“It’s like a dream,” admits the popular New Jersey angler, winner of the 2003 Bassmaster Classic® and 2006 Angler of the Year title. “It was a phenomenal night. I saw so many of my heroes, the anglers I have competed against for years, and I am still humbled to be so honored by them.
“I had learned about the induction several months earlier so I had plenty of time to absorb it, but now, more than a month after the ceremony, I’m still having trouble believing it.”
While his Classic victory, Angler of the Year title, and other B.A.S.S.® tournament wins are etched into the record books, many don’t realize how great an influence the Yamaha Pro has had in leading others, particularly underprivileged youngsters, into the world of fishing. Through personal appearances, seminars, podcasts, television programs, and their own organization, The Ike Foundation®, he and his wife Becky have helped thousands learn how to fish and enjoy the outdoors.
“People have already asked me when I plan to retire,” laughs Iaconelli, who’s been fishing competitively for 24 years, “and I tell them I’m never really going to retire. I love teaching others how to catch more fish, and I know I’ll keep doing that until I physically can’t do it any longer.
Tournament-wise, even after this many years, Iaconelli still loves to compete, and he wants to win again. After the first five Bassmaster Elite Series events this past season, he stood 7th in Angler of the Year points, but he faded during the final three Elites in what he considers his home waters, the smallmouth lakes of St. Clair and Champlain, and the St. Lawrence River.
“Sometimes, competing on waters you know well is actually harder than on those you don’t know as well,” he explains. “So often when you’re fishing places like St. Clair or Champlain where I’ve fished for years, you go in with pre-conceived ideas of where the fish should be and how to catch them, and that’s what I did. I didn’t fish the present conditions. I fished history, and it cost me.
“This past season I did pre-fish and study the tournament waters when I could, and it did help me. I was preparing with current information. When we made the northern swing for those final three tournaments, even my pre-fishing and preparation were based on my past experiences. Those waters, especially, change every year, but I still fished my past history.
“I really don’t know how much longer I’ll compete in tournaments,” he says, “but I really believe I will know when it is time to step aside. Our Ike Foundation is 10 years old now and we’re really going to push it harder even more, getting more kids involved, so it’s definitely going to demand time away from tournament preparation. Our sponsors, including Yamaha, have been truly supportive over the years, and it’s a joy to look back at what we have accomplished together, but there’s still more to do.”
The Yamaha Pro also wants to become more involved in conservation issues, and doing so aligns perfectly with a lot of what The Ike Foundation® is already doing. Because he enjoys television work so much and because his shows have done well, he’s exploring ways to combine fishing and conservation in a meaningful program that will still have wide viewer appeal.
These are just some of the reasons his peers elected him into the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame® in 2023. Of the tens of thousands of bass fishermen in the United States, less than a hundred have been inducted.
“Honestly, I never thought about it happening to me,” he says, “and now that it has, I still have trouble believing it.”
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