By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Mike Iaconelli will return to tour-level fishing in 2022 after a one-year hiatus and he'll be back on the Bassmaster Elite Series for the first time since 2018.
"It feels strange, almost like I'm a rookie trying to start a new career," he told BassFan Monday afternoon, a few hours before making the formal announcement on his weekly Ike Live! online show. "It wasn't an easy decision and it's something (wife) Becky and I have been mulling over for a few weeks. We went camping in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania last week and then the next day the news about (Aaron Martens' passing) hit, so I was distraught about that and it put things on hold for a day or so.
"In the end, there were just more positives to going back. They outweighed the negatives."
No Back-Door Entry
Iaconelli likely could've returned to the Elite Series at any point during the past 3 years via the "legends exemption," for which he has two points from his 2003 Classic victory and his Angler of the Year title in 2006. He earned his way back for next year, though, with his 2nd-place showing in the Northern Opens points race.
He posted finishes of 17th at the James River, 4th at Oneida Lake and 33rd at the 1000 Islands in the Opens. He actually tied Pennsylvania's Jonathan Kelley for the top slot in the final standings, but lost the tiebreaker based on cumulative weight from the full-field days of all three tournaments.
He finished 47th in the MLF Bass Pro Tour standings in his most recent tour-level campaign in 2020. He was 17th in the final points in his last Elite Series season, qualifying for his 20th Classic appearance.
As one of the original angler/investors in MLF a decade ago, he retains his ownership stake in that organization – at least for the time being.
"That's where it stands right now," he said. "We'll have to wait and see what happens after this announcement.
"I love MLF – this isn't a B.A.S.S. vs. MLF thing," he added. "I just felt like I wanted to wrap things up and the place where I started and go back to B.A.S.S. for the last chapter."
It Won't Last Forever
How long will Iaconelli's final chapter go on? There's no definite timetable, but it won't be interminable.
"I look at what I had this year as a pause – it wasn't a retirement," he said. "I'm not going to be like Rick Clunn and compete into my 70s or 80s, but I kind of want to close things on my terms. Also, my desire to win at that level again is another big factor.
"We looked at the schedule and out of the nine tournaments, Becky and the kids should be able to be there for four or five of them. If I'd had to leave them for nine weeks, this decision would've been a lot tougher."
His "My World with Mike Iaconelli" show, in which he steps into the realm of top-level athletes from other sports and then competes against them on the water, has been picked up for a second season by CBS Sports Network. Filming for the show, which will again air during the 3rd and 4th quarter of the year, will not be disrupted by the Elite Series schedule.
"All the other businesses are good and they're aligning to where they'll allow me to fish," he said. "The sponsors are a big part of it, too; they were very supportive of me doing other things last year – the social media stuff, the show and the podcasts – but I think a lot of them deep down were wanting me to return to this level."