June 25, 2005 by Jeff Schroeder
LA PLATA, Md. - It just doesn't get much more exciting than this. The 2005 Wal-Mart FLW Tour regular season closed with a bang at the Chevy Open on the Potomac River. First, Mike Iaconelli brought his high-energy fishing style to the final round and dominated to win $200,000 in his first FLW cut round ever. Then, Greg Hackney erased all doubt about who this season's best pro was by catching the day's heaviest limit and winning the 2005 Land O'Lakes Angler of the Year title.
Mike likes it
Earlier in the week, Iaconelli, who hails from Runnemede, N.J., said that this tournament would be won on Friday. He was right. Even though the Potomac proved to be as generous as it has all week in terms of coughing up five-bass limits - nine out of 10 finalists weighed in limits - many pros said Saturday was a tougher day of fishing.
"Today was a struggle," Iaconelli said. "I went to my best spot first, and there were two things working against me. First, there were four or five boats from a local tournament fishing in that area and, of course, a lot of spectator boats. That muddied the water a little. The other thing that hurt me was the different tide. I caught three keepers in that area, but it was slow. The memory of yesterday's 21-pound limit was haunting me. It kept telling me to stay, but my instinct was telling me to go."
With just three middling keepers in his livewell, Iaconelli remembered a little nook in Mattawoman Creek that had provided him with a top-10 finish in Wal-Mart BFL competition (then Red Man) here eight years ago. So, despite the 21 pounds he caught on his main spot the day before, he left.
"It's a little creek just about as wide as the entire boat, so the tide really couldn't get in there," he said. "I caught my fourth and fifth fish in there, including that big 4-pounder, and that really did it for me in this tournament."
Actually, what did it for him was just what he predicted: Friday. With a final-round total of 34 pounds, 14 ounces, Iaconelli won the tournament by 4-9 over a resurgent Clark Wendlandt. They both caught limits in the 13-pound-plus range Saturday - Iaconelli had 13-14 and Wendlandt had 13-1 - so it was the nearly 4-pound lead that Iaconelli established Friday that really made all the difference.
For the record, the winner said he caught most of his keepers on a 6-inch, watermelon-and-black-flake Berkley Sinking Minnow. He used 10-pound line on a spinning reel.
Iaconelli won $200,000 as the 2005 Chevy Open champion, the second time in his career that he has cleared that much cash in one event. You might remember the first time he did it, at the 2003 Bassmaster Classic, where he made a huge splash in fishing with his flamboyance and enthusiasm on the water.
Rest assured, recreational boaters on the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., all the way to Chesapeake Bay probably heard Iaconelli's hooting and hollering with each fish he caught Saturday.
"I'm feeling great. What an amazing deal!" he said while collecting his check after weigh-in, his daughter in his arms. "Look at that, honey, that's a lot of zeroes."
Hackney finally has his day
After placing second in both the FLW and BASS tours' respective Angler of the Year races last season, Hackney was on a mission this season - a quest, even - to be the angler on top. The Gonzales, La., pro finally realized that dream by catching 16 pounds, 15 ounces in Saturday's finals - the day's biggest sack - finishing the tournament in fourth place and eliminating his last remaining rival, Toshinari Namiki, from the 2005 FLW Land O'Lakes Angler of the Year race.
"This is the holy grail for me," an emotional Hackney said. "I was thinking about it all day. This was my whole goal, just to win the points."
Namiki, ever-so-gracious in the runner-up role, said: "It was exciting today, and it was a great opportunity. I'm really glad that Greg won Angler of the Year."
For more on the Angler of the Year race, click here.
Wendlandt washes his hands clean of the slump
Wendlandt caught 30 pounds, 5 ounces in the finals at the Potomac and finished in second place.
For the accomplished pro from Cedar Park, Texas, who'd been having a rough go of it on tour all season, collecting a $100,000 check was a nice way to emerge from a slump.
"Oh yeah, I'm done with that," he said. "Stick a fork in it, it's done."
Wendlandt fished a variety of cover - rocks, docks, laydowns, lily pads and some grass - to catch his solid stringers all week. He flipped a 4-inch, green-pumpkin Gambler tube on 20-pound-test line to catch a few, but caught most of his fish on a homemade, shallow-running crankbait.
"My deal was more of a timing thing," he said. "Low tide was way better for me."
Wendlandt said that he was on the fish to catch up and possibly pass Iaconelli Saturday, but he just couldn't get the big ones to bite. He had a 5-pounder hit his bait and another 4-pounder flash right at the boat.
"It was a lot shorter day today," he said. "I still had 13 pounds, so I feel pretty good about it."
Including this week, Wendlandt has earned 18 top-10s and two Land O' Lakes Angler of the Year titles on the FLW Tour. His $100,000 in winnings bumped him to the top of the FLW Tour's all-time leading money winners list with $994,750.
Jerry Williams of Conway, Ark., who led day one, finished strong with a 15-pound, 5-ounce limit Saturday and ended up in third place. He earned $50,000.
"I've been doing this a long time, and this has got to be the most exciting time for bass fishing," he said, taking it all in Saturday. "The FLW's getting better every day."
Hackney finds help for fourth, Namiki fifth
In comparison to the AOY title, he probably doesn't even care, but Hackney cleared $40,000 for fourth place. He caught 27 pounds, 9 ounces in the finals.
This place lent itself to Hackney's flipping-happy fishing style. He said that he had about 30 bites per day all week, but had trouble hooking them up, especially during his disappointing performance Friday.
"I should have had the biggest sack yesterday," he said. "But I just couldn't get them out of the water."
When the wind picked up yesterday, it compacted the mats that Hackney was flipping with a Wave Crawfish and a Smallie Beaver, which caused a lot of his fish to shake free of the hook or break off. Fellow pro Chad Morganthaler saw that and helped him out by showing him how to tie a snell knot as well as cluing him in on using straight-shank hooks. He even borrowed a rod from Morganthaler, all of which helped Hackney land the ones that got away the day before.
Namiki, of Tokyo, Japan, caught limits both days of the finals and finished in fifth place with 25 pounds, 12 ounces. He earned $30,000.
With four top-10 finishes this season on the FLW Tour, Namiki finished second in the points race. He won the FLW tournament at the Ouachita River in March.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros finishers at the Chevy Open on the Potomac River:
6th: Sam Newby of Pocola, Okla., 25-1, $28,000
7th: George Cochran of Hot Springs, Ark., 23-12, $26,000
8th: Gary Yamamoto of Mineola, Texas, 22-2, $24,000
9th: Brent Chapman of Lake Quivera, Kan., 22-0, $22,000
10th: Carl Svebek III of Siloam Springs, Ark., 18-1, $20,000
Yamamoto also earned the Energizer Keeps On Going award for coming from the farthest back to make the cut. He started day one in 43rd place.
Onto the championship
The next Wal-Mart FLW Tour event is the Forrest L. Wood Championship, scheduled for the Lake Hamilton near Hot Springs, Ark., July 13-16. The top 48 pros and co-anglers in the year-end standings will compete for a $1.5 million purse. The pros are gunning for a half-million-dollar winner's payout at the championship.
Notable: With his sixth-place finish here at the Potomac, Newby edged into the last qualifying spot for the championship by one point. He will face Hackney in the opening round of head-to-head competition at Lake Hamilton.
This week's event was hosted by the Charles County, Md., Office of Tourism.