The crowd began to cheer and chant “Ike, Ike, Ike” even before Philadelphia-born Michael Iaconelli, now also a New Jersey fishing hero, took the stage Friday for the second weigh-in of the Bassmaster Elite on the Delaware River.
It was as if the boisterous Ike fans felt their voices could pull their hometown guy up from 21st place, almost 8 pounds behind first-day leader Boyd Duckett after the initial round Thursday.
But “Ike,” as it turned out, was able to get up all by himself. He turned in 15-1, the biggest sack of bass to meet the scales Friday, and deftly slipped the lead away from Duckett, albeit by only 14 ounces.
Duckett gave Iaconelli’s rocket ride from 21st place a boost by posting 6-7, relegating Duckett to second place. Iaconelli had 24-3 on the board to Duckett’s 23-5.
But Duckett, who’s from Guntersville, Ala., and Iaconelli, now living in Pittsgrove, N.J., have plenty of competition left before either can claim the Elite event’s first prize of $100,000 and an instant 2015 Bassmaster Classic qualification.
Morizo Shimizu of Osaka, Japan, is one prime threat. He produced 10-4 for a two-day total of 22-6. That put him in third place and 1 pound, 13 ounces behind Iaconelli.
And 2-6 behind Iaconelli was Bill Lowen of Brookville, Ind. His two-day weight hit 21-13, the result of a rarity so far in the competition: close weights (11-1 and 10-12) over two days of tackling the tough Delaware River system. Lowen climbed from seventh place into fourth place. He had the day’s largest bass, a 4-0 largemouth.
Fifth place was occupied by John Crews of Salem, Va., at 21-11, just 2 ounces behind Lowen.
The field of 106 Elite Series pros was cut to 50 for Saturday’s third round. Only the Top 12 after Saturday will advance to Championship Sunday.
Iaconelli, whose family crossed the Delaware to live in New Jersey when he was 6 years old, cut his fishing teeth on the river. Such a history almost hurt him this week when he chose to make a long run north on Thursday to reach a known and productive community hole.
The payback on the time spent up north was only one bass. More crucial, he almost missed the windows that open to anglers as the tide changes.
“It threw me off 20 to 30 to 40 minutes all day. I felt like I was chasing the tide,” he said.
His correction for Friday’s round was perfect.
“Today, I went right to where I thought was the best spot on that tide, and I caught them,” Iaconelli said. “I knew, as soon as I saw the water coming back up, it was over, and I left. I didn’t get married to it.”
He then ran to another spot, one he knew would produce as the water level rose.
“I stopped, and I caught one. And that’s what happened all day,” he said, explaining how he moved from place to place as the tide and current suggested to him the next best bet, and then the next.
He hooked into 15 keeper largemouth bass within three windows opened by those tidal conditions, he said. One bass he lost before he could get it in the boat. But the other 14 bass were culled to five bass at 15-1, including a 3-12, his largest of Friday.
“With the slow start yesterday, there was a little bit of anxiousness going out today,” Iaconelli said. “I knew today was an important day, (that I needed to) get back on track.”
And his reaction to the crowd of Philly and Jersey supporters?
“That’s an amazing feeling,” he said. “A good feeling.”
Iaconelli is not only a hometown favorite in the Delaware River tournament, he also has an enviable career record. He stands as the only angler in competition history to have won the trifecta of the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship (1999), Bassmaster Classic (2003) and Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year (2006). Counting the Classic, he has seven Bassmaster tournament wins on his pro resume.
Duckett, the 2007 Classic champ, came back to the dock Friday with three bass, two shy of his limit.
“I lost two fish,” he said. “I actually had three quality, big-fish bites on the same deal I was doing yesterday.”
With only one good-sized bass in the box, Duckett abandoned his “deal” — a big-bass pattern — as the clock ticked.
“With about an hour and a half left, I scrambled up two dinks to go with it (his sole bass),” he said.
Shimizu, who weighed a five-bass limit of 10-4, said he camped in one area and waited for tidal conditions to be just right. He had faith that the bass lived there, he said. It was the same area that worked for him the first day, but the bass came from different spots.
“I’m figuring out the tides,” he said through a translator.
Iaconelli won the Livingston Lures Leader Award of $500 for heading up the field on Day 2.
Brandon Card’s 4-3 of Day 1 held on as 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, which carries an award of $500.
The 50 pros who survived Friday’s cut will begin the semifinal round at 6:15 a.m. Saturday. 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-ins. There’s no admission charge to attend.
Other free Bassmaster activities on Saturday and 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 Saturday at noon, and again at noon on Sunday. Free Expo activities include the screening of the newest Costa GeoBASS film preceding the Saturday weigh-in.
Fans can stay after the Saturday weigh-in for a free RaeLynn and Chase Bryant concert presented by 92.5 XTU radio.
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.
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