One of the world’s most exalted fishing tournaments begins Thursday on Mille Lacs when the nation’s top 50 Bassmaster Elite Series anglers hit the big lake seeking the coveted title of Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year. Hosted by B.A.S.S., a 500,000-member fishing-tournament and conservation group from Birmingham, Ala., the championship offers a $1 million purse, with a first-place prize of $100,000.
Competition will occur Thursday, Friday and Sunday, with boats leaving Eddy’s Resort each morning at 6:40 and weigh-ins beginning at Grand Casino Mille Lacs daily at 3:45 p.m. Saturday will be “Bassmaster University and Military and First Responders Appreciation Day” at the casino, with the B.A.S.S. tournament pros giving free fishing seminars.
A host of fishing-related product manufacturers also will exhibit, and anglers will be available for autographs and photos, with special attractions for kids. All events are free and open to the public.
In the interview below, well-known pro angler and TV personality Mike Iaconelli, who will compete at Mille Lacs, talks about his life on the Bassmaster tournament circuit, and about the size of Mille Lacs bass he thinks will be needed to win the tournament.
Q: Have you fished Mille Lacs before?
A: Yes. Open water twice. And I’ve ice-fished it about six times. It’s an amazing lake.
Q: Is it like any lake you’ve fished on the B.A.S.S. circuit this year?
A: I fished a Northern Open tournament on Lake Oneida [New York] and there are similarities between it and Mille Lacs. Both are relatively shallow with a lot of rocks and weeds. But Mille Lacs is special. Anyplace else, you catch a 17-inch smallmouth and it will weigh 3 pounds, give or take. On Mille Lacs, it could go 4.
Q: Known as a smallmouth lake, Mille Lacs also has largemouth. Will some competitors target them instead of smallmouth?
A: Some will go for largemouth specifically. Some for smallmouth. And some will try to get a mix. Anglers will fish their strengths.
Q: When did you turn pro?
Q: Has it lived up to what you thought it would be, in terms of lifestyle and income?
A: Yes, and then some. It’s not all ups. But it’s bigger and better than I ever dreamed.
Q: In addition to being a winning bass angler, you’re known nationwide, even worldwide, through your TV shows and other media. Your persona on the circuit is that of a bit of a wild man. You’re probably the only break dancer on the circuit, for example. Rap music is a favorite. And you’re funny. Did you set out to market yourself as a new kind of pro bass angler?
A: My [college] degree is in advertising and PR. But a lot of it has just happened. You take hold of stuff that’s working, that’s positive and that people respond to, and you try to build on it. At the end of the day, the biggest thing I’ve done right is be myself.
Q: Your TV show, “City Limits Fishing,” was excellent.
A: It ran five seasons on the Versus network. It was awesome and a lot of fun. Since then, I’ve used various media to reach people in different ways. We’ve got a new show, “Going Ike,” which will be on TV soon, in which I travel all over, fishing different species. I also do a podcast, “Ike Live,” in which we delve deeper into the lives of people who fish, not just pros but celebrities and athletes as well. We also have an education arm we call The Bass University, and I’ve got a foundation that helps kids, especially from inner cities, go fishing
Q: You’re on the road from mid-February until mid-September. How do you squeeze it all in?
A: I have a wonderful wife who is really good at running the business. Other members of my family help as well.
Q: You’ve won the Bassmaster and other major tournaments. No one does that by luck. How did you develop your skills?
A: You have to work hard at understanding fish behavior. I did it in stair-step fashion. I started fishing in a local club. Then fished a few years as a co-angler [with a pro]. I took my time. Things are a little different today. Young anglers are unbelievably talented. There is so much information available about fish and fishing that wasn’t widely available before. Still, to survive at this level, you have to be able to fish in many different ways. We fish lakes and rivers all over the country. Each is different.
Q: What baits will you use on Mille Lacs?
A: I’m going to target smallmouth, and my techniques will be divided broadly into two categories. Power fishing, meaning generally bigger baits that move faster hoping to trigger a reaction strike. And finesse fishing, meaning lighter lines and smaller baits.
Q: Anglers can weigh five fish. What daily weights do you think it will take to win?
A: I don’t want to overestimate it. But I think someone will have to have 22-23 pounds a day to win. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 25-pound bag of smallmouth weighed some days.
Q: What’s the future hold for you? How long will you fish competitively?
A: I’m 44. I’m still competitive. I feel like I have a lot of years ahead of me in tournament fishing. It’s a unique sport. In some sports, athletes get old and can’t do it anymore. That’s less true here. I think I can remain competitive a long time. That said, my other businesses will present opportunities, as well.
Q: Competitive bass fishing traditionally has been a Southern sport. Do you think it can catch on in the North, with an expanding fan base?
A: Definitely. The North has the fisheries. Yet there’s a lot more that goes into site selection than just a fishery. So we’ll see. But I can’t wait for people around the country to see the size of Mille Lacs smallmouths. It will open up a lot of eyes. As for the fan base of competitive bass fishing, each year, more and more ‘nontraditional’ people pay attention to the sport. Today, for instance, we have competitors from all over the world.
Q: How important is the support of sponsors?
A: Critical, and I’ve got a great team. Most have been with me from the beginning, including Toyota and Yamaha. Also Abu Garcia. Berkley. Rapala and VMC hooks from right here in the Twin Cities. And I run a Bass Cat. There are many others, and I appreciate each one.
Q: One wild card on Mille Lacs is the weather. It’s a big, shallow lake, capable of kicking up big waves in a hurry.
A: That is the X factor. I think 99 percent of guys who will qualify for the event know how to handle those waves. But at the end of the day, a bass boat isn’t made to take 10-foot waves.
Q: After years of driving a boat 70 miles an hour or faster in what can be rough weather, is it second nature? Or nerve-racking?
A: It’s generally second nature. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve fished competitively in giant waves, and it can be intimidating. If you’re not scared in conditions like that, you’re not human.