Ike: "Elite Series is evolution of sport"

Editor's note: Through his "Pound Out Cancer" fund-raising project, Ike has pledged to contribute $2 for evey pound of bass he catches in a tournament. For more info, check out the site.

CELEBRATION, Fla. — One of the most well-known personalities in professional bass fishing has accepted an invitation to compete against the world's best anglers in the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series.

In announcing his intentions, Michael Iaconelli, 33, of Runnemede, N.J., called the Elite Series an "evolution of the sport."

"There was no hesitation in my signing up for the Series," Iaconelli said. "BASS is where my career was built, starting in the Federation … and the changes BASS is making are steering the sport in right direction."

The six-time CITGO Bassmaster Classic qualifier won the event in 2003 on the Louisiana Delta in New Orleans. He placed fifth in the 2005 Classic, has earned nearly $1 million fishing BASS tournaments and was one of 35 anglers deemed the sport's greatest in ESPN's Greatest Angler Debate presented by John Deere earlier this year. Now, the angler whose motto is "Never Give Up," is ready for Elite Series action. "The money is growing, the sport is growing and this is what needs to happen."

Iaconelli and other Elite Series anglers have the opportunity to cash in on more than $11 million in 2006 in the tournament series, the CITGO Bassmaster Classic, the Bassmaster Majors, the CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year program and other contingencies.

But the Elite Series isn't just offering increased prize purses. Iaconelli says the increased television exposure — including same-day coverage of Bassmaster Majors' Day 4 weigh-in on ESPN2 — is helping him secure a roster of sponsors that will wrap his boat. Already, Tru-Tungsten and Dick's Sporting Goods will wrap parts of Iaconelli's boat. There are three more spots he is close to closing deals on as well, he said. Iaconelli's other sponsors include Ranger Boats, Yamaha Motor Corp., the Berkley brand under Pure Fishing America and Daiwa Corp.

"These companies are in business to sell more products and make more money and when you approach them with hardcore numbers and coverage on TV, it's hard for them to say no," Iaconelli said.

Iaconelli wastes no time in promoting himself and his sponsors or preparing for competition. He's scheduled to make nearly 20 sports show appearances in January and February next year before fishing the Classic on Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee, Fla., Feb. 24-26. Before that, he'll test the Classic waters at the "Angling Against Cancer" charity tournament benefiting the V Foundation for Cancer Research on Nov.12-13, a tournament hosted by the Kissimmee-St. Cloud Convention and Visitor's Bureau.

Following the Classic, Elite Series anglers will begin their season with the "Battle on the Border" on Lake Amistad in Del Rio, Texas. The Elite Series and Bassmaster Majors also will visit Lake Guntersville in Alabama, Lake Wylie in North Carolina and the Potomac River in Maryland — the waters Iaconelli said he'll be most fierce on. "It's a tidal fishery and I grew up fishing tidal fisheries," he said. "Overall, I love that we'll fish new places and fish outside of the spawning cycle. The Elite Series is an evolution of this sport and I am crazy about it."