Within hours this information is disseminated online. The next day, amateur fishermen all over the country will be mimicking Ike just as he mimics the minnows.
Others just follow Ike. During the Classic he is chased by spectator boats, sometimes 25 of them, sometimes more. These boats annoy Iaconelli, just as they annoy other competitors, but what can he do? It's public water, and besides, Ike's all about being accessible to his fans.
So far on this day there is little for those fans to see. It is already 2 p.m., and Iaconelli, after starting the day in seventh place, is in danger of zeroing--that is, not catching any fish--with only an hour to go. This would not be good for the brand, the business or the dude.
Then, at 2:43 p.m., he gets a bite fishing a ferry dock near the heart of the city. Suddenly, he's twisting and turning and leveraging and then--sloop!--the fish is in the boat. He grabs it and looks straight at the cameraman standing behind him, the one who has been standing behind him the whole day to capture a moment just like this. "Never give up, baby!" Ike shouts. "Never give up! You know what I'm saying? Never give up! I've been through it all today. Bring it on! Bring it on! I've been over the mountain, and I've seen the light!"
Then, two minutes later, Ike turns, squats, leans and yanks up another one. He yells again. "Yeaaaaah! Yeaaaaah! Right back in it! Right back in it!"
On the dock six teenage girls, one dad, one mom and one little boy cheer. On the water the buxom women on the bow of the Hooters boat--which, to the delight of the anglers, trolls the area all day--emit a girlie "Yeah!" and "We love you, Ike!" He points to them, loving them back. He has salvaged the day.
At the end of each day the anglers weigh in with their five biggest bass (if they catch five) and their aggregate weights determine who moves on. For that night's weigh-in in Mellon Arena, Iaconelli wears a belt onstage that displays, in scrolling red electronic letters, the phrase NEVER GIVE UP!!! that became his mantra after he screamed it at a TV camera during the '03 Classic. The belt is cheesy ... and it is a big hit.
Iaconelli is now in second place and feeling good. He talks to the media in a back room. At one point there are 18 journalists around him, with photographers holding their cameras over the mob to get a shot of him. An hour and 15 minutes later--or an hour after every other angler has gone to dinner--Ike is still answering questions, nodding intently as KPUC Pennsylvania asks about his childhood. Then it's on to a reporter from Japan, who approaches a little tentatively. Ike beckons him with a wave. "Come on over. What's up, brother?"
ESPN believes strongly in the NASCAR analogy for BASS, so much so that when I speak to Don Rucks, general manager of BASS, he mentions NASCAR 15 times in a 37-minute conversation. He says that next season BASS will, for the first time, hold three "majors"--the Bassmaster America, the Bassmaster Memorial and the Bassmaster Legends--along with five new tour events with names like The Lone Star Shootout. The season will also start, not end, with the Classic, to be held on Lake Tohopekaliga, near Kissimmee, Fla., in February. This not only gets the tournament back to its Southern roots and into big-fish water, but it is also, not coincidentally, near Walt Disney World. Which, as you might know, is under the same corporate umbrella as ESPN.
Part II of Rucks's plan is to continue building personalities. The sport is huge in Japan, and Takahiro Omori became the first foreign-born angler to win the Classic, in 2004. Rucks wants a lot more Japanese fans, and a lot more fans of every stripe. How to do that? Well, nobody knows. For now, FLW--which has more prize money but a lower profile--is sticking with big payouts and wholesome red state values, while ESPN and BASS have settled upon bombast and over-the-top personalities, or as Monroe puts it, "They went from the banjo music to the techno and hip-hop."