GREENSBORO, N.C. Whoa, whoa, wait a sec. Did Mike Iaconelli just smile?
Yeah, that's what that was. Iaconelli took the stage on the second day of the Bassmaster American presented by Advance Auto Parts, weighed in some decent fish and seemed to enjoy himself as he talked about his day, even though he knew his 26-14 were a long shot to make the cut (he finished 16th).
The reigning Bassmaster Angler of the Year has struggled since finishing second on Lake Amistad in the first Elite Series event. He followed that tournament with finishes of 54th, 56th, 64th and 64th in the four events since. When he stopped to do the math, and realize that he has been on the schneid for nearly three full months, he was a little stunned.
"The thing that hurts for me is, I could never pin it to anything," he said. Bad luck, losing fish he didn't feel as though he was catching any breaks. "It would keep cycling on itself," he said.
But Iaconelli was feeling in such a mood that when he spent an hour trying to snare a 3 ½ -pound fish that would have pushed him into the second day 12-man cut, only to hook it on the outside of the lip and have to throw it back, he simply rolled along.
"It sounds silly, but one good day is going to go a long way," he added. "The only thing I can do is keep fishing," he said. "People ask me what I can do to fix it. I don't think anything's broken. My day will come."
Russ Lane began Friday in 12th place, barely on pace to fish on the third day of the Bassmaster American presented by Advance Auto Part. As one of the first to weigh his fish Friday, he took over third place, and then had the distinctly stressful honor of watching dozens of anglers cross the stage watching himself slip down the standings as they did.
About midway through the weigh-in, he stood in the barely lit backstage area watching the proceedings with a handful of other anglers. He swallowed hard, and his smile, usually broad, took on a bit of a nervous tic. Asked whether this tournament format made the 12-cut more intense (with weights zeroed after Friday, 12th is equivalent to first place) he replied, "definitely," and went back to watching.
Brent Chapman weighed in a bag good for only 18th place, and Lane breathed out: "Shooo." Mike McClelland later leapfrogged him. Ish Monroe's 17-3 bag nudged Kevin VanDam and Mike Wurm out of the cut, and bumped Lane to 10th. Gerald Swindle made him 11th. Lane stood with his knees bouncing ever so slightly.
And then, with three anglers to go, the slow slide stopped. Boyd Duckett, Zell Rowland and Kevin Wirth (who stopped fishing after saving his observer from drowning early Friday morning) didn't weigh fish.
Lane will fish Saturday on a new fishery, Lake Townsend, with the other 11 finalists. "I don't even know where it's at," he said. "I don't know what it looks like." But he'll have another day to learn.
Back in the pink
Mike McClelland finished in fourth after Day 2. But by around noon, he thought he was plain ol' finished. "I struggled today," he said. "I didn't catch my second keeper until 1:30."
Normally, he said, his bad back stays a distant thought, just so long as he's catching fish. But without any bass to distract him, he began to feel the pain all the more. That early afternoon keeper got him back on track, though, and he finished catching his limit an hour later.
"My back is killing me, and it hampered my thought process," he said. "I'm going to take me a bunch of ibuprofen in the morning before we get started and hope it won't be an issue."
Edwin Evers reportedly had a throng of boats following him Friday orning, but it didn't seem to bother the first-day leader. He had a solid limit early in the day on the strength of a somewhat flukish spot.
"I pulled up on a point and Greg Gutierrez was there. I didn't want to crowd him, so I stopped in from of a bridge before I was going to run my set of docks and just started whackin' 'em," he said.
Evers said he caught the fish on a crankbait and a carolina rig before finding the key to the grade of fish needed to allow him to relax the rest of the day.
"I threw out a jig and swum it a little bit, then started hopping it. They started nailing it," said Evers, who was through fishing by 9. "I played with my tackle, gave a few spots to a friend of mine who had done the same last year on Eagle Mountain and basically just relaxed."
John Murray bagged his entire 19-8 pound limit in one spot Friday. But if you had told him that two days ago, he'd have had a hard time believing you.
"I literally thought this was the worst lake in the country in practice. I was thoroughly convinced that they did not live here," said Murray.
Fishing a half ounce football football jig over rocks, the Arizona pro took advantage of a magical one-hour period where the bass moved up and fed on the plethora of baitfish hanging on the structure.
"I fished for an hour and a half there on the last practice day and never got a strike. I snagged six bluegill on a crankbait and there was a lot of shad, too, but the fish moved up for about an hour today and that was it," said Murray. "I tried to swing a five pounder on a crankbait or I would have had over twenty pounds."
Nobody whacked High Rock Lake as hard as Brian Snowden the past two days. Flipping shallow shoreline cover resulted in a tie for the biggest bag in the tournament Friday (21-9) to go with an 18-10 bag on day one.
"It was a little bit different time frame this morning, but once it got started, you could call it," said Snowden. "Between 9:30 and noon, I had 12 or 13 keepers. It was the most fun day of fishing I've had in a long time."
Editor's Note: Sunday, May 20, ESPNOutdoors.com will have live video coverage of the Bassmaster American at 3:30 p.m. ET as Bassmaster TV's Mark Zona and Tommy Sanders host Hooked Up. The final day weigh-in follows immediately after where you can see who wins the $250,000 prize!