Glenn: Why don’t you just start talking aboutwhat you do when you’re practicing for a tournamentand what are the types of things you’re lookingfor?Mike Iaconelli: Practice for an event forme 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. Forme 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’swhat I call the at-home research stage. Thenthe second part to my practice period is actuallywhen you get on the water, you know, and you’vegot that official practice period. A lot oftimes that’s two days, sometimes it’s three,depending on what event you fish. But they’re both real important parts so I’llkind of give you the breakdown of what thatreally means. We could actually use some real-lifeexamples from the past of what I’m talkingabout. We could take the Red River Tournamentin 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 theofficial practice period I tried to do things at homemonths 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 athome to get ready for an event. The firstone is what I call historical research. AllI’m saying when I say “historical research”is that I look for information that’s outthere about that particular location. Red River is a great example — I knew I wasgoing 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 tofish; looking at the bass fishing websiteslike BassResource for information. It’s getting all these sources, and then whatI’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 bunchof these in the beginning of the season andI’ll start this whole notebook, and rightat the top I’ll write “Red River” down onthere, and then I start writing down thesebuzzwords. Things like lure color, if “black and bluejig” keeps coming up in all these sources;or an area called Red River South as beinga good area keeps coming up; or an area calledThe Jungle in Pool 4. These are buzzwordsthat 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-homeresearch stage is I buy maps. I think thatin today’s age, a lot of anglers, a lot offolks have gotten away from traditional papermaps, but not me! So I’ll go out and solicitmap sources of this place. For the Red RiverI think I found like three different map sources. There was ADC Mapping; I think there was FishingHot-Spots Map, and then there was an actualriver chart that was a government chart thatwas several pages that was basically aerialphotos. I had all three of those, and in additionI went on sites like Bing Maps and GoogleMaps and was able to actually look at thesealmost real-time photos of the layout of theriver. So I’ve got historical information, I’ve gotmy maps now and aerial photos. And the lastpart of that is I start thinking about seasonalpattern. Based on seasonal pattern I’m ableto take these maps and this historical informationand I’m able to take a place that’s as bigas the Red River – and we had access to threepools there – and I’m ableto 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 northeastLouisiana, that it would be a pre-spawn – laterwinter pre-spawn pattern. The fish would bewanting to spawn. You know, staging – movingfrom their winter places to their spawningareas. So that coupled with historical research,I could take a big giant place like the RedRiver 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, followedby one more practice day right before theevent (which we fished together; you’ve gotsome great video clips of that). I used thosedays to essentially take this informationthat I already came up with, this plan I alreadyconcocted, and then define it even more. There’s something I really want to stresshere, that I’m using that stuff that I didat home not as set-in-stone information, butmore as a template or as a starting point– something to put me in the ballpark towhat I’m going to do when I actually get thereand practice. So the first day of official practice I getthere, I’m finally on the water. Now I’vegot a starting point and I’ve got an ideaof what I want to do based on that researchI did at home. Now I kick into the on-the-waterpart, which is essentially taking the smaller,narrowly focused areas that I’ve figured outat home, and now it’s getting out there andusing this technique I developed to reallyhone in on what I call the sweet spots. Whatthey are is kind of these tournament-winningareas. To kind of give an example, this is againa 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 wasa tournament winning area, and then throughseasonal pattern I was able to look at themap and kind of guesstimate where these fishwere going to go and spawn. And so what I do is I get out there and Iuse what I call a fast idle, or a zig-zaggingidle. Essentially what that is is I will idlein my boat and as I’m doing that in this areaI’m looking for change. I’m looking for changetwo ways. I’m looking for change first theobvious way, and that’s with my eyes. As I’midling – and in this particular case it wasnear a spawning flat, it was a spawning flatand it was a northwest protected pocket, justperfect, you know?And I’m idling. As I’m idling I’m lookingwith my eyes and I’m looking for change. Ina normal situation that might be water-claritychange; it might be a stick up; it might bea dark spot; there are so many things thatcould 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 wasidling across this flat, kind of zig-zagging,heading back to where these fish would eventuallyspawn, and I looked at my depth-finder andI kind of did a double-take because I thoughtI 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 didthat double-take, and then it came back upand it was like 7, 5, 3, 2, 1. And then Iwas 1, one and a half, 1. And I’m like, oh, oh my God! I turned backaround in that fast idle, went back over thatarea and there it went again, whoosh. Andagain, what I found now that time was withmy electronic eyes , wasI found a submerged hole or a pit. What Iended up finding out later on is that whatthat 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 Idid 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 thespot a little better. I’ve got three thatI use that are my favorite: one is a Carolinarig; one is a jig ; and the third one is a crankbait. And again, using a real-life example, in thatsituation I took, at the time I had a half-ounceblack and blue jig , andI had a shallow-running black and blue crankbait , andI used those baits to search around that hole. What I did in the process is I got a couplebites, so the fish were telling me that theywere there. But in addition to doing thatI was feeling the bottom, and I was identifyingsweet spots within that spot. So not only was this a hole, you know, kindof a ditch on this big flat, but through mybaits, through the crank bait and that jigI was able to feel the actual compositionof the bottom and feel cover and identifysweet spots. You know, that’s kind of a Cinderellastory of how this process works; it doesn’talways work that smooth, but that is the exactprocess that I use in every event. It’s basicallythe process I used back when I was a clubfisherman in a john-boat, and it’s the sameprocess I use now. Gosh, it’s such a great technique. I can tellyou 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’relike, ‘Where do I start?’By using this technique it makes you a lotmore 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 youlaunch your boat. I know that was a long-windedanswer, but that’s the process I use whenI’m practicing for a tournament. Glenn: But once you find, let’s say you foundthat one spot you found. Mike: Yep. Glenn: If you found three or four of thosespots how do you prioritize? Which ones I’mgoing to hit on day one, and what are theones I’m going to put in my back pocket andhold until maybe the last day?Mike: It’s a great question. And I can tellyou that the number one thing that I’ve learnedover the years is that I always go into anevent trying to have multiple patterns andmultiple areas, so you’re right. You findthis spot. I caught three or four; a coupleof them were in the size caliber that I likedand I got out of there. I marked it; I mentallynow know what I’m looking for, this couldbe another pattern. Let me go look for otherareas. But in addition I want to find otherpatterns. Again, getting back to a real-life example,that last practice day , we never even ran down tothat pool. We stayed in Pool 5 and we essentially lookedfor back-up fish, and that’s something thatI think is important, too. So in every eventI try to find an A-pattern, an A Plan, andin that Classic that was my A-spot. And Itry to find a B-spot. A B-spot, like you said, might be anotherarea like that near that spot, you know? AndI did end up finding a few of those. ThenI try to find a C-Plan; I try to find somethingthat’s different in a different area, an emergencyarea. If A fails and B fails, what can I doto go try to catch a couple fish? It’s importantto not just die on that one spot. I thinkway too many anglers find what they call gloryhole, 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 momentumbuilder. You know, use that; now you’ve gotan idea of what the primary pattern is, gofind a few more of those areas. But then don’teven give up there! Then go work further andtry to find something else. Try to find aB-Plan, try to find a C-Plan. I can’t tellyou in how many events where I thought, youknow, I thought my A-Plan was going to winthe event and it ended up being a B- or evena C-Plan that helped me either win or getto a high finish. Glenn: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Youhear 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 onit. And the other thought process is alsothey catch a lot of the fish that they otherwisewould’ve caught during the tournament. Mike: Yeah. Glenn: So what are your thoughts? Do you clipoff the hook points, do you bend the barbsback, or do you catch a few fish to see what’sthere? What are your thoughts on that?Mike: It’s a great question, and I think alltournament anglers are faced with that atone time or another, no matter what kind ofevent 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 firstday of practice is usually a Monday; the startof the tournament’s a Thursday. On Mondayand Tuesday , I want to see a couple. For me it’s not enough, especially in a fisherylike the Red River; you go back to that example. The water was muddy. I’d have no real wayof knowing the true caliber of those fishunless I saw a few. So I’m a big believerin seeing a few and catching a few to seethe caliber of fish, but not trying to winon 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, youknow? I like to catch two or three fish tosee the caliber of fish. Once I do that Idon’t need to catch any more there. If I’mgoing to continue to fish around that areaI will clip off the hook or I’ll tie on abait where I can’t hook them. I’ll do thosethings, but let me tell you this: the closeryou get to the event, the less I even liketo see them at all. Getting back to an example of when we fishedtogether, going back to Hartwell Lake theday before the tournament (again, you andI 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 oftrying to expand my territory. I didn’t wantto hook a single fish. You remember we cutthe 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 thatis 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 thelast question is: during that tournament,now you’ve got everything staked out, you’vedone the research, you’ve got your A, B andC . You got out day oneand then none of those work. Now what?Mike: And that happens! That does happen. Glenn: That does happen – and now what doyou do?Mike: Well, I can tell you that there aredays where it seems like all your cards arefaltering, you know, nothing’s working. Andusually it’s an A and a B, and usually , that C or D you cango 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 followthat 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 cantell you that when everything else has failedon me, I can always go to a marina or a placewhere I know they have tournament releasesout of, a release site, a launch site, andI could catch a couple. It’s a sure-fire way. And like I said, again, maybe it’s not winninga tournament but maybe it’s catching a couple,or maybe it’s catching a limit (or whateverit 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 bridgesand rip-rap or what I call causeways. It’sanother one of those areas that no matterwhere you’re at in the world, in the country,no matter what time of the year, a bridgepiling, 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-safeareas for me. And then my theory (and you know I believethis), 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 pilingor 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 thatfinesse rod in those areas, man, I’ll tellyou, in those 13 years – and I don’t wantto say I’ve never been skunked because I have- but it’s really been a great way to salvagea tournament . . .