September 07, 2021
By David A. Brown
A week after placing fourth in the Basspro.com Bassmaster Northern Open on Oneida Lake from the deck of his Bass Cat Cougar, Mike Iaconelli won the B.A.S.S. Nation Kayak Series event on Chesapeake Bay from a Hobie kayak. A tempting assumption: Ike has applied what he’s learned from fishing high-end bass boats to his paddle craft pursuits.
That’s not entirely inaccurate—clearly, the New Jersey pro has amassed a ton of experience and knowledge with his foot on the trolling motor. However, Iaconelli says the experiences he’s absorbed from his water level seat has also helped tighten his overall bass game.
“I’ve had to rethink my entire approach to fishing,” said Iaconelli, who’s fished kayak tournaments for three years. “In the beginning, it was a learning curve with a lot of mistakes—and I’m still learning.
“The main thing is how you select the area you fish. In kayak, you can use a trolling motor—I use a torqueedo—but you still have to rethink selecting areas and become a very thorough angler. You have to learn to maximize areas.”
As Iaconelli points out, from a bass boat, he can start in one area of the lake and if the bite slows down, he can run elsewhere. Need a limit-filler? Just blast over to your keeper hole; same for that afternoon spot where they’ve been schooling later in the day.
From a kayak, Iaconelli has had to train himself to dial in areas where he can spend a day with minimal relocation. This, he said, benefits him when he’s burning gasoline.
“I’m looking for groups of fish and areas where I can do a few different things,” Iaconelli said of his yak attack. “You have to become better at maximizing water, so I think being a kayak angler has made me better as a big boat fisherman.”
What It Means
For Iaconelli, the connection was nearly immediate. Tracing his earliest bass fishing roots to jonboats and canoes, he bought a basic kayak about a dozen years ago and immediately embraced the throwback-kinda vibe. His 8-year relationship with Hobie sprung from the realization that these these vessels would quickly become a series subset of the bass fishing.
“About 10 years ago, I noticed these specialized fishing kayaks that various manufacturers were coming out with,” he said. “I said ‘This is for me!’”
Fishing out of an Ike-approved Hobie Pro Angler 14 with the 360 Mirage Drive. Iaconelli runs a Torqueedo Ultralight motor, which gives him a range of 10 to 12 miles. He has no problem launching from a traditional boat ramp, but he said he appreciates the nearly limitless possibilities a kayak offers.
No official launch site—no worries. Defying limitations, Iaconelli will drop his Hobie over a guard rail or wheel it down a small trail.
What He Throws
Considering a kayak’s space restrictions, anglers simply must whittle down their tackle selection. As difficult as it is to pick baits that work everywhere, Iaconelli has identified a trio that’ll get the job done just about anywhere he fishes.
Soft Stick Bait: Calling Berkley’s PowerBait MaxScent The General his No. 1 choice, Iaconelli fishes the 4-, 5- and 6-inch versions, with the middle size his go-to. Rigging styles include wacky, Texas rigged (with or without a bullet weight), tail weighted, shaky head and Ned rig.
Bladed Jig: Calling this his ultimate hybrid lure—blending the best of a jig, spinnerbait and crankbait—he uses a variety of bladed jig models with strong finishes earned on largemouth and smallmouth waters.
“In a kayak, I’m fishing a lot of stained, muddy areas where vibration is key,” he said.
Finesse: The very nature of shallow water access implies some level of stealth and subtlety. That’s why Iaconelli’s starting lineup always includes a Berkley Bottom Hopper worm on 1/16- or 1/8-ounce VMC Rugby Head or a dropshot with the same straight tail worm or a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flat Worm.
Closing Advice: Iaconelli admits his initial assumption was smaller rods for kayak fishing. Smaller vessel, lower to the water—it seemed logical, but he said he’s found the opposite to be true.
“Whatever technique you’re doing, add 2 to 4 inches to the rod length you’d normally use,” he said. “What I’ve figured out is the longer rods help with casting distance and leverage—hook sets and the ability to fight a fish.”
For most of his kayak work, his go-tos are the 7-foot, 4-inch Abu Garcia Ike Series Finesse spinning rod and a 7-foot, 4-inch or 7-foot, 6-inch Abu Garcia Ike Series Power baitcasting rods. Paired with the appropriate Abu Garcia reel, he hardly ever uses monofilament; instead, he’s mostly spooling with Berkley X-5 or X-9 braid, Berkley 100% Trilene fluorocarbon or, a braid-to-fluoro setup—all of which eliminate line stretch and maximize casting distance, control and sensitivity.
He’s unlikely to completely abandon his bass boat anytime soon. However, he said he recognizes the vital starting point that kayaking offers for those aspiring to fish bass tournaments. Moreover, the intimacy of kayak fishing is undeniable.
“The bigger the boat you’re in, the more you become removed from the level of the fish,” he said. “In kayak fishing, when you set the hook, that fish is right there. When he jumps, he’s jumping at eye-level with you.
“You fight a big one—a 4- or 5-pounder—you’re moving with the fish. You’re actually getting towed and I love, love, love that.”