tournament as an amateur and first place was a fully rigged bass boat. That allowed me to graduate from a johnboat and start fishing larger bodies of water, from the front of the boat.
Even now, after all these years, I'm constantly evolving. If you don't, you get left behind. You have to keep up with the tactics and technologies that help us find and catch fish. You also have to push yourself out of your comfort zone. It's tempting to keep fishing the same tactics with which you've been successful. But you also need to constantly make yourself a better, more versatile angler. If you're great in shallow water, focus on your deep game. If you excel at power fishing, polish your finesse.
When you're a professional angler, you also have to keep up with the business side. That includes everything from social media to TV and web shows, working with your fan base and more.
Going back to what drives me—and has kept me in this game over the years—is a deep, primal passion for the sport. If you get involved in bass fishing just to make money or see your name in lights, you're not going to last.
Family support has been another big part of my fishing career and success over the years. My family got me involved in the sport when I was old enough to hold a rod, and today, with all the moving parts involved in the business, it would be really hard to be successful without my wife and team of other family members helping in so many different ways.
The amount of travel in this sport is grueling. I'd say along with keeping up with presentations and technology, it's one of bass fishing's major challenges—and family support helps me overcome it. I'm fortunate that my family gets to attend a number of the tournaments, and we find ways to stay connected when they can't.
Along with my family, my fan base also helps keep me going—especially during the low points in this rollercoaster ride. When I have a bad day and someone shows up at the weigh-in fired up to see and meet me, it motivates me to come charging back and give it another shot the next morning.
Looking ahead, I'd love to continue winning events. I want to win another Bassmaster Classic, win more Elite tournaments and capture another AOY title.
But I also want to share the sport with others and help people catch more fish. Toward that end, I'm involved with projects like Bass University and the Ike Foundation.
"A hundred years from now, nobody is going to remember the tournaments or awards you won. But if you helped get kids involved in fishing who otherwise might never have touched a rod and reel, now that's a legacy."