By Todd Ceisner
BassFan Editor

For the two anglers who finished at the top of the leaderboard today, there were feelings of relief. For a guy whose name appeared about halfway down the ledger, relief will have to wait a day (or two) and theres no guarantee itll come at all.

Mike Iaconelli, a two-time Major League Fishing Cup champion, has had a season of ups and downs on the Bass Pro Tour. Hes been the first man below the cut line on more than one occasion. He missed the Knockout Round at the two Table Rock Lake tournaments, which came on the heels of two straight appearances in the Championship Round.

It all added up to him arriving at Lake Winnebago this week in need of another Knockout Round appearance in order to shore up a berth in the upcoming Redcrest championship.

While the fishing part hasnt transpired quite how he envisioned it, he delivered a clutch performance today to claim the top spot in the Group A Elimination Round. Iaconelli caught 37 bass for 57-02 (both group highs for the day) to push his two-day totals to 98-01 (61 fish) and securing that Redcrest invite in the process.

Its a good feeling, Iaconelli said. Its been a weird, strange year. Ive had some good ones and some bad ones, and I hadnt won a round yet. This is a good way to end the year.

Its a double whammy because I knew from a points perspective, if I made the top 20 I knew Id have a good shot at Redcrest, so it was a good day.

Iaconelli outpaced runner-up Michael Neal by nearly 13 pounds as Neal tallied 38-05 (31 fish) today to close with 85-03 (63 fish). Kevin VanDam joined Iaconelli as the only other angler in the group to catch 40 or more pounds both days at Winnebago. VanDam caught 40-07 today to finish third with 85-02 (58 fish).

Scott Suggs caught 20 fewer fish than VanDam, but still finished fourth with 78-06. Brandon Coulter rounded out the top five with 77-09 (51 fish).

Six anglers who ended the Shotgun Round beneath the top-20 cut line rallied their way into the Knockout Today. Bradley Roy and Matt Lee made the biggest jumps, each improving 16 places to 17th and 11th, respectively. Brent Ehrler, Anthony Gagliardi, Todd Faircoth and Mark Daniels Jr. also jumped inside the top 20.

Getting bumped out were Gerald Swindle (12th to 25th), Boyd Duckett (14th to 22nd), Skeet Reese (15th to 23rd), Jeff Kriet (16th to 29th), Greg Hackney (17th to 28th) and Alton Jones (19th to 26th).



MLF/Joe Branch
Photo: MLF/Joe Branch

Michael Neal will compete in his fifth straight Knockout Round on Saturday.

Neal came into the event already locked into the Redcrest via points, but he had an outside shot at winning the points title. Those hopes were snuffed out today when points leader Edwin Evers finished 21st in the group, making it mathematically impossible for Neal to overtake him, even with a victory.

For Neal, who qualified for his fifth straight Knockout Round, not having to compete with the burden of knowing he likely needed to win to have a chance at the title, takes a measure of pressure off moving forward.

It feels good to make it, Neal said. The goal was to make it there and if I had a chance to come back and win AOY thatd be even better.

Its probably more relief (that I feel). I knew those two guys [Evers and Jeff Sprague] would need to have absolutely terrible tournaments, which hasnt happened all year, much less to both of them. Its just a relief to not think about it anymore.

As for Evers, who carried a three-point lead in the points standings into the final event, he had some ground to make up today in order to make his seventh Knockout Round of the season. He nearly did it, but finished 21st, just 1-14 behind Andy Montgomery, who remained in 20th.

Evers attention will now shift to how Sprague fares in the Group B Elimination Round on Friday. Evers best-case scenario is a 41st-place finish overall, which will net him 40 points, pushing his season total to 511. His worst-case scenario is 42nd, worth 39 points for a total of 510.

Sprague, who was 25th after the Group B Shotgun Round, will need to make the Knockout Round to have a chance to overtake Evers. Missing the Knockout Round will cede the points title to Evers.

If Evers finishes 41st, Sprague will need to finish 37th or higher to win the points title. If Evers finishes 42nd, Sprague will need a 38th-place finish or better to win. The overall finishes of anglers who dont qualify for the Knockout Round are determined by a Performance Rating, which is the average of the total fish and total weight percentages of each group of anglers.

I did all I could. I fished hard and left it all out there, said Evers, who built his strategy this week around knowledge he gained from a trip to Winnebago a few years ago. I really thought it would happen. Thats why I spent so much time offshore.

MLF/Phoenix Moore
Photo: MLF/Phoenix Moore

Edwin Evers was disappointed that he couldn't duplicate past success at Lake Winnebago this week.

After catching 23-12 in the Shotgun Round on Tuesday, Evers followed up with 25-15 (16 fish) today.

I dont know what Id do different, he said. I fished well. Its frustrating because Ive been here before and I know what lives here, and I spent all of practice trying to find them.

He thinks the wet spring and influx of muddy water has things a little behind schedule.

I just think theyre not that far along, he said. The water got dirty and I never found those fish and its hard to make myself fish the bank for little ones when you know what lives offshore. I found one group of them, but the wind blew them out.

Offshore is where Iaconelli figured hed have spent most of his fishing time this week, but conditions have prevented it and the number of largemouth swimming around hard cover in the shallow bays and canals has been too good to ignore.

What happened the last two days was not what I thought Id be doing to catch them, he said. I thought Id be off the bank on a shoal and I just assumed it would be a smallmouth tournament. Its been surprising how its shook out.

He swapped a power-fishing technique for a trusted finesse presentation toward the end of the Shotgun Round and played the finesse game for the entirety of todays round. He threw a 4-inch Berkley PowerBait General on a 1/8-oz. VMC Ike Approved wacky jighead and has taken to calling it the dumb dumb rig because of how simple it is to fish and how effective it can be in clear water.

I opted for finesse right away today and it clicked, he said. I kept it in my hand all day and ran new water with it, too.

Like Iaconelli, Neal recycled areas from Tuesday and found the fish to be just as willing to bite again today. He had a two-pronged approach that involved throwing a jig (3/8-oz. Dirty Jigs Compact Pitching Jig) and crankbait (SPRO Fat Papa 55 square-bill) at a school of bass staged on a point before hitting shade lines the rest of the day with a 5-inch soft plastic stickbait (Big Bite Baits Super Soft Trick Stick).

I fished the same way both days, he said. I started on that point and then ran shade the rest of the day. Any kind of shade, it didnt really matter. I preferred it to have some depth to it, but that wasnt easy to find.

Weather Forecast

> Fri., June 28 Mix of Clouds and Sun - 84/68
- Wind: From the E at 5 to 10 mph

> Sat., June 29 Mostly Cloudy - 87/65
- Wind: From the SW at 5 to 10 mph

> Sun., June 30 Mix of Clouds and Sun - 81/66
- Wind: From the E at 5 to 10 mph

Group A Elimination Round Results

1. Mike Iaconelli -- 24, 40-15 -- 37, 57-02 -- 61, 98-01

2. Michael Neal -- 32, 46-14 -- 31, 38-05 -- 63, 85-03

3. Kevin VanDam -- 32, 44-11 -- 26, 40-07 -- 58, 85-02

4. Scott Suggs -- 21, 42-04 -- 17, 36-02 -- 38, 78-06

5. Brandon Coulter -- 33, 48-04 -- 18, 29-05 -- 51, 77-09

6. Gary Klein -- 38, 60-01 -- 13, 15-08 -- 51, 75-09

7. Greg Vinson -- 32, 51-11 -- 10, 14-03 -- 42, 65-14

8. Dustin Connell -- 18, 30-08 -- 23, 35-00 -- 41, 65-08

9. Gerald Spohrer -- 20, 34-00 -- 19, 30-12 -- 39, 64-12

10. James Watson -- 24, 37-10 -- 18, 26-04 -- 42, 63-14

11. Matt Lee -- 16, 23-03 -- 27, 40-10 -- 43, 63-13

12. Alton Jones Jr. -- 30, 48-02 -- 10, 15-02 -- 40, 63-04

13. Brent Ehrler -- 16, 28-05 -- 21, 32-12 -- 37, 61-01

14. Mark Daniels, Jr. -- 16, 25-06 -- 20, 33-13 -- 36, 59-03

15. Brent Chapman -- 28, 39-11 -- 13, 17-06 -- 41, 57-01

16. Todd Faircloth -- 18, 27-01 -- 16, 29-00 -- 34, 56-01

17. Bradley Roy -- 13, 19-14 -- 23, 35-14 -- 36, 55-12

18. Casey Ashley -- 24, 38-02 -- 9, 15-08 -- 33, 53-10

19. Anthony Gagliardi -- 14, 21-15 -- 16, 30-13 -- 30, 52-12

20. Andy Montgomery -- 19, 30-04 -- 16, 21-05 -- 35, 51-09

The following anglers missed the cut and will not compete in the Knockout Round.

21. Edwin Evers -- 20, 23-12 -- 16, 25-15 -- 36, 49-11

22. Boyd Duckett -- 22, 33-06 -- 13, 16-04 -- 35, 49-10

23. Skeet Reese -- 23, 33-02 -- 9, 16-03 -- 32, 49-05

24. Kelly Jordon -- 5, 7-05 -- 27, 41-11 -- 32, 49-00

25. Gerald Swindle -- 23, 36-02 -- 9, 12-09 -- 32, 48-11

26. Alton Jones -- 17, 30-05 -- 9, 13-15 -- 26, 44-04

27. Brandon Palaniuk -- 15, 21-10 -- 14, 22-06 -- 29, 44-00

28. Greg Hackney -- 19, 30-13 -- 7, 13-00 -- 26, 43-13

29. Jeff Kriet -- 22, 31-11 -- 10, 11-09 -- 32, 43-04

30. Josh Bertrand -- 15, 20-03 -- 15, 20-10 -- 30, 40-13

31. Dave Lefebre -- 18, 27-10 -- 7, 10-06 -- 25, 38-00

32. Justin Atkins -- 13, 20-10 -- 8, 14-09 -- 21, 35-03

33. Mark Davis -- 15, 25-09 -- 5, 9-09 -- 20, 35-02

34. Jesse Wiggins -- 15, 20-06 -- 8, 12-05 -- 23, 32-11

35. John Murray -- 2, 2-02 -- 20, 29-03 -- 22, 31-05

36. Roy Hawk -- 9, 16-06 -- 8, 12-02 -- 17, 28-08

37. Paul Elias -- 12, 15-08 -- 8, 10-04 -- 20, 25-12

38. Brett Hite -- 8, 13-03 -- 6, 9-09 -- 14, 22-12

39. Cliff Crochet -- 11, 17-07 -- 3, 4-09 -- 14, 22-00