Rowdy bass fishing

Rowdy bass fishing star aiming to lure new fans – PHILADELPHIA — To be sure, some of those good ol’ boys probably swallowed their cheek-fulls of chew when they saw Mike Iaconelli break-dancing at the 2003 Bassmaster in New Orleans — before he won.

But that’s not the half of it for the guy from southern New Jersey who has set what was once the sedate, southern, even gentlemanly sport of bass fishing on its otolith. (The closest thing a bass has to an ear.)

Iaconelli “is young, tattooed, break-dances and screams and hollers when he catches a fish,” said Doug Cox, an industry publicist.

Now there’s a verb for it: Going Ike. (His name is pronounced IKE-onelli.)

Actually, Cox said, the stereotype is old, “but Mike is just “soooo different.”

And he came along just as bass fishing began getting more media attention — from ESPN, for instance.

It was two ESPN contributors, Andrew and Brian Kamenetzky, who co-wrote his new biography, “Fishing on the Edge (published May 17 by Delacorte Press, $22).

On the cover is a shirtless Iaconelli, showing off his bass tattoo, nose-to-snout with a big one, looking fierce. Like him, the book is rowdy, blunt and, yeah, sometimes overboard.

Based on two weeks of conversations with the Kamenetzkys, it carries his distinctive voice. Heck, the transcriber should have gotten credit. (There is an audio version from Random House, which Iaconelli reads.)

The CITGO Bassmaster Classic, coming to Pennsylvania for the first time this year (July 29-31 in Pittsburgh), is among the best-known fishing tournaments in the world.

In an interview, Iaconelli, 32, said he wanted his book to be more than a biography of a champion. He wanted to give a good sense of what professional fishing is all about.

But, oh, it’s also fun, and chock-full of fishing info and cool lists: Mike’s ultimate DJ mix, Mike’s favorite spinner baits, crank-bait tips, favorite lakes — one of them Lake Alloway in Salem County.

Portions are incredibly sweet, like when he talks about his grandfather, Pop. And the book includes endearingly corny photos of Mike as a baby, Mike done up for Halloween, Mike and buddies as coneheads.

The acknowledgments are lengthy, including everyone from his two favorite tattoo parlors to the crew he worked with at Dick’s Sporting Goods in Mount Laurel, N.J. Manager Mike Biaggi still remembers he was “all about fishing. He lived, ate and breathed it.”

Iaconelli got hooked on bass at age 12, when he sneaked a 9S Floating Rapala lure from Pop’s tackle box, cast it into Fairview Lake in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, and “the biggest fish I’d ever seen . . . blew out of the water, mouth wide open.”

Sure, there are other fish, and he’s caught them, from the surf to the back bays.

But bass, he said, are “much more exciting.” Instead of casting live bait and waiting, he’s “throwing out an artificial lure, imitating something live in the environment. It’s a game, a puzzle. . . . You’re almost constantly in motion.”

What he sees for the sport is the big time, the next NASCAR with, say, scads of fans lining the shores of a lake where competitors rotate among designated spots.

And with fishy fame for the anglers themselves. It seems Iaconelli, at least, is getting there.

He’s got some good money: Bassmaster lists his career winnings as $738,845, not counting a recent $10,000 win in Alabama and $25,000 in Arkansas.

He’s got the sponsors: Just look at his heavily logo-ed shirt. The top spot on his shirt — unsold, so far — is priced at $100,000.

He’s got the babes. And a charity cause to boot: For each pound of bass he catches, he’s pledged $2 to Anglers Pounding Out a Cure for cancer.

“I could never leave the sport,” he said. “Honestly, it’s my passion.”

By SANDY BAUERS Knight Ridder Newspapers

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