SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The Bassmaster Elite Series came to a Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race and a tournament broke out.
On a day that saw all-everything angler Kevin VanDam crowned Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year for the first time this century, former Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Mike Iaconelli stole a bit of KVD's thunder. Ike jumped 39 places to claim the Day Two lead in the Champion's Choice presented by Ramada Worldwide on Oneida Lake.
Iaconelli, whose five bass (all largemouths) weighed 20-01, hadn't even contemplated the possibility of a 20-plus limit.
"I've been coming here for a lot of years and I never caught five fish that weighed that much," Iaconelli said. "I used to come here with my bass club and the heaviest bag I ever weighed was 15 3/4 pounds."
Fellow northeastern native Dave Wolak, who sacked an 18-pound limit here in BASS competition two years ago, predicted a 20-pound catch was possible before Iaconelli weighed in, but said it was unlikely to be repeated.
"Those largemouth bass are resident fish and they'll eventually run out," Wolak said.
Iaconelli said his fish required a lot of hard work and near-constant movement.
"They're not bunched up," he said. "There's no key area. I don't have a magic rock pile or a magic point."
After a first half of the season deemed subpar by his personal standards, Iaconelli has been on fire of late, garnering a ninth-place finish at Old Hickory and a fifth-place on Lake Erie. Those two high finishes moved him off the bubble and well within Classic contention.
He characterized himself as a streaky fisherman, nothing his recent roll snowballed at exactly the right time.
"I get in and out of grooves," Iaconelli said. "Some guys, like Kevin VanDam, they don't have any lulls — but I do. When that happens, you just have to put your head down and keep fishing."
For every rapid climb like Iaconelli's, there's usually an offsetting plummet by some other angler. Today Britt Myers was the unfortunate one on the other side of the seesaw. After weighing in 16-06 yesterday, good enough for third place, he blanked on Friday.
"I think it had something to do with those fronts," Myers said. "They moved the fish."
He targeted boat docks with a Jym-Su soft stickbait and a swimming jig, declining to change gears in midstream.
"You have to dance with what brought you," Myers said. "I stuck with it the entire time."
Steve Kennedy also fell, but not as precipitously as Myers. He added 12-15 to yesterday's 17-10 and sits in fifth place, just over 2 pounds out of the lead he held yesterday.
"It was a much tougher day," Kennedy said. "It was tough yesterday, but I got some key bites. I'm fishing all day for just seven or eight bites."
He managed to entice the expected number of bites today, but broke off the two largest bass that struck his lures.
"There was one that I saw under a dock yesterday," Kennedy said. " I wasn't sure if it was a carp or a bass. Yesterday it wouldn't touch anything, but today I made the perfect cast and it just annihilated my frog. It broke 30-pound braid."
He'll be prepared for those hard-striking largemouths tomorrow, though.
"I told (my wife) Julia to go out and get me some 40," Kennedy said. "I'd like to go heavier, but 50-pound braid doesn't cast as well."
Dean Rojas is also targeting largemouths and improved on yesterday's catch of 15-14 with 16-09 of bass falling for his frog. Unlike Kennedy, he was pleased he fished a clean day.
"I fished the same stuff today," Rojas said. "I got some real key bites and I didn't lose anything."
While Kennedy expressed some concern he may be running out of fish, Rojas hasn't touched the majority of his good water.
"I still have another area that I haven't even touched," he said. "I don't want to beat them up."
Kevin Langill is the only angler in the top 5 who is focused exclusively on smallmouths. Like Iaconelli and Rojas above him, his catch increased today, from 15-03 to 16-01, and he sits comfortably in third, only a pound and a half behind Iaconelli.
Like Rojas, Langill has been exercising careful fish management to ensure he'll have more to catch tomorrow and possibly Sunday.
"I have three different areas and I've only fished one of them so far," Langill said. "I've been checking the others out. I go there, get bit and leave."
Unlike some of the bank-beaters on the leaderboard, Langill is fishing in open water, moving around a lot looking for fish with his electronics. He said when the wind picked up, the rollers were crashing over the sides of his boat, but he nevertheless hopes the inclement weather stays around a bit longer.
"The storms seemed to turn them on," Langill said.
Terry Butcher once again weighed in a mixed limit of largemouths and smallmouths, but his daily weight fell from 16-09 to 14-07, and he dropped from second to fourth in the standings.
"I had a fair day," Butcher said. "I didn't have as many bites today. My fish took a pounding. One spot I'm sharing with Mike (McClelland) and Bernie (Schultz) kind of found one late yesterday. I've got one other (spot)."
Now that the possibility of a 20-pound limit is no longer a myth, the doors are wide open for anyone to make a move. There is only a 4- pound gap between first and 12th places, and exactly 9 pounds between first and 50th. Now the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race has been settled, the fishing world can refocus on a tournament promising to be settled by ounces.
Visit Bassmaster.com for full coverage of the Elite Series Champion's Choice with weigh-in host Keith Alan, Aug. 3-10, 2008. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, daily weigh-ins with live streaming video and real-time leaderboards start at 5:00 p.m. ET. On Saturday, catch "Bassmaster University" at 4:15 p.m. ET before the weigh-in. Then on Sunday, get "Hooked Up" with hosts Tommy Sanders and Mark Zona at 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. ET. Live JWC weigh-in video starts at 5 p.m. ET with the final weigh-in and real-time leaderboard of the season starting at 7:30 p.m. ET.