Mike Iaconelli Wins BASS Delaware River

Mike Iaconelli's Winning Pattern, Baits & Gear

The daily tide fluctuations of the Delaware River can be a confounding puzzle for someone attempting to catch the bass that live there. Case in point: They knocked Kevin VanDam, the most celebrated bass-catcher in history - for a one-keeper-in-2-days loop. Mike Iaconelli, who grew up fishing there, might've been the only angler in the Bassmaster Elite Series field who truly had a grasp on them during last week's event. Even he wasn't immune to going bite-less for hours at a time on one of the stingiest venues to ever host an Elite derby, but his understanding of the system at least rendered him capable of surmising where his next bite might come from. The majority of the field was relegated to casting to pieces of cover that happened to be covered by water at that particular moment and "looked fishy," or into places that had produced apparently random strikes before. It was Ike's tournament to lose from the outset, and he didn't let that happen. He took command of the proceedings on day 2 with a 15-pound stringer that put him atop the standings and he was never threatened the rest of the way, eventually winning by an 8-pound margin.

His daily average was just under 12 pounds, whereas nobody else's cracked double digits. The victory was his first in a regular-season Elite event since 2006 and gave him a berth in next year's Bassmaster Classic that, considering his lackluster showing through the season's first six points events, might've been difficult for him to come by otherwise. Iaconelli not only had the historical advantage of having been raised around the Delaware, he also had the logistical edge of being able to spend a great deal of time there before it went off-limits a month before the event. His Pittsgrove, N.J. home sits just 45 minutes from the launch, allowing him to log 12 solid days of pre-practice. "A lot of what I learned and re-learned then helped me during the tournament," he said. "I ended up figuring out my pattern for high tides and I found a lot of areas I didn't know about before. That part was exciting for me going into the tournament and was definitely an important key to the win. "I figured out the type of area that I wanted to be in on each of the tide stages (low, mid-incoming and high) because the way they laid out for the week, you couldn't really run the tide all that well. If it had fallen a little differently like it does in a lot of tournaments, I would've gone to the extreme south and then just run it all the way north, but I couldn't really do that last week." That three-pronged approach became critical when one of his assumptions proved incorrect. He'd expected to find concentrations of fish either on the main river, in the creeks or in the backwaters, but that didn't materialize. He found some in each, but not an abundance in any.

Competition:

Each competition day started with low tide - considered the optimal bite stage - fast approaching. The field got about an hour of the outgoing on day 1, and then about 45 minutes more on each successive day. Iaconelli's primary low-tide strategy was to fish main-river hard cover that was adjacent to expansive flats. "When the water gets sucked off those flats, the bass are forced to the last available hard stuff," he said. "That mainly consisted of industrial pieces and historical stuff like wooden pilings and pieces of metal from seawalls. "It was the same thing in the creeks and a few of the guys who did well figured that out." He considers the mid-incoming tide to be nearly as difficult as the dreaded high, mainly because a lot of places become inundated with off-colored water. He spent that stage fishing eddies that formed off of main-river points and one on an old barge that's been highly productive for decades. "The water comes back and hits the barge only on the incoming tide and at the same time a slight current flows through the barge and fish will set up inside there. The barge is really obvious - I'd guess that as many as 40 of our guys probably fished it at one time or another - but most people only fish the edges on the outgoing and they'll catch an occasional fish." He said the structure is perhaps 50 feet long and 20 feet wide, with lots of holes in the top where the metal as rusted through. Some of the holes are the size of a mop bucket or smaller, while others are as big as the front deck of a bass boat.

"The key is to drop your bait straight down into the holes, but then you run into the problem of getting fish that bite out of there. I call it a 30-percent spot because that's about the percentage of your bites you can expect to land. "Miraculously, I landed about 95 percent of them last week. That just goes back to the saying about things that are meant to happen." High tide is the stage that stymies the most anglers as the fish disperse widely and often seem to almost vanish completely. For that period, he relied on a series of drains coming out of tidal pools up and down the river. The pools themselves are always inaccessible by boat as chunks of land lie between them and the river. The water flows back and forth between the river and the ponds via metal pipes, and Iaconelli believes that bass traverse the pipes as well. High tide is the only time the river end of the pipes can be reached (there's almost always a large mudflow between them and the channel), but there's 6 to 8 feet of water and pieces of cover (concrete blocks, metal grates, etc.) directly in front of them. "Those fish were unmolested - nobody else found them. I had 12 of those places and five or six were real good ones. They were at their absolute best on dead-high, so I'd check the chart and as soon as the water started going back out, I'd start hitting those drains. "Every day I pulled two or three fish out of them. That might sound insignificant, but it's a huge number on high water."

Winning Gear:

Iaconelli's primary baits were a prototype Missile Baits jig and a Texas-rigged Berkley Havoc Pit Boss. "I alternated between them all week," he said. "If I was around more sparse cover, like main-river docks at low tide, then I'd lean toward the jig. In the nasty, heavy cover like around those grates, I generally threw the Pit Boss." A vibration jig, which he threw while moving between targets via his trolling motor, produced two weigh-in fish. He caught three keepers (one of which he weighed) on a shaky-head.

Jig gear: 7' medium-action Abu Garcia Veracity rod, Abu Garcia Revo MGX casting reel (7.9:1 ratio), 20-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line, 1/2-ounce prototype Missile Baits finesse jig (brown with purple skirt), Berkley PowerBait Chigger Chunk trailer (green-pumpkin).

Texas-rig gear: 7' medium-action Abu Garcia Veritas rod, same reel and line, 3/8-ounce VMC tungsten weight, VMC bobber-stop, 5/0 VMC heavy-duty flipping hook, Berkley Havoc Pit Boss (Okeechobee craw).

Vibration jig gear: 7' medium-action Abu Garcia Veracity rod, Abu Garcia Revo Premier casting reel (7.1:1 ratio), 17-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line, 1/2-ounce Molix Lover, Berkley PowerBait Rib Shad trailer (pearl).

Shaky-head gear: 6'6" medium-heavy Abu Garcia Villain rod, Abu Garcia Revo Premier 20 spinning reel, 8-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon, 3/16-ounce VMC Rugby jighead, Berkley Havoc Bottom Hopper (junebug).

Main factor: "Managing the tides and having my timing down. Knowing when to be where was hugely important and I felt I got better at that as the tournament went on."

Performance edge: "I'd say the Power-Poles in that current. Those key pieces I wanted to fish - the pilings, the drains, the barge - if you didn't have Power-Poles the water would suck you right away. They allowed me to be very efficient."

Delaware River Winning Pattern Bassfan 8/12/14 (John Johnson)

Chris Lane's Pattern, Baits & Gear

The Delaware bears little resemblance to the Florida fisheries that Chris Lane grew up on, but he nonetheless fished it in much the same manner. Most of his fish were enticed by a frog. "I just ran the tides," he said. "That's something I've done in Florida, mainly in the saltwater. I'd always spend the last couple hours of the day down south and I caught a 2 1/2-pounder and a 3 down there the first day. "All of my stuff was on the main river. The one creek I did fish was just at the mouth - I never went back in there. I fished eelgrass and hydrilla and just stayed on the edge - the edges were a big key." He said his practice was solid, but it gave him no inkling that he was destined for such a high finish. "If I'd get one bite in an area, I'd leave it - I didn't try to catch another fish. I moved really fast and covered lots of water. "I knew it'd be a challenge to get five (keepers) a day, but I knew that if I could do that I'd probably be in contention to win." He caught a couple of his best fish on a dropshot rig and got a 3-pounder on a topwater plug on day 4.

Frog gear: 7'2" Team All Star worm rod, Abu Garcia Revo MGX casting reel (7.9:1 ratio), 50-pound Stren Sonic Braid line, unnamed double frog hook, unnamed frog (black).

Dropshot gear: 7'6" medium-heavy Team All Star dropshot rod, Abu Garcia Revo SX 10 spinning reel, 6-pound Stren 100% Fluorocarbon line, 1/4-ounce round Reins Tungsten dropshot weight, unnamed size 1 hook, unnamed 5" worm (purple, green or brown).

Main factor: "Probably going about it a little differently than most. I don't know of anybody else who was mainly throwing a frog."

Performance edge: "The 6-pound Stren fluorocarbon - those two big fish I caught on it, it was pretty crazy that they didn't break the line. After that it'd be the entire setup on my boat that let me make those long runs without getting the heck beat out of me."

Delaware River 2-5 Patterns Bassfan 8/12/14 (John Johnson)

Jason Christie's Pattern, Baits & Gear

Jason Christie may be the top-ranked angler in the world, but he admits to near-total ignorance when it comes to tides and their effect on bass. Therefore, he basically paid no attention to them. He just confined himself to one creek and stayed on the move constantly, fishing whatever water was available. "I really didn't have a good practice and I didn't figure anything out until the end," he said. "There's so much stuff for the fish to get in, I figured the best thing for me to do was cover tons of water and for 4 days I fished with the trolling motor on high, going about 3 1/2 mph. "I caught the majority of them on a buzzbait, but if I'd come across a real good log I'd flip it, or I'd flip to one that blew up on the buzzbait but didn't get it." He threw two different buzzbaits - a Booyah and a homemade model - depending on the type of cover in the area and the amount of floating grass that could tangle the blades, and also on how much noise he wanted the bait to generate.

Buzzbait gear: 7' Falcon Jason Christie Signature Series buzzbait rod, Lew's BB1 Pro, 60-pound Sunline FX2 braided line, 1/2-ounce Booyah buzzbait (chartreuse/white with black or gold blade) or 1/2-ounce homemade buzzbait (black with gold blade).

Flipping gear: 7'3" Falcon Cara Pitching/Swimbait Stick, same reel, 25-pound Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon line, 1/2-ounce unnamed tungsten weight, Lazer TroKar TK135 flipping hook, YUM Christie Critter (black/blue).

Main factor: "I realized that the more water I covered and the more casts I made, the better my chances were for running into some fish."

Performance edge: "Absolutely my MotorGuide trolling motor. About 80 percent of the time I was running it on 100 percent."

Delaware River 2-5 Patterns Bassfan 8/12/14 (John Johnson)

Kevin Short's Pattern, Baits & Gear

Kevin Short found himself an out-of-the-way creek that he had to himself for the duration of the event. He employed a limb-pruning saw to improve his access to it. "There were some big laydowns in the creek and I needed to cut the ends of them off," he said. "At high tide I could go right over them, but at low tide it was a real problem. "I thought about going in there with a full-on chain saw, but people probably would've heard that and wondered what was going on back there. The way I did it took me a little longer, but it was a stealthier approach." He pitched and flipped to laydowns and hydrilla most of the time and added some lily pad-type vegetation to the mix when the water level was high. "I caught them the best when the water was moving and dirty. It didn't really matter which way it was moving, but when it wasn't moving it was too clear because of that hydrilla." He had two key stretches - each about 100 yards long - that he bounced back and forth between. A jig and a creature bait combined to produce all of his fish.

Jig gear: 7'3" extra-heavy fast-action Team Lew's rod, Lew's Super Duty casting reel (7.1:1 ratio), 25-pound Vicious Pro Elite fluorocarbon line, 9/16-ounce Jewel Magnum Casting Jig (Texas craw), Zoom Z Hog trailer (watermelon candy).

Creature-bait gear: Same rod and reel, 17-pound Vicious Pro Elite fluorocarbon, 1/4-ounce Strike King Tour Grade tungsten weight, 2/0 Mustad flipping hook (with grip pin), Zoom Z Hog Jr. (watermelon candy).

Main factor: "Probably picking an area that I was comfortable with. I really wasn't into trying to run the tide. I stuck with a place that had some quality fish and it worked out that there were enough there to do reasonably well."

Performance edge: "My Power-Poles. Most of those laydowns, either at high tide or low tide, I could sit off the ends or beside them and just flip, flip, flip or work a brush top all the way around. They allowed me to be very precise and persistent."

Delaware River 2-5 Patterns Bassfan 8/12/14 (John Johnson)

Shaw Grigsby's Pattern, Baits & Gear

Shaw Grigsby spent the tournament in Rancocas Creek along with several other competitors who finished in the Top 20. He had a lousy first day, but produced a stellar day 2 after unpegging the weight on his Strike King Rage Bug. "It was a place where I was hoping to get three, four or five decent bites a day," he said. "Day 2 was just stupid (in a good way) - after the first few minutes I had a nice limit, and then it continued to be stupid after that, too. "Things didn't work out that way on day 3, though."

Flipping gear: 7'6" heavy-action Quantum EXO Tour PT flipping stick, Quantum Tour MG casting reel (7:1 ratio), 20-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon line, 5/16-ounce Strike King Tour Grade tungsten weight, 7/0 Lazer TroKar TK130 hook, Strike King Rage Bug ('Bama craw).

Main factor: "Just being on some fish and plinking away at it. After I unpegged the weight, I literally caught every fish after that."

Performance edge: "In a tournament like this it all goes together my Triton/Mercury for getting me there and back, the GPS was priceless and my Odyssey batteries never did get fully charged on the generator at the motel, but they never budged all day against that current."

Delaware River 2-5 Patterns Bassfan 8/12/14 (John Johnson)