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Kickin' Some Bass!

Dec. 05, 2005
Dec. 05, 2005

Table of Contents
Dec. 5, 2005

Sports Illustrated Bonus Section: SI Adventure
BASS FISHING
SI Players: Life On and Off the Field
Features
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Kickin' Some Bass!

Mike Iaconelli has been accused of "thuggin' up" bass fishing, but ESPN is betting (and praying) he can hook the Pimp My Ride crowd ... if some mullet-headed good ol' boy doesn't gut him first

It's a Saturday afternoon in July, inside the giant metal teat of Pittsburgh's Mellon Arena. The man with the brown pompadour and the sweaty face stalks the stage like an evangelical preacher, looking out past the TV cameras, the photographers, the spotlights and the four Hooters girls to exhort--no, demand!--that the 10,520 people before him "GET UP ON YOUR FEET!" and "LIGHT THIS CANDLE!" because it's time to "GO IKE FOR MIKE IACONELLI!" And since these are 10,520 of the most compliant fans you will ever see, they clap and hoot and wave their free hats as if they're Terrible Towels. And here he comes now, their hero, standing atop his $40,000 boat as it's towed behind an SUV, pointing to the crowd and pumping his fist and looking like the world's smallest, skinniest, Joisey-est prizefighter, the great Northern hope of bass fishing come to knock off all the good ol' boy anglers. And the little girls shriek Beatles shrieks; mulleted men raise their tank-topped arms to the iron sky; small boys boogie in the stands; and the three shirtless guys in the infield, the ones who drove all night from West Deptford, N.J., so they could be here with I-K-E scrawled in red paint on their hairy, beer-stretched bellies, bounce up and down with glee as overhead speakers thump out the bass line to Usher's Yeah! The roar grows as Ike vaults from his boat onto the stage, wearing his flame-embroidered jersey, the one with enough sponsor decals to make a Waltrip envious and, turning to face the crowd (and, more important, the cameras), he upends a mesh bag onto the scales to reveal ... four of the most average-looking fish you will ever see. No matter though, because Ike whoops and hoists two of the small, green, slowly asphyxiating bass high above his head as if he were Crazy Horse brandishing the scalp from one of Custer's men. The crowd screams in joy and for a moment, amid the concocted cacophony of this made-for-TV event, in this money-shot moment of the Bassmaster Classic--the Super Bowl of bass fishing--it's almost possible to believe that all this really matters. That 33-year-old Mike Iaconelli might indeed be, as some claim, a galvanizing sports celebrity on the order of John McEnroe or Tiger Woods, and that bass fishing's long-prophesied mainstreaming is finally upon us, that it is indeed NASCAR on water--BASSCAR, baby!--and that sometime in the near future you and I will be discussing crankbait casting and flipping and spinning just as readily as we do the Steelers' pass rush or the Yankees' bullpen. That this Iaconelli kid, the one with his own book and hip-hop DVD and groupies and Daily Show skit, is the new face of an old sport that is being transformed into something young and in-your-face and about to go world-effin'-wide.

This is an article from the Dec. 5, 2005 issue Original Layout

But then that moment passes, like the fleeting shadow of a bass zigzagging along the muddy shallows of the Ohio River, and you remember that this is fishing, after all, not Ultimate Fighting, and that no one paid to get into this arena, and that there are few activities more poorly suited to MTV-ification than standing on a boat casting a line for seven hours.

But the small man onstage is still up there, smiling and pointing, and you can't help but notice how the crowd responds to him, and you wonder if--just maybe--this man could make it happen.

This is what you should know about Mike Iaconelli: He grew up in Runnemede, N.J.; his father died when he was an infant; he learned to fish when he was two years old; for a while he had a mullet and was a break-dancer. Still is, in fact, sometimes even on the bow of his boat after catching a big one. Also, he is good at fishing. Very good. In his short pro career, he has amassed 22 top 10 finishes and four victories, including the 2003 Bassmaster Classic, which doesn't sound like all that much but, in the angling world, is almost unheard-of; he is already 20th on the alltime money list in a sport where men routinely fish into their 60s. More important, when he won the Classic, he did so in dramatic fashion: on the last cast of the last day, snagging a 31/2-pound bass and letting out a scream caught on camera--hell, directed at the camera--the volume and ferociousness of which made Howard Dean look downright meek. People still talk about that scream.

This is what Mike Iaconelli would like you to know about Mike Iaconelli: He is willing--no, eager--to sign a copy of his book for you. Or his DVD, which is not your typical bass fishing DVD, either. Not by a long shot. (It's more Vibe than Field & Stream.) Also, he has a CD out, a website, a clothing line and a calendar. In addition he'd like you to know that he thinks highly of his sponsors, but not highly enough that he wouldn't sell them all down the river, figuratively or literally, if Pepsi came calling. (Nike would be even better.) Finally, if you happen to be part of the media, he would like you to know that he's available to do interviews almost any time. Say, now. Unless, of course, it's the practice week for the Classic. Then he turns off his phones and ignores media and sponsors and friends and works 19-hour days, because the Classic is won during the practice week and his mom taught him that preparation is the key to success.

This is what ESPN, which has owned the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (BASS) since 2001, would like you to know about Mike Iaconelli: He is young, he is handsome, he is urban, he is exciting, he is controversial (the Dennis Rodman of fishing!), he dances on his boat and he screams. Demographically speaking, he pulls in all kinds of numbers and BASS is all about numbers: 44 million people fish, more than play golf or tennis; 9.4 million people watched all or part of the 12 hours of Classic coverage over its three days this summer; anglers spend $50 billion a year on all things fishing.

These are some other things about Mike Iaconelli which aren't required knowledge but are worth noting: During tournaments he sets three alarms and gets a wake-up call to make sure he's on the water on time; among the 363 people or entities he thanks in his book he includes, "the entire hip-hop movement and all the real DJs out there"; finally, that he uses the words absolutely and brother a lot, as in "Mike, do you have time for an interview?"

"Absolutely, brother!"

Bass fishing is a little like playing a video game: It's interesting to do but boring to watch. Cast. Tug. Reel it back in. Repeat 2,000 times. Ray Scott, the gregarious former insurance salesman who started BASS back in 1967, knew this inconvenient truth from the beginning, when the idea occurred to him one day at a Ramada Inn in Jackson, Miss., that if golf could make boatloads of money, why not fishing? He knew he needed to create some buzz, so instead of wooing members of the media by touting the merits of his "sport," he went one step further and simply paid them to cover it. He paid for their airfare, their accommodations, their food and damn well anything else they wanted. Then he held tournaments in such nontraditional fishing destinations as Las Vegas. And he sold the sport everywhere. As this magazine put it in '69, Scott pitched BASS like "a revival preacher painting the glories of paradise gained."

These days Scott is still preaching his gospel. At this summer's Classic he was seated at a table in a Pittsburgh convention hall wearing his trademark white cowboy hat, blue jeans and black tassled vest, simultaneously hawking an energy bar called Hooah! and his memoir, Bass Boss, which features on the back cover a photo of him teaching George H. W. Bush how to cast. "Come buy the book!" Scott shouted to the milling crowd while tearing open an energy bar wrapper with his teeth. "C'mere, boy. Try this bar. Hooah! HOOO-aaahhh!" His head swiveled constantly, looking for a target. "Who's buying the book? This'll cost ya $25 at Barnes & Noble. Only $20 here! I got pictures of [TV host] Bill Dance topless! Hooah!"

Scott, who sold BASS in 1986 but stayed on as its president until 1998, has been remarkably adept at selling corporations and publications on bass fishing's allure. It has been "the hot new thing" several times; in '82 The New York Times wrote that it has "all the razzle-dazzle of a professional football game," while Newsweek wrote in '91 that fishing had become not a hobby but "a media-industrial complex." (In '95 BASS even got some competition when former Wall Street tycoon turned boat company CEO Irwin Jacobs founded the FLW tour--named for boat icon Forrest L. Wood--which later paired with Wal-Mart.)

ESPN bought BASS from a group of investors in 1999 for $40 million, slapped it on TV and then went about trying to convince the rest of us that we should watch. What the sport (and ESPN) needed was a crossover star who was the opposite of everything BASS represented, someone not Southern, middle-aged, conservative, folksy. Someone outside the Walker, Texas Ranger demo. Enter Mike Iaconelli. "Ten years from now, assuming that bass fishing keeps growing, the one thing people will point to is Iaconelli's winning the 2003 Classic," says Jay Kumar, founder of bassfan.com and cohost of ESPN2's Loudmouth Bass. "That was the scream heard round the media world. And Mike took a ton of heat for it from within the industry. They thought it was inappropriate. Nobody would blink an eye in any other sport, but this was bass fishing. From that moment on, though, the media saw personalities worth showing on TV."

With that win, Iaconelli became "Ike" and was, almost immediately, one of the most popular anglers on tour. Old ladies approached him in supermarkets, asking if he was "that guy that screamed on ESPN." Hard-core fans liked the way he worked the water. Kids reacted to him--"even as young as three and four years old, they love Ike," says Kumar. Maybe it's that he speaks his mind. Maybe it's the tattoos that cover his torso.

In any other sport Iaconelli would be considered merely excitable; in the world of fishing, though, he was a bad boy, but he made it acceptable, even preferable, to be different. He's part of a young generation of anglers who listen to rap, drive to tournaments on 24-inch rims and party almost as hard as they say they do. There's the dyed-blond former go-go dancer Skeet Reese; the gregarious, hard-living Ish Monroe, the only black man to qualify for the Classic this year; the charming but coarse Gerald Swindle, the tour's Dale Earnhardt Jr.; the goofy, relentless Aaron Martens, with his Beavis and Butt-head vibe; and Kevin VanDam, the PC, masterly Borg to Ike's mercurial McEnroe. These anglers are changing the face of the sport. Not everybody is happy about that.

Here's Mark Tucker, a 44-year-old former construction foreman (with biceps to match) who has fished in four Classics: "I don't know if it's that Mike's from New Jersey or whatever, but lots of guys don't care for him. Don't matter how good you are, when you dance on the front of the boat, that sort of breaks some people down. Kind of embarrassing, really."

Embarrassing? The defense calls Skeet Reese. "Are guys jealous of Ike? Hell, yes. But he's doing something that we've needed, because when the Benjamins start flowing from the nonendemic stuff, it's just making my career better."

Monroe agrees. "A lot of the old guys are bitter because guys like Ike are appealing to a younger demographic, but people don't come to tournaments to see the good old boys." Monroe pauses, then nods intently. "I tell you, we're blowing the lid off this thing."

If that's true, it is because the new generation is as good as it is marketable, and no one--save maybe VanDam--is better with a rod in his hand than Iaconelli. And he is good because of an old-fashioned, not-so-sexy reason: He works his a-- off. At the three-day Classic anglers can catch up to five fish per day and have from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. to do so. It is all go time, and Iaconelli is particularly frenetic. There is nothing languorous, nothing River Runs Through It about his style. To watch him fish is to witness controlled mania. Cast, wind. Cast, wind. Cast, wind.... His body is always tense. Fishing may not be inherently athletic, but he makes it so.

He preps for tournaments with the same fervor. "This isn't about luck," he explains. "Luck's been taken out of the equation." He began preparing for the 2005 Classic in October '04, when he spent four days scouting the Pittsburgh rivers--the confluence of the Ohio, the Monongahela and the Allegheny rivers--studying topographical maps, navigation maps, aerial maps ("I'm a map f------ junkie") and using his depth finder to make his own charts. He searched through back issues of Bassmaster magazine--he has every issue since 1983, indexed onto a card catalog--looking for tips on fishing Pittsburgh's rivers. He researched bait and water patterns. He identified boat ramps and local tackle stores, spoke to folks at the local Department of Fish & Game office. Hell, he did everything but strap on a damn scuba tank and commune with the fish.

He was the only angler to scout the river on his own. The rest waited until practice week, a month before the tournament, when qualifiers have five days on the water. After that, they can't fish it, talk to anyone who has, boat on it or even fly over it.

Three weeks before the 2005 Classic Iaconelli met with a reporter in New Jersey. He is skinny and compact, built like a gymnast. He has big eyes and a thin head that tapers into his neck like an isosceles triangle, accented by sideburns. On this day he is wearing a lime-green striped button down, jeans and old-school Chuck Taylors. His hair is perfectly gelled, and there's a thin crescent of beard on the bottom of his chin. He says he's 5'10", 140, but he looks shorter. He is both handsome and nonthreatening, like the oldest member of a boy band.

He lives in a nondescript two-bedroom condo amid a mass of such condos off Exit 4 of the New Jersey Turnpike, in Voorhees. Across the street is an advanced dermatology laser and cosmetic center. His home is sparsely furnished; there are two turntables, a bevy of photos of his two young daughters (he's divorced), some awards, a few books (including Rodman's Bad As I Wanna Be) and not a whole lot else. His girlfriend, Amanda Rosborough, is on the couch watching the Discovery Channel on a large TV. She is a former collegiate lacrosse player; thin, blonde and friendly.

When asked how many days he'd spent in the condo this year, Iaconelli counted on his fingers, then said, "12 or 13." The rest of the time he was on the road: competing at tournaments or attending to media and sponsor duties. He is a brand, one that he refers to in the third person as Ike. "That's not me, that's Ike," he said at one point, making a distancing motion with his hand. "That persona is important to branding. My excitement isn't phony, but I'm aware of its value."

Iaconelli has made a little more than $1 million in competition over the past six years, but he estimates that accounts for only 25% of his income; the rest comes from sponsorship deals. Here are the company logos stitched onto his jersey: Ranger, Berkley, Dick's (a sporting goods chain; he worked in one after college), Cocoon, Gulp, Citgo, Yamaha, Tru-Tungsten, Lowrance and Trilene. To top it off, he wears a Toyota hat. Still, he says what he really wants is a big "nonendemic" sponsor. So, perhaps wishfully, he wears Nike sandals.

From his condo we "rolled" (Ike's word) to lunch in his black Escalade, which has huge woofers where the trunk used to be and DVD players on the back of the front seats so his daughters can watch movies. He talked nonstop as he drove, and almost everything he said was delivered by one of two personas: his business persona or his "dude" persona. The business persona talked about "growing the sport" ("We're not leaving it to sit like what happened in the '90s when you saw it flatline"), about his deals (he has a meeting with the executive producer of Extreme Makeover to talk about a reality show based on his life), his marketing motto ("I want to blare untraditionality") and the upcoming Classic ("I'm more confident going into this event than any I've ever fished.") The dude persona, on the other hand, told stories about partying, about the women on tour ("There are some bass groupies") and about moving on after his divorce last year. The dude persona also swore often, perhaps as a way of signaling that it was the dude persona talking.

Both personas were on hand for lunch, which was in a strip mall, where Iaconelli was recognized by some young boys ("What's up, brothers!") who asked for his autograph. Later, we drove through his old hometown, then swung by his uncle's place, where he stores his fishing gear and magazines. In a little river behind his uncle's house, Iaconelli caught a channel catfish using just a children's rod and a piece of hot dog. Upon doing so, he let out a loud whoop, followed by a scream.

Fast forward to the Classic. It is Day 2 of the three-day event, and Iaconelli is headed up the Monongahela River, which looks like a rumpled army blanket. On either side the hills are thick with a green Afro of trees. It is warm, in the mid-80s, and people are on the dock to watch some professional fishermen fish--shirtless dudes with Steelers caps, girls in bikinis, depleted 30-packs of Coors Light nearby.

To catch a bass, Iaconelli contends, you must think like a bass. That shouldn't be hard to do. The bass is not unlike the American consumer: It will ingest most anything that happens by and is, frankly, rather lazy. It's also ornery, moody and a strong fighter. A predator fish, it prefers to ambush its prey, which include crawfish, minnows and worms. So it sits in dark cover and waits for something to go by, then darts out and tries to swallow it. Down south, in man-made lakes in Florida and Alabama, bass grow up to 10-plus pounds, but in Pittsburgh, two pounds is as big as anyone is seeing. So instead of 20-pound line, Iaconelli uses a light line and small lures, trying to "match the hatch."

He uses all manner of casts: He pitches the line submarine style, like Dan Quisenberry, to get his lure under things. He throws it like a bocce-ball player for a soft entry close to the boat, uses an overhand release to fire it long. He sometimes banks his lure off concrete shore walls and abandoned barges for a softer entry into the water--more like bait, less like a lure--and he fires it under docks and between moorings. He can cast a three-ounce bait to any spot in a 70-foot radius and hit within a foot of his target. This may not look as sexy as nipping the outside corner with a 95-mph fastball, but it's probably just as hard.

The bait he throws during a tournament might not mean anything to a casual observer, but to the core audience, it is very, very important. This is how he will describe his pick of the day later to the fishing press: "I'm fishing a six- and eight-pound Berkley vanish fluorocarbon, and I'm throwing a finesse plastic bait. It's a cross between a tube and a creature bait, and I'm fishing it on the Tru-Tungsten. I'm getting about four foot out of it and finessing. I'm trying to make it look like the river minnows, when something's chasing them, they go diiidiiid, stop, diiidiiid, stop. So I'm trying to mimic it."

Within hours this information is disseminated online. The next day, amateur fishermen all over the country will be mimicking Ike just as he mimics the minnows.

Others just follow Ike. During the Classic he is chased by spectator boats, sometimes 25 of them, sometimes more. These boats annoy Iaconelli, just as they annoy other competitors, but what can he do? It's public water, and besides, Ike's all about being accessible to his fans.

So far on this day there is little for those fans to see. It is already 2 p.m., and Iaconelli, after starting the day in seventh place, is in danger of zeroing--that is, not catching any fish--with only an hour to go. This would not be good for the brand, the business or the dude.

Then, at 2:43 p.m., he gets a bite fishing a ferry dock near the heart of the city. Suddenly, he's twisting and turning and leveraging and then--sloop!--the fish is in the boat. He grabs it and looks straight at the cameraman standing behind him, the one who has been standing behind him the whole day to capture a moment just like this. "Never give up, baby!" Ike shouts. "Never give up! You know what I'm saying? Never give up! I've been through it all today. Bring it on! Bring it on! I've been over the mountain, and I've seen the light!"

Then, two minutes later, Ike turns, squats, leans and yanks up another one. He yells again. "Yeaaaaah! Yeaaaaah! Right back in it! Right back in it!"

On the dock six teenage girls, one dad, one mom and one little boy cheer. On the water the buxom women on the bow of the Hooters boat--which, to the delight of the anglers, trolls the area all day--emit a girlie "Yeah!" and "We love you, Ike!" He points to them, loving them back. He has salvaged the day.

At the end of each day the anglers weigh in with their five biggest bass (if they catch five) and their aggregate weights determine who moves on. For that night's weigh-in in Mellon Arena, Iaconelli wears a belt onstage that displays, in scrolling red electronic letters, the phrase NEVER GIVE UP!!! that became his mantra after he screamed it at a TV camera during the '03 Classic. The belt is cheesy ... and it is a big hit.

Iaconelli is now in second place and feeling good. He talks to the media in a back room. At one point there are 18 journalists around him, with photographers holding their cameras over the mob to get a shot of him. An hour and 15 minutes later--or an hour after every other angler has gone to dinner--Ike is still answering questions, nodding intently as KPUC Pennsylvania asks about his childhood. Then it's on to a reporter from Japan, who approaches a little tentatively. Ike beckons him with a wave. "Come on over. What's up, brother?"

ESPN believes strongly in the NASCAR analogy for BASS, so much so that when I speak to Don Rucks, general manager of BASS, he mentions NASCAR 15 times in a 37-minute conversation. He says that next season BASS will, for the first time, hold three "majors"--the Bassmaster America, the Bassmaster Memorial and the Bassmaster Legends--along with five new tour events with names like The Lone Star Shootout. The season will also start, not end, with the Classic, to be held on Lake Tohopekaliga, near Kissimmee, Fla., in February. This not only gets the tournament back to its Southern roots and into big-fish water, but it is also, not coincidentally, near Walt Disney World. Which, as you might know, is under the same corporate umbrella as ESPN.

Part II of Rucks's plan is to continue building personalities. The sport is huge in Japan, and Takahiro Omori became the first foreign-born angler to win the Classic, in 2004. Rucks wants a lot more Japanese fans, and a lot more fans of every stripe. How to do that? Well, nobody knows. For now, FLW--which has more prize money but a lower profile--is sticking with big payouts and wholesome red state values, while ESPN and BASS have settled upon bombast and over-the-top personalities, or as Monroe puts it, "They went from the banjo music to the techno and hip-hop."

"The complaint," says Iaconelli, "is that we're 'thuggin' out bass fishing," or "ghettoizing it." Rucks loves to hear that some of his anglers are pissed off. In fact, he is dying for confrontations between his competitors. How to get them? "The athletes are going to get naturally more aggressive as the prize purses are raised," he explains.

Even the old schoolers understand that more drama and sexier stars mean a healthier sport. Tim Tucker, who has been covering the sport for 30 years, welcomes the changes. "We need the Ikes of the sport," he says. "Ike has pizzazz. The guy is sharp."

Sharp enough to know that the best thing for the Iaconelli brand, and the sport itself, would be for him to win the 2005 Classic, thus cementing his dominance and perhaps enabling him to transcend the sport and snag another spot on CNN, or even another mention from David Letterman. The world would be in his grasp. Going into the final day, he is in prime position. All he has to do now is win.

the final morning of the tournament dawns warm and clear at Point State Park, the downtown launch point that juts into the water. It is 6:30 a.m., but the place is bustling. Giant speakers blare ZZ Top's Cheap Sunglasses, then Creed's Higher. The anglers stand near their tied-up boats, inside a waist-high fence. Outside the fence is the crowd, which is already 15-deep in front of Iaconelli's boat. They are holding out hats--Mercury hats, Yamaha hats, Triton hats, BASS hats, old dirty college hats--fishing for autographs. They hold these hats over other fans, or between the nooks and crannies of the arms of other fans. Ike signs quickly and smiles. Photos are snapped. On a raised seating area there are signs: WE LIKE IKE!!! and NEVER GIVE UP.

The sky pinkens, the crowd expands and by launch time, 30 minutes later, the fans line the water's edge, for 300 yards upriver. People stand on the railings, on the shore. It's finally time to fish. The anglers are in their boats. The national anthem plays through those giant speakers, and then the announcer yells, "AND THE DOVES FLY! LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!" and, ridiculously, two dozen doves are released from a pen and really do fly. Then, to a blaring riff from the Alan Parson Project, as if it's the tip-off to a Bulls game, the fishermen are off. The crowd rushes across the park to watch their heroes motoring away.

Iaconelli makes for his lucky spot from the day before, the ferry dock, and 19 boats, five of them hauling media, follow. When he gets there, he is a vision in flames and red hat, warmed by the rising sun, as he sidearms his casts around bridge pilings. Above him, on the bridge, three fans lean over the railing to watch him. He is a star. But he's not catching any fish.

After 30 minutes with no bites, he takes off upriver, screaming along to get through the first lock before it's closed for the day. The media boat follows, its speedometer at 68 mph, tearing straight into the morning. Iaconelli gets through the lock in time and quickly plans his strategy as the water around him settles. It is here, upriver, that the Classic will be won or lost for Iaconelli.

Over the next seven hours, all that trickles back to the fans, who show up early at Mellon Arena, are rumors--Ike isn't catching them.... Ike is catching them.... VanDam already has his limit.... Reese is zeroing.... There's not much else the bass fans can do, so they sit and wait and wonder.

At 1 p.m. Iaconelli still doesn't have a fish in his hold. Racing against the clock, he tries to re-create the old Ike magic and heads back below the first lock, to the fertile fishing grounds closer to the city where he'd had success the previous day. Sure enough, he snags three bass in the next two hours. Still, as he tears back to make the 3 p.m. cutoff, he has a dull feeling in his gut. He knows his three bass won't be enough.

All that remains is the final hullabaloo. That night, Mellon Arena is throbbing with 13,413 fans in attendance. Iaconelli's family is there, as are some of his childhood friends, the I-K-E boys and even some members of the Top Rod club, the fishing group Iaconelli founded in Jersey. They all sit through two hours of fish-hoisting before the weigh-ins for the Super Six, the sextet of anglers who have a chance to win: Iaconelli, VanDam, Swindle, Martens, Jeff Reynolds and Scott Rook.

Each of them unveils his catch to the crowd and the cameras--and mentions his sponsors--and ESPN plays it for all it's worth, with interviews, pounding music, smoke machines.

After the Super Six have had their haul weighed, flares go off and Mötley Crüe's Kickstart My Heart plays and streamers fall, but it is not Iaconelli holding a trophy over his head and envisioning his Nike contract. Ike finishes fifth--about 1.6 pounds behind VanDam, the first-place finisher--which, says Iaconelli, might as well be last because, when it comes to the Classic, people "only remember who wins."

As VanDam celebrates and the arena rocks, Iaconelli walks down a corridor in the bowels of the stadium. He holds his hands on his head like a winded runner, trying to catch his breath. He takes off his flame shirt, then puts it back on and forces a smile for a photograph with a couple of corporate bigwigs. His nose is red from being in the sun all day, his eyes heavy. "In hindsight I should have stayed in the Pittsburgh pool all day," he says. "The morning killed me. Didn't catch anything from 7 to 12. I needed to...." His voice trails off as he continues to walk away, a beaten man turning his back on another's coronation.

That night the anglers and media members and BASS staff gather at the bar in the lobby of the Westin. Swindle is near the door, drinking a longneck. VanDam is smiling. Reese's platinum hair is visible from afar. Nearly everyone is there. But not Iaconelli. For one night he can't sell it any longer, himself or the sport. So it is left to the rest of the BASS machine to convince us that this sport is for real and that we should care. As if on cue, from somewhere in the back of the bar, above the alcohol-fueled din, a voice can be heard. It shouts, "Hoo-ah!"

SI.COM
Read more about Mike Iaconelli and see a photo gallery from the 2005 Bassmaster Classic at SI.com/bassfishing.

Ike represents the anglers who listen to rap, drive to tournaments on 24-inch rims and PARTY ALMOST AS HARD as they say they do.
Some claim the sport's long-prophesied mainstreaming is finally upon us, that it is, indeed, NASCAR on water--BASSCAR, BABY!
There is nothing languorous, nothing River Runs Through It about Ike's style. He is good because he WORKS HIS A-- OFF.
"Older guys are jealous of Ike, but people don't come to tournaments to see good old boys. We are BLOWING THE LID OFF this thing."
PHOTOPhotograph by Nathaniel Welch BAIT AND SWITCH - Iaconelli plays up his brash persona for the media buzz, but he's all business on the water (right). PHOTOBOB ROSATO [see caption above] PHOTOBOB ROSATOROCK THE BOAT At the weigh-ins for the Classic, Iaconelli made his usual splashy entrance and got a hero's welcome.TWO PHOTOSBOB ROSATO (2)WE LIKE IKE Iaconelli draws adoring fans, who can be as fanatical as those in any sport; even the Hooters staff was hooked.PHOTOBOB ROSATOFEEDING FRENZY While competing in the Classic, Iaconelli and other top anglers were swarmed by writers, photographers and fans.PHOTOCOURTESY OF MIKE IACONELLIFILET PHANATIC Iaconelli, who never knew his father, was taught how to fish by his uncle on the rivers and lakes of South Jersey.PHOTOBOB ROSATOCRY ME A RIVER After losing in the Classic, Iaconelli was consoled by his girlfriend and his daughters, Drew and Riley (right).