Now that summer in New York is in full swing, many parents are wondering how to keep their kids entertained. In June, celebrity bass angler Mike Iaconelli worked with NYC youth and local Boys and Girls Clubs at the Central Park Adventure NYC fishing demo event. The “Bassmaster” TV crew filmed the event for ESPN 2 and provided the kids with fishing gear and prize giveaways. From New York City to the Hamptons, fishing is a perfect way have fun with the kids this summer.
Examiner had a golden opportunity to talk to Mike Iaconelli, a New Jersey native, about fishing and being one of the most elite anglers of all time. He is the only athlete to have won the Classic, Angler of the Year and National Championship as well as an ESPY nomination for Outdoor Athlete of the Year. As a husband and father of four, this celebrity bass angler also recognizes the importance of teaching kids about positive activities to participate in during summer vacation.
When did you start fishing and what was your first experience like?
I started fishing when I was 3 or 4 years old. My family would take me fishing in the Pocono Mountains in PA, down at the Jersey Shore, and at home on the Delaware River. We fished for anything that bit, and the thrill of hooking and reeling in something was addicting!
Tell me a bit about your youth and how a break-dancing, hip hop junkie became an award-winning bass angler. In other words, how did fishing become a career as well as a lifelong passion?
Ha-ha, great question! It’s funny how things work out. Basically, growing up in a Philadelphia suburb in New Jersey, your surroundings take hold. When I was 11 or 12 years old, the hip-hop and break dancing movements were just starting. I was immediately drawn to the music and break dancing scene. At that same time, I was still fishing, and I hooked my first big bass on an artificial lure! After that I wanted to learn everything about bass fishing. I started watching it on TV, reading books and magazines, and renting videos on the sport. By the time I was in high school, I was fully hooked on the sport of bass fishing. After graduation, I decided to join a local small boat fishing club and started competing. It wasn’t until my sophomore year in college I decided I wanted to try it as a career. That year, I signed up to fish as an amateur in a few tour level events. I ended up winning the second event I ever fished. With a fully-rigged bass boat (valued at 19K) in hand, I decided at that moment, I would seriously attempt to make this my full-time gig. It worked!
How did you also become a Team Toyota athlete? Share some of the details of your journey.
That was a bit of timing and a leap of faith. At an event in 2004, I met a guy at the hotel where we were staying, who asked a bunch of questions about the sport, the lifestyle, who we traveled with, etc. After a few days of talking to the guy, I found out he was a rep for Toyota, and they were interested in getting into the sport. Well, I kept in touch with him and at the 2005 Bassmaster Classic, I decided to go out on a limb and wear a Toyota cap in the event. Shortly after, I got the call that they were interested in having me on the newly formed Toyota Fishing Team. They build a great tow vehicle (the Tundra), and have been a great partner for me and the entire sport of fishing.
What happened during the 2015 Central Park Fishing Demo in NYC and why do you encourage youth to discover the joys of fishing?
The 2015 Adventures NYC event was a really cool opportunity to represent not only BASS and Toyota, but also the entire sport of fishing. I got to meet and engage with a very wide range of people during casting demonstrations. Men, women, boys and girls of all ages, backgrounds and races came out. Some had fished before, but the vast majority had never cast a rod and reel. It was amazing to be able to teach and enlighten them to the sport of fishing. Even in NYC there are a tremendous amount of sport fishing opportunities, and hopefully a few of the folks I meet will go out and try the sport for the first time.
How can fishing help urban youth learn how to connect with nature and themselves?
I’ve always said fishing is the last great sport that connects people with nature. In a day and age where kids and adults are more and more caught up in the hustle and bustle of modern life and technology, fishing brings you back to an age lost and gives you time to be yourself. It is also a great sport to teach life lessons like patience, strategy, determination, and puzzle solving.
What fishing programs are coming up in the future to help urban youth discover this pleasurable pastime?
The urban fishing and youth movements are becoming bigger and bigger each year. Groups like the Cast Crew from Chicago and Big Bass Dreams from LA, are providing young, alternative anglers with a group that they can relate to and learn from. Also, we now have college, high school, and many urban youth fishing groups teaching kids about the sport. We also started the Ike Foundation last year to help these groups get product donations (rods and reels) to make sure kids can experience fishing.
What is your advice to aspiring anglers who want to go pro?
I have a few pieces of advice. The first is to keep practicing. Like any other sport or activity, the more you practice (repetition) the better you get. Second, is to join some form of organized club or group. Third, is to get a higher education (college degree) because professional fishing is as much about marketing, promotions, and communications as it is about fishing.
As fellow fishing enthusiasts, we all have our favorite fish tales. Tell me your greatest fish tale and why it’s your fave.
My greatest fishing tale is the first big bass I ever caught on an artificial lure. I was about 10 or 11 years old. My grandfather had a big, green tackle box that had some lures in it, but I was always forbidden from taking anything from Pops’ box! One morning on a trip in the Pocono Mountains, I decided to sneak in the box and try out a lure. I found a small minnow lure called a Rapala Floating Minnow. I tied it on and cast it out not really knowing what to do with the lure. As it floated on the surface, I started to reel it in slowly. I was amazed at its swimming action and how real it looked. About that time, I stopped reeling and let the lure float back to the surface when a bass about 3 or 4 pounds exploded on top of the bait. It was the most exciting, breathtaking strike and fight from a fish I had ever had. From that moment on, I was hooked on bass fishing!