The Mighty James River Bass Open
A Long-Awaited Victory – By Bruce Callis
The mighty James River was the setting for the drama of the 2019 Basspro.com Eastern Open over July 25-27, as anglers from across the United States and 4 countries set out to tame the bass that live there. In the end, only one boater and one co-angler would lay claim to the title of champion. For others, dreams were crushed as the river proved that it may hold huge bass, but they aren’t as easy to catch as most hoped.
Day one saw Bryan Schmitt take the lead on the Pro Angler side with an impressive bag of 5 bass weighing 20 pounds and 4 ounces. Tim Ward held down 2nd with a 5 fish bag of 17 pounds 15 ounces. Mike Iaconelli came in 6th with a 5 bass 15 pound 2 ounce bag limit. John Cox stood in 20th place and Chad Pipkens held down 30th with 12 pounds 4 ounces.
Scott Stephenson III took the lead on the Co-Angler side with a 3 bag limit of 12 pounds. Jonathan Ceaser held down 2nd with 10 pounds 14 ounces, Chris Whittaker was 3rd with 9 pounds 11 ounces, John Wiese was 4th with 9 pounds 7 ounces, and Chaz Carrington rounded out the top 5 with 9 pounds 2 ounces.
Day 2 was cut day and that only the top 12 would be moving on to fish the final day. Mike Iaconnelli was in the final flight and did not disappoint as he took the lead with a steady bag limit of 15 pounds 2 ounces, giving him a total of 30 pounds and 4 ounces, just 6 over second place angler Kotaro Kiriyama who came in with a 14 pound 14 ounce limit for 29 pounds 14 ounces. Tommy Little came in 3rd with an impressive 17 pound 8 ounce limit for 29 pounds 11 ounces, one ounce ahead of Bryan Schmitt who had a total of 29 pounds 10 ounces. The best moment was when Mike’s children got on stage with him. When asked if they would like to say anything, his daughter pulled on the heart strings as she said, “I love my dad!” One more wrap around her little finger.
John Wiese took the lead on the Co-Angler side with 3 bag limit of 8 pounds 11 ounces. Scott Stephenson III fell to 2nd with a 5 pound 2 ounce bag. Barry Brandt Jr. Came in 3rd with a 7 pound 1 ounce bag.
Championship Saturday and the weigh-in moved from Osbourne Landing to Bass Pro Shop in Ashland, Virginia and it proved to be truly exciting. As the anglers arrived in front of the store in their boats and make their way up to the stage. The Pro Anglers arrived starting with the 12th place angler arriving 1st. The Co-Anglers were not paired up with the Pro Anglers according to their finish, but rather, by draw. Whitney Stephens was the second Pro Angler to take the stage and took the lead with a limit of 15 pounds 5 ounces and a total of 41 pounds 15 ounces. He moved into the hot seat and endured the wait, watching angler after angler attempt to knock him off the easy seat. Finally, Ike made his way to the stage, the last man with a chance to be crowned champion. As the fish were placed on the scales, Whitney stood side-by-side with Ike. You could feel the tension as everyone waited. A drop in his total, but Mike had 13 pounds 12 ounces, giving him a 44 pound total and a 2 pounds 1 ounce victory. No big yell that he is famous for but rather a subdued fist pump of victory.
For the Co-Anglers, John Wiese took the lead with a 12 pound 3 ounce 3 fish bag limit and then endured as he sat on the hot seat. When the final angler made his way to the stage and up the steps, John could see the bag and knew that it was short, as the emotions started to overtake him, knowing that he would be crowned the champion.Rounding out the top 12 of Co-Anglers were: Kibbee Mccoy, David Deciucis, Charles Purcell, Colton Sowers, Scott Stephenson III, Ronnie Shephard, Barry Brandt Jr., Jonathan Ceaser, Lynn Hoeffer, Keith Honeycutt, and Jeffrey May.
For Mike Iaconelli, it was a special win. The James River and Richmond holds a special place in his heart. His wife Becky moved to the Richmond area when she was just 12 and her parents still live here. Victory in front of the family is always special. But his victory celebration was to be short lived as he had to hit the road for a MLF Cup event.
He fished all upriver from Osbourne Landing, doing what he called a “trout stream pattern,” which meant that he pushed his boat as far back in the creeks as far as he could go. It is the same pattern he uses back home on the Delaware River. He used a 1/2 ounce black/blue Missile Baits Mini Flip jig with a black Berkley Power Bait chunk trailer, a 1/2 ounce Molix Lover vibrating jig with a Berkley Power Bait Chigger Craw trailer, and a Rapala DT-6 in a color called Old School. Sadly, the DT-6 that he had used on day 3 got hung up and snapped off. He retied on a second one and proceeded to continue, only to look down a few minutes later to see that the magic lure, thought long gone, had floated to the surface. He reached down and pulled it back into the boat, and fished on. But he has plans for the lost but found lure, it will have a new home, hanging from the trophy that holds special meaning.