Fourteen rods on the deck, all pointed in a different direction. Blown-out baits scattered from engine to trolling motor. Rain gear, hoodies, gloves, hats, tackle boxes, and enough tools to break apart a diesel engine are scattered across the floor.
This is a clean boat for Mike Iaconelli, and that’s just his contribution to the war zone. Add in a boat official, a STAT unit (the little grey box in the back of the boat,) a lean post in back, a cameraman, and two extra gear bags and you have a boat loaded with landmines ready to take you out.
There’s no place to run or hide when Mike goes “Full Ike.”
My days with Iaconelli always start the same way. One simple rule. A rule, a request, really more of a plea: “Mike, don’t lick my camera lens.”
You would think this an odd request. When I make this request to other anglers…well…it just gets awkward. However, to Mike Iaconelli, it’s a serious request that’s acknowledged with a sinister laugh, and it’s apparent that no rules from the cameraman will carry any weight when Full Ike is unleashed.
The time with Mike is simple. There are extreme highs and extreme lows. When things get still and calm and start to level out, you better be on your toes. This is an emotional sport, and Mike is an emotional guy. Some see him as too extreme, some see him as an exciting part of the sport.
I see him as the guy who embodies the wildness of this sport. I also see him as a freight train running to the back of the boat, and I’m tied to the tracks.
The highs and lows all happen in one day, sometimes, in one hour.
Elimination Rounds and the Elimination Line have not been a friend to Mike. Lake Okeechobee was not kind.
The possibility of elimination is rearing its ugly head at Lake Fork, but Mike has clawed his way to the Elimination Line. A 2-pound fish would put him back on the right side of the line. That 2-pound fish comes into the boat, shakes on the scale, shakes again, and settles in on 1-15.
Weighing the fish two more times reveals the same results. Heartbreak is the only feeling anyone can muster. The solemn look from the boat official reveals his pain as he delivers the hard news.
What’s going to happen now? No one knows. That’s the beauty of fishing with Mike Iaconelli: it’s always a mystery.
He cracks a joke and moves on.
Only 17 minutes remain. Twentieth place is the holding pattern, and it’s not secured. Will there be another buzzer-beater that sends Iaconelli home, or will his heroics be unleashed in the final minutes?
“Jacob Wheeler just caught a 2-pound bass moving you to 21st position.”
Those words barely leave the official’s mouth before Mike is able to respond with the familiar words we’re all used to hearing: “It’s a GIANT!”
The boat becomes a war zone.
Landmines are exploding left and right. The freight train headed to the back of the boat is not slowing down. A landmine takes out Mike’s feet, and he comes barreling into the camera, deflecting to the floor. Everyone is grasping for anything in reach to stay in the boat. The rod cracks, I trip over a bag, and somehow the GIANT is still on the line and still in view of the camera. Elbows are flying, the broken rod tip is stuck in the fish’s mouth, and somehow, through the wildness of the situation, Mike gets his hand in the mouth of the fish.
As chaotic as this is, this is when Full Ike shines.
People around the world can hear the screams when Full Ike enters the world. The shouting, the excitement, and the adrenaline rush are infectious. As the screams echo across Lake Fork, Ike grabs the camera lens and shares his jubilant yell an inch from the glass. The fog on the lens is so thick that you can barely make out the image of the hero in the background.
“Seven pounds, 13 ounces.” More screams, more yells, the excitement continues. The Elimination Line has been conquered. Another memorable comeback for one of the sport’s wildest competitors. It’s one of the great moments from Lake Fork, a great moment for Major League Fishing, and one of the best moments a cameraman can experience.
But when it’s all said and done, all I can say to Mike is, “Ummm, Mike…you licked my lens again.”