When Ike Says Goodbye

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There’s a chance that “never give up” will someday translate into, well, sorta giving up.

Over the past couple of years, rumors have been rampant that Mike Iaconelli is on the verge of retirement from the Elite Series. Now, to be clear, I have not discussed this issue with Mike, so everything I know is at best unsubstantiated rumor. I hesitate to bring it up because it may force him to answer questions he doesn’t want to address in public, but depending on which rumormonger you believe, he’s either leaving the game next year, the year after, or whenever he first fails to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic.

It’s kind of hard to wrap my head around that possibility. Part of that is because it leads me to recognize my own rapidly approaching geriatric years based on how long I’ve been following his career. The other part is because it seems like he still has a lot to give out on the field of play. When he won the Classic in 2003, and the AOY award in 2006, I would have been shocked to learn that over the next decade-plus he wouldn’t earn at least one if not both of those honors again. He’s had multiple wins since then – three with BASS and one with FLW – and his active Classic streak of 17 straight (including next month’s at Hartwell) is the longest in the game, but it has always seemed to me like he was on the verge of another start-to-finish season of dominance.

His tournament performance, stout though it has been, may have been diluted as a result of his overactive schedule. In addition to fishing the tour and typically some Opens as well, he has four kids, as well as the Ike Foundation, Bass University, MLF, countless appearances, and various TV obligations. Even when he retires, it’s doubtful he’ll spend much time on the couch watching Oprah and eating bonbons, nor will he have time to engage in long term Call of Duty sessions.

If anything, he’ll probably be more active if and when he leaves the tour, but for selfish reasons, as a fan, I’ll be sad to see him go. As in just about every sport, once anglers are a fair distance in the rear view mirror, people tend to forget about them. Roland hasn’t been gone from the full-time tournament scene for long, but I’m guessing most younger fans don’t realize how dominant he was for many years. Hank Parker won two Classics, but he’s known more as a pondwater voiced TV show host and promoter than anything else. Bobby Murray? Most serious twentysomething anglers couldn’t tell you the first thing about him. That’s not fair to those Hall of Famers, and to be honest us old farts haven’t been great stewards of the sport’s history, but that’s how the cookie has crumbled.

My fear is that if Ike leaves abruptly, without aging into the role, and without a proper sendoff, a decade from now people will remember him as the guy who could break dance on the deck of a boat, the one who screamed “it’s a giant!” and for other such extracurricular activities, but not for his skills on the water. I’m sure he could do even more good for the sport (and his own bank account) in retirement, but it seems a shame to relegate him to a series of well-meaning sideshows rather than the main event.