Before I get into the details of all of this I want to say that our decision wasn’t easy. It was the toughest career decision I’ve ever made. I have no issues with MLF, and I have other businesses that take up a lot of my time. Competitive bass fishing at the highest levels is important to me, but it’s only one of the things that are important to me.
In the end, though, Becky and I decided to come home. It was a matter of controlling our destiny.
When all the split happened I felt like it was an opportunity to make the anglers stronger in the sport of bass fishing, that we could exercise a little more control over our careers. That’s the fundamental reason I left B.A.S.S. in the first place. I think to some extent I was right, but only to some extent.
I am fully responsible for that decision.
Right after I made that decision, though, everything was about COVID. Basically, it shut down most sports in the country — team and well as individual competitions. B.A.S.S. was the exception to what I just said. They rescheduled tournaments and changed locations and all of that, but they didn’t shut down. They kept moving forward. I was impressed with that ... very impressed.
Much the same thing happened with the anglers. I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus, but a lot of them just stopped. Becky and I looked at the situation as an opportunity and redoubled our efforts with our sponsors, partners and over digital platforms, especially mikeiaconelli.com. When things get tough you don't run and hide. You put your head down and work harder. That decision was a good one for us and our businesses.
But while we were doing that something happened to me that caught my attention. I wasn’t traveling for tournaments. The 20 to 30 live seminars I do every year were all cancelled. I realized quick enough that I loved my new life. I was home for special days, holidays and to just mess around with the kids. Becky and I ate dinner together and actually had time to talk about small things. I was just there, and I loved it.
As the year wore along I started to take stock of what was happening. I realized that when things returned to normal I had decisions to make. I talked to my family, every sponsor and business partner we have and we ran three online polls asking what I should do.
My family’s thoughts and advice are going to stay between us, but I will say my sponsors and business partners mostly said they’d support me whatever decisions I made — fish B.A.S.S., fish MLF or keep going ahead with what we were doing. Of course, the fans wanted me to return to B.A.S.S. by an overwhelming margin, like at least 80%.
In the mix was my new TV show, My World with Mike Iaconelli, on CBS Sports. I didn’t know if it would be renewed for another season or not. That was still up in the air.
Not knowing what I was going to do but wanting options, I decided to fish the qualifying tournaments for the professional level events at B.A.S.S. and at MLF. It was important to me that I earn my way back regardless of which circuit I ultimately selected.
I didn’t want any handouts or legacy stuff. I left of my own will. I wanted to return because I had earned it, not because somebody gave it to me because of things I did in the past. My career is not about what I did yesterday. It’s about what I did today and what I’m going to do tomorrow.
I qualified for both tours. That gave me options, but multiple options are a two-edged sword. After much thought and conversations with Becky, as well as both circuit options being available, I realized that my days as a professional bass anglers weren’t over. Truthfully, I missed the competition.
Out of that confusion Becky and I made the following plan: I’d keep moving forward with my businesses, and I’d go back to serious level tournament competition. This was made easier when CBS scheduled another season of My World, and worked with me so that we could film around, but physically close to, either tournament schedule.
The only thing left was to decide which circuit to join.
I thought it through and realized that I needed to come home. I like the B.A.S.S. format, the five big fish across the stage, the live fans and especially all the kids. And I honestly think I have another blue trophy in me and maybe a few Classic appearances. I might even pull off a win in one of them, or maybe win a Bassmaster Angler of the Year title.
B.A.S.S. is where I started, and it’s where I’ll end.
How long that’ll be is up in the air. It could be two or three years, or it might be five or six years. Heck, it could even be nine or 10 years. I don’t know. What I do know is that I want to go out on top, with respect and dignity. I’ll not fish past when I’m competitive. I don’t guarantee very many things, but that I can guarantee.
I can’t wait for the 2022 Bassmaster Elite Series to begin. That’s what I do. It’s who I am.