CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Michael Iaconelli has enjoyed a fast-paced, wide-ranging, remarkable reign as champion of the 2003 CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer.
The brash, break-dancing, boat-bellowing 32-year-old New Jersey angler has enjoyed the usual perks that go to the newly crowned Classic winner: fame, fortune and a whirlwind year of travel doing seminars, media opportunities and other public appearances.
But Iaconelli has also enjoyed a high-profile reign that transcended the world of fishing. In addition to appearing several times (either on tape or in person) on ESPN's "SportsCenter" and talk shows like "Cold Pizza," "Around the Horn," "Pardon the Interruption" and "The Best Damn Sports Show Period," he will be profiled in GQ, ESQUIRE and ESPN THE MAGAZINE in coming months.
He also served as Grand Marshal of the Disney World's Share A Dream Come True parade at the Magic Kingdom, fished with football/baseball star Deion Sanders, and threw out the ceremonial first pitch of a spring training game between the Atlanta Braves and Texas Rangers.
Few Classic champions have taken as much advantage of their newfound celebrity as Iaconelli.
"My mentality is that this is the year that you do it," he said. "You work hard. You go out and help build yourself and the sport because you have this platform for a year. For me, it's been an incredible amount of work this year, but it's all been good stuff that has happened.
"The opportunities I had were amazing. The non-traditional media stuff was exciting. Having publications like ESQUIRE, GQ and ESPN THE MAGAZINE have interest in me and the sport was exciting. And some of the trips I took were exciting – Venezuela, the international bass competition in Spain. I had the opportunity to fish with Deion Sanders.
"Things that I would never, ever in a million years imagine myself doing, I did this year because of the Classic win."
Despite extensive travel that kept him off of the water far more than previous years, Iaconelli somehow managed to focus on fishing in the six events on the 2004 CITGO Bassmaster Tour. He finished an impressive third in the CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year race.
"One of the highlights was how well I competed this year with that workload," he said. "I was real proud of the fact that I threatened to win a few tournaments and I stayed competitive.
"I think the key behind it was as busy as I was — I didn't get to do the research and practice and preparation that I normally do for a tournament — entering the tournament a lot more relaxed. I had just won the Classic. I knew I was in next year's Classic. So I was having more fun. I was very relaxed and I went back to my fishing style, which is the key.
"I made the Classic early last year (via the Northern Opens) and I decided to change my style and swing for the fences in every tournament. I only fished for big fish. I didn't do that in last year's Classic. I went back to my normal style, which is going out and finding a concentration of fish and working with that group of fish. So I think it was a combination of fishing relaxed and being comfortable, having fun and getting back to my old style. I think that's how I stayed competitive this year."
With Classic XXXIV on Charlotte's Lake Wylie July 30-Aug. 1 on the horizon, Iaconelli has set his sights on becoming just the fifth pro to ever win more than one world championship (along with Rick Clunn, George Cochran, Hank Parker and Bobby Murray).
"I'm approaching it the same way I did last year, which is a lot of preparation and a lot of research," he explained. "I've been doing that now for the last month or two.
"I'm going into it trying to establish multiple patterns and multiple areas. I'm going to fish the same way I did this year. Instead of fishing for just big fish, I'm looking for a group of fish. Then when I get there the first day of the Classic, I'm dropping my trolling motor and fishing for that day, not what I did in pre-practice and not what happened 10 years go. I believe that philosophy for me is the best. That's when I have my best success.
"Every Classic I've ever fished, I felt like I had an opportunity to win. I felt like I was around a group of fish that could have won the tournament. The thing is, everything has to fall into place, everything has to work right. Last year, I had a super-great catch ratio. There were no competitors in my area last year. The tide worked to my advantage. So everything fell into place.
"This year is going to be no different. I feel like I have some areas that contain the potential to win. So the key again is whether I can come through and execute."
Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops, and BankOne.
Local Sponsors include the Charlotte Regional Sports Commission, Visit Charlotte, the Auditorium-Coliseum-Convention Center Authority, the Rock Hill Sports and Tourism Council and Time Warner Cable.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Media credentials for the 2004 CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer are available online at www.espnoutdoorsmedia.com.