Mike Iaconelli’s Tournament Strategies | Bass Fishing

Glenn: Why don’t you just start talking about
what you do when you’re practicing for a tournamentand what are the types of things you’re looking
for?Mike Iaconelli: Practice for an event for
me has been a process really, Glenn, that’sdeveloped since I’ve fished at the club level.
But it’s always had, from day one, it’s alwayshad a lot of the same basic elements. For
me it’s kind of broken into two parts, andI’ve been a big believer of this in my career. The two parts of practicing for an event are,
the first part is actually the stuff you canwork at before you ever get to a place — it’s
what I call the at-home research stage. Thenthe second part to my practice period is actually
when you get on the water, you know, and you’vegot that official practice period. A lot of
times that’s two days, sometimes it’s three,depending on what event you fish. But they’re both real important parts so I’ll
kind of give you the breakdown of what thatreally means. We could actually use some real-life
examples from the past of what I’m talkingabout. We could take the Red River Tournament
in Shreveport that we had a few years ago,the one that Skeet won where I came in second,
we’ll use that as an example – that was agood one. Before I ever got to the Red River for the
official practice period I tried to do things at home
months and months before the event to preparemyself for the event, or to practice essentially,
you know?There’s kind of three things that I do at
home to get ready for an event. The firstone is what I call historical research. All
I’m saying when I say “historical research”is that I look for information that’s out
there about that particular location. Red River is a great example — I knew I was
going to the Red so I started the historicalresearch process. And for me what that was,
was looking at a lot of old tournament reports;it was researching articles through old magazines;
it was going on the website and Google-searching”Red River” and the pools we were going to
fish; looking at the bass fishing websiteslike BassResource for information. It’s getting all these sources, and then what
I’m doing is I’m looking for what I call buzzwords. I’ll get — I’m grabbing off the desk here
— I’ll get and I’ll start a notebook . I’ll buy a whole bunch
of these in the beginning of the season andI’ll start this whole notebook, and right
at the top I’ll write “Red River” down onthere, and then I start writing down these
buzzwords. Things like lure color, if “black and blue
jig” keeps coming up in all these sources;or an area called Red River South as being
a good area keeps coming up; or an area calledThe Jungle in Pool 4. These are buzzwords
that keep coming up. I’ll write them downas I’m beginning to think about this place. The second part of what I do at the at-home
research stage is I buy maps. I think thatin today’s age, a lot of anglers, a lot of
folks have gotten away from traditional papermaps, but not me! So I’ll go out and solicit
map sources of this place. For the Red RiverI think I found like three different map sources. There was ADC Mapping; I think there was Fishing
Hot-Spots Map, and then there was an actualriver chart that was a government chart that
was several pages that was basically aerialphotos. I had all three of those, and in addition
I went on sites like Bing Maps and GoogleMaps and was able to actually look at these
almost real-time photos of the layout of theriver. So I’ve got historical information, I’ve got
my maps now and aerial photos. And the lastpart of that is I start thinking about seasonal
pattern. Based on seasonal pattern I’m ableto take these maps and this historical information
and I’m able to take a place that’s as bigas the Red River – and we had access to three
pools there – and I’m able
to break it down into manageable sections. And those things I do before I ever get there. So for the Classic, our event is late February,
based on seasonal pattern I knew that thattime of the year in Shreveport and northeast
Louisiana, that it would be a pre-spawn – laterwinter pre-spawn pattern. The fish would be
wanting to spawn. You know, staging – movingfrom their winter places to their spawning
areas. So that coupled with historical research,I could take a big giant place like the Red
River and make it manageable. So that’s thefirst part that I do. The second part is when you actually get there.
And for the Classic we had three officialpractice days the week before the event, followed
by one more practice day right before theevent (which we fished together; you’ve got
some great video clips of that). I used thosedays to essentially take this information
that I already came up with, this plan I alreadyconcocted, and then define it even more. There’s something I really want to stress
here, that I’m using that stuff that I didat home not as set-in-stone information, but
more as a template or as a starting point– something to put me in the ballpark to
what I’m going to do when I actually get thereand practice. So the first day of official practice I get
there, I’m finally on the water. Now I’vegot a starting point and I’ve got an idea
of what I want to do based on that researchI did at home. Now I kick into the on-the-water
part, which is essentially taking the smaller,narrowly focused areas that I’ve figured out
at home, and now it’s getting out there andusing this technique I developed to really
hone in on what I call the sweet spots. Whatthey are is kind of these tournament-winning
areas. To kind of give an example, this is again
a real-life example of how I almost won thattournament. It was the second day of practice.
I was down in a pool, Pool 4, down in an areathat through historical research I knew was
a tournament winning area, and then throughseasonal pattern I was able to look at the
map and kind of guesstimate where these fishwere going to go and spawn. And so what I do is I get out there and I
use what I call a fast idle, or a zig-zaggingidle. Essentially what that is is I will idle
in my boat and as I’m doing that in this areaI’m looking for change. I’m looking for change
two ways. I’m looking for change first theobvious way, and that’s with my eyes. As I’m
idling – and in this particular case it wasnear a spawning flat, it was a spawning flat
and it was a northwest protected pocket, justperfect, you know?And I’m idling. As I’m idling I’m looking
with my eyes and I’m looking for change. Ina normal situation that might be water-clarity
change; it might be a stick up; it might bea dark spot; there are so many things that
could be visual change. And then in additionto my eyes I’m looking at my electronics,
which I call my underwater eyes. But I’m lookingfor the same thing – I’m looking for change. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was
idling across this flat, kind of zig-zagging,heading back to where these fish would eventually
spawn, and I looked at my depth-finder andI kind of did a double-take because I thought
I saw . . . I was like, wait a minute! Thatjust happened?I saw the depth-finder was at a static 1-foot:
you know, foot and a half, 1 foot, 3 inches,a foot and a half, a foot – just really shallow.
And all of a sudden I saw it go 2, 3, 4, 5,6, 7, 8, 9 feet! And I’m like kind of, I did
that double-take, and then it came back upand it was like 7, 5, 3, 2, 1. And then I
was 1, one and a half, 1. And I’m like, oh, oh my God! I turned back
around in that fast idle, went back over thatarea and there it went again, whoosh. And
again, what I found now that time was withmy electronic eyes , was
I found a submerged hole or a pit. What Iended up finding out later on is that what
that actually was is an old tank pond thatwas there before the place was even impounded,
was even flooded. But that essentially endedup being a winning area. So once I found that area the next thing I
did was I grabbed a buoy; next time I idledover as soon as I saw that start to drop,
I threw a marker buoy out there;now it gave me a reference point.
And now this is the last piece of this processthat I do — it’s what I call ‘using search-baits’
to now not only find the fish or get bites,but define the spot or feel around in the
spot a little better. I’ve got three thatI use that are my favorite: one is a Carolina
rig; one is a jig ; and the third one is a crankbait. And again, using a real-life example, in that
situation I took, at the time I had a half-ounceblack and blue jig , and
I had a shallow-running black and blue crankbait , and
I used those baits to search around that hole. What I did in the process is I got a couple
bites, so the fish were telling me that theywere there. But in addition to doing that
I was feeling the bottom, and I was identifyingsweet spots within that spot. So not only was this a hole, you know, kind
of a ditch on this big flat, but through mybaits, through the crank bait and that jig
I was able to feel the actual compositionof the bottom and feel cover and identify
sweet spots. You know, that’s kind of a Cinderellastory of how this process works; it doesn’t
always work that smooth, but that is the exactprocess that I use in every event. It’s basically
the process I used back when I was a clubfisherman in a john-boat, and it’s the same
process I use now. Gosh, it’s such a great technique. I can tell
you that I tell people all the time to utilizethis, I get a lot of e-mails back saying,
“Oh my gosh! I went from showing up at a tournamentand being confused, feeling overwhelmed,”
you know that feeling of dread when you’velaunched a boat and you look out and you’re
like, ‘Where do I start?’By using this technique it makes you a lot
more confident. You’re narrowing the windowso it’s essentially making that fishery smaller.
You’re putting yourself in the ballpark, andit makes you a lot more confident once you
launch your boat. I know that was a long-windedanswer, but that’s the process I use when
I’m practicing for a tournament. Glenn: But once you find, let’s say you found
that one spot you found. Mike: Yep. Glenn: If you found three or four of those
spots how do you prioritize? Which ones I’mgoing to hit on day one, and what are the
ones I’m going to put in my back pocket andhold until maybe the last day?Mike: It’s a great question. And I can tell
you that the number one thing that I’ve learnedover the years is that I always go into an
event trying to have multiple patterns andmultiple areas, so you’re right. You find
this spot. I caught three or four; a coupleof them were in the size caliber that I liked
and I got out of there. I marked it; I mentallynow know what I’m looking for, this could
be another pattern. Let me go look for otherareas. But in addition I want to find other
patterns. Again, getting back to a real-life example,
that last practice day , we never even ran down to
that pool. We stayed in Pool 5 and we essentially looked
for back-up fish, and that’s something thatI think is important, too. So in every event
I try to find an A-pattern, an A Plan, andin that Classic that was my A-spot. And I
try to find a B-spot. A B-spot, like you said, might be another
area like that near that spot, you know? AndI did end up finding a few of those. Then
I try to find a C-Plan; I try to find somethingthat’s different in a different area, an emergency
area. If A fails and B fails, what can I doto go try to catch a couple fish? It’s important
to not just die on that one spot. I thinkway too many anglers find what they call glory
hole, like that spot, and they just say, “That’sit! I’m going to win a tournament there!”
They stop practicing, they sleep in the nextpractice day, and now that’s all they’ve got.
That’s the wrong thing to do. The right thing to do is use that as a momentum
builder. You know, use that; now you’ve gotan idea of what the primary pattern is, go
find a few more of those areas. But then don’teven give up there! Then go work further and
try to find something else. Try to find aB-Plan, try to find a C-Plan. I can’t tell
you in how many events where I thought, youknow, I thought my A-Plan was going to win
the event and it ended up being a B- or evena C-Plan that helped me either win or get
to a high finish. Glenn: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. You
hear a lot of people, you hear a lot of peoplewin practice, but then they don’t win tournaments,
and it’s because they do that. Mike: Yep. Glenn: They find one spot and they bank on
it. And the other thought process is alsothey catch a lot of the fish that they otherwise
would’ve caught during the tournament. Mike: Yeah. Glenn: So what are your thoughts? Do you clip
off the hook points, do you bend the barbsback, or do you catch a few fish to see what’s
there? What are your thoughts on that?Mike: It’s a great question, and I think all
tournament anglers are faced with that atone time or another, no matter what kind of
event they’re fishing. For me it’s a strategythat’s based on when the practice period is.
I can tell you that, let’s take a regularElite Series event, for example. The first
day of practice is usually a Monday; the startof the tournament’s a Thursday. On Monday
and Tuesday , I want to see a couple. For me it’s not enough, especially in a fishery
like the Red River; you go back to that example. The water was muddy. I’d have no real way
of knowing the true caliber of those fishunless I saw a few. So I’m a big believer
in seeing a few and catching a few to seethe caliber of fish, but not trying to win
on practice day, like you said. That’s a greatpoint. But I do want to catch a couple. My rule of thumb is like two or three, you
know? I like to catch two or three fish tosee the caliber of fish. Once I do that I
don’t need to catch any more there. If I’mgoing to continue to fish around that area
I will clip off the hook or I’ll tie on abait where I can’t hook them. I’ll do those
things, but let me tell you this: the closeryou get to the event, the less I even like
to see them at all. Getting back to an example of when we fished
together, going back to Hartwell Lake theday before the tournament (again, you and
I fished together) and I didn’t want to seea single fish. I was dialed onto the pattern.
I had some really juicy areas and all I wasdoing the day I fished with you was kind of
trying to expand my territory. I didn’t wantto hook a single fish. You remember we cut
the hooks off those jigs and led a lot ofthose fish around, and I think that helped.
I went back to a lot of those areas and caughtfish in those same places. So you know, I guess the best answer for that
is definitely do not try to win practice,try to get a feeling of what lives there,
establish some confidence and then leave italone, leave it alone. Glenn: Okay, that’s perfect. And then the
last question is: during that tournament,now you’ve got everything staked out, you’ve
done the research, you’ve got your A, B andC . You got out day one
and then none of those work. Now what?Mike: And that happens! That does happen. Glenn: That does happen – and now what do
you do?Mike: Well, I can tell you that there are
days where it seems like all your cards arefaltering, you know, nothing’s working. And
usually it’s an A and a B, and usually , that C or D you can
go catch some fish. And I’m not saying, youknow, these are the winning-caliber fish,
but I’ll give you two of my fail-safe planswhen nothing else works. And then I’ll follow
that up by giving you one big theory. So the two fail-safes for me, one is marinas;
marinas or launch areas. Over the 13 yearsof tournament fishing professionally I can
tell you that when everything else has failedon me, I can always go to a marina or a place
where I know they have tournament releasesout of, a release site, a launch site, and
I could catch a couple. It’s a sure-fire way. And like I said, again, maybe it’s not winning
a tournament but maybe it’s catching a couple,or maybe it’s catching a limit (or whatever
it is). One sure-fire way to go catch a fewis to fish around marinas and launch sites. And then the second one for me is bridges
and rip-rap or what I call causeways. It’sanother one of those areas that no matter
where you’re at in the world, in the country,no matter what time of the year, a bridge
piling, a rip-rap causeway , they’rethe kind of places that always hold some fish,
and I could always go to those places andcatch a couple. So they are kind of two fail-safe
areas for me. And then my theory (and you know I believe
this), is whenever else is faltering, I’ma big believer in grabbing what I call my
“panic box. ” And all a panic box is, is essentiallyit’s a glorified finesse kit that I’ve created.
So when A fails and B fails and C fails, I’llhead to a marina, a boat-ramp, a bridge piling
or a roadway. I’ll pull out a spinning rod with 6 or 8 lb.
test and a panic box that’s got things likelittle worms and grubs, ultra-light crankbaits,
inline spinners. Almost trout and crappiebaits. And with that panic box, and with that
finesse rod in those areas, man, I’ll tellyou, in those 13 years – and I don’t want
to say I’ve never been skunked because I have- but it’s really been a great way to salvage
a tournament . . .

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