This week on the Delaware River, Michael Iaconelli has been the prince of tides. Judging by the mass of fans pulling for him at the Bassmaster Elite Series event out of the City of Brotherly Love, he’s also the fishing prince of Philadelphia.
Saturday in the third of four rounds, Iaconelli not only repeated his Friday lead, he also banked 6 pounds, 9 ounces against his nearest challenger by reading and adjusting to the tides.
Iaconelli’s leading three-day total was 37-0. Bill Lowen of Brookville, Ind., and Scott Rook of Little Rock, Ark. — both “river rats” who have tapped into their knowledge of current and river habitat to attack the Delaware — are Iaconelli’s lurking challengers.
Lowen took second place Saturday with 30-7. Rook had 29-10.
Jason Christie of Park Hill, Okla., popped up from 17th place into fourth with a strong 10-11 catch on Saturday, bringing him to 28-3. Likewise for Shaw Grigsby of Gainesville, Fla.: He posted 9-0, enough to pull up from ninth place to round out the Top 5 at 28-1.
First-day leader Boyd Duckett dropped to 12th place after producing 1-12 Saturday. With the field pared to the Top 12 for Sunday’s last round, the pro from Guntersville, Ala., was the last man inside the cutline at 25-1.
Born in Philadelphia, and now living in Pittsgrove, N.J., Iaconelli’s first hurdle of Saturday’s competition was making the right call to deal with the morning’s blowout tide — one significantly lower than normal low tide, thanks to the ongoing so-called “super moon.”
“I saw more stuff exposed than I’ve seen in days,” he said. “I couldn’t even get to the area I wanted to get to. The water was a foot, foot and a half lower than normal at low tide.”
It took him about 30 minutes to figure out how to adjust, Iaconelli said.
“Thirty minutes here is a long time,” he said. “But I made a change, (based on) my history here of knowing what to do at blowout tides. Then I got into a morning flurry between 7:30 and 8:30.”
The flurry was seven keeper largemouth bass. He said he knew when to abandon his spot as the tide rose and muddied the water. He then ran north to a known community hole.
“But I never had a bite,” he said.
Knowing he needed to get back to a hot spot at exactly the right time, he headed south. Again, he was spot-on in his timing, and boated several more keepers.
Over the eight hours of competition, he said he landed 11 keeper bites, culling several times to build his 12-13 five-bass limit.
Fishing the Delaware River since he was kid, Iaconelli said he’s learned that adjustments are always necessary on the Delaware, and that his knowledge of the Delaware has been key to his success.
“I feel when I pull up to an area, I feel like I know what it needs to have as far as being a low tide, a midtide or a high tide spot, and what the current is doing,” said Iaconelli, the only angler in competition history to have claimed three significant titles of the sport: B.A.S.S. Nation Championship (1999), Bassmaster Classic (2003) and Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year (2006). Including the Classic, Iaconelli has had seven Bassmaster wins in his pro career.
Lowen also had to change his game with the tide.
“I’ve been catching most of my fish on the incoming tide. Today I didn’t get it, so I had to relearn the area on the outgoing tide,” he said.
Lowen’s adjustments were subtle. He stuck to the same area that’s produced limits for him three days running, keying on wood cover.
“I had to learn where the ‘new’ spot was on those same pieces of wood,” he said.
Lowen got seven keeper bites, and he capitalized on all but one for a Saturday catch of 8-10.
Rook, like Lowen, has produced three limits of largemouth all three days of the competition. He is working a large creek, running three to four miles of it.
Even at 7-6 behind Iaconelli, Rook wasn’t discouraged.
“Seven or eight pounds may look insurmountable, but actually it’s not,” said Rook, who brought in 8-14 Saturday. “He can have a bad day. I know that quality fish are in the river; I just haven’t got to them yet. Maybe tomorrow.”
The dozen finalists will compete Sunday for a first prize of $100,000 and an instant qualification for the 2015 world championship, the Bassmaster Classic.
Elite pros also are competing for points on the Delaware River — the other path into the Classic and the only road to the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year crown.
After three days on the Delaware, Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La., had uprooted the points leader over six consecutive events on the 2014 Elite trail, Mark Davis of Mount Ida, Ark. Davis fell to seventh place. Aaron Martens, the 2013 AOY, became Hackney’s strongest challenger, only one tick behind. (Points are awarded only after the conclusion of an event.)
As the Delaware River event leader, Iaconelli has improved his points standings considerably. That, he said, gives him a shot at a Classic berth.
“I’d love to win here,” Iaconelli said, “but my goal coming into this event was a Top 20. A Top 20 here, a Top 20 at Cayuga, I make the Classic.”
Cayuga Lake in New York, set for Aug. 21-24 is the site of the final full-field event of the season.
The largest bass of the day was a 4-6 by Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif., who made it into the finals at seventh place. Reese became the top contender for the event’s Carhartt Big Bass award of up to $1,500.
Duckett’s first-day weight of 16-14 continued to lead the Berkley Heavyweight competition for a bonus prize of $500.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett appeared at the event on Saturday to welcome the Bassmaster Elite Series to Philadelphia, a first-time stop for the tour.
“Bassmaster could be anywhere, but they chose the city of Philadelphia,” Corbett said.
The 12 anglers who qualified for Championship Sunday will begin the final round at 6:15 a.m. They’ll take off from the Frankford Arsenal Boat Launch (5701 Tacony St.), then weigh-in at the Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing (211 S. Columbus Blvd.) beginning at 3:15 p.m.
Fans are invited to watch the takeoff and weigh-in. There’s no admission charge to attend.
Other free Bassmaster activities on Sunday at Penn’s Landing include boat rides in new Nitro, Triton and Skeeter rigs powered by Mercury and Yamaha engines. Fans can sign up for the demo rides at the Nitro, Triton and Yamaha booths.
The Bassmaster Elite Expo, which features local exhibits as well as those of Elite Series sponsors, will open Sunday at noon.
The hosts of the event are Philadelphia Sports Congress, Visit Pennsylvania and Mid-Atlantic Youth Anglers & Outdoors Program. The local media partners are 6ABC TV and 92.5 XTU radio.
The Delaware River event will be featured on The Bassmasters on ESPN2 on Aug. 24 and 31 from 8 to 9 a.m. ET.
Image courtesy Gary Tramontina/Bassmaster