Michael Iaconelli Fires Up BASSfest

Bassmaster Elite Series pro Michael Iaconelli of Pitts Grove, N.J., takes the lead on the first day of Bassmaster's BASSfest at Chickamauga Lake, bringing 25 pounds, 12 ounces to the scales. (Photo: Seigo Saito/Bassmaster)

Michael Iaconelli Fires Up BASSfest Lead On Lake Chickamauga

There are few secrets on Lake Chickamauga this week among the 140 anglers in the June 11-15 Bassmaster BASSfest event.

Even Michael Iaconelli, who caught 25 pounds, 12 ounces of bass within one hour to take the first-day BASSfest lead, claims not to have a spot to himself or a unique technique to catch the bass he’s located on the Tennessee River impoundment.

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“I found five schools of fish — and they were all found by others, too. I have nothing to myself. There are no secrets here,” said the Bassmaster Elite Series pro from Pitts Grove, N.J.

“But seeing them and catching them are two different things. Ask anyone here. They’ve all found amazing, winning schools of fish. You have to get the first one to bite and fire up the school,” he added.

Camped on one of the five schools, Iaconelli did just that. But, he added, perhaps what he tempted the bass with wasn’t as important as his timing.

“My timing was right. I figured out how to get the first one to bite, and the rest of the school was ignited. I was there for that. You take away that hour, then I had a really tough day,” he said.

Iaconelli, a seven-time Bassmaster champion, including the 2003 Bassmaster Classic, has never competed before on Chickamauga.

Edwin Evers’ account of his first competition day was almost identical to Iaconelli’s. A 30- to 40-minute flurry late in the afternoon yielded 24-3 from one school of bass. His last-hour bounty was good enough for second place, just 1 pound, 9 ounces behind Iaconelli.

“It was all timing,” said Evers, an Elite pro from Talala, Okla.

Evers said he’s sharing water with other competitors, and everyone knows what everyone else is doing.

“I don’t think there are any secrets here,” Evers said.

At least one Elite pro has a secret he’s trying to keep. Tommy Biffle of Wagoner, Okla., was cagey about the bait combo he used to land 24-1 and third place.

“I am doing something different. It’s working pretty well,” Biffle said.

But Biffle was candid about where he found his quality bass: outside grasslines in about 16 feet of water.

His bite was slow; he didn’t have a limit until 11:30, he said. He hooked into about six keepers all day, including a 5-pounder that came unhooked, and would have improved his weight via a cull by about 2 pounds, he said.

“Seemed like every time I caught one, it was a good one,” he said.

Biffle weighed the day’s largest bass, an 8-6, making him the frontrunner for the event’s Carhartt Big Bass bonus of up to $1,500.

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Fourth place was taken by an Elite pro and 2004 Classic champ, Takahiro Omori of Emory, Texas. He weighed 22-15. In fifth place was another Elite pro and four-time Classic champ, Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., with 22-9.

Part competition, part festival, BASSfest is a unique event. The field includes the 107 pros of the Bassmaster Elite Series plus 33 anglers from the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens circuit. They are competing over five days for a first-place prize of $125,000 and a berth in the 2015 Bassmaster Classic.

Wednesday was round No. 1 with the full field on Chickamauga. All 140 pros will return to Chickamauga Thursday.

But come Friday, the Top 50 from Thursday will stay on shore. The other 90 anglers will go into a shootout on nearby Nickajack Lake. The 10 pros who survive the shootout will rejoin the 50 anglers Saturday for the next round on Chickamauga. Sunday, the Top 12 will return to “The Chick” to compete for the trophy.

While the pros are fishing Friday through Sunday, fans can enjoy the BASSfest Expo and Bassmaster University seminars solely on Friday at Point Park in Dayton. Bassmaster University sessions will feature some of the Top 50 anglers teaching their techniques for catching bass on Chickamauga and other fisheries. Fans also are invited to watch the pros take off from the park’s docks at 6:15 a.m. Thursday and at 7 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Weigh-ins — free, like all BASSfest events — will begin at 3:15 p.m. Thursday and at 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The Nickajack weigh-in will be streamed live to the park on Friday beginning at 2:30 p.m.

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Richard Simms is a professional journalist and fishing guide in Chattanooga. (See www.ScenicCityFishing.com) He is also a former wildlife officer for TWRA, a book author and a self-proclaimed "River Rat" with a sincere desire for spreading the message about our bountiful natural resources and the people charged with using, or protecting them.


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