HOW IACONELI, KLEIN ENVISIONED THEIR CLASSIC PERFORMANCES

The top two finishers in the down-to-the-wire 33rd CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer were asked to handicap their chances in the upcoming world championship a month earlier. Their answers, when viewed in the hindsight of the New Orleans event, are interesting.

Winner Michael Iaconelli: "I'm excited about coming back next month. I hate to say this because I don't want to jinx myself, but it was the best Classic practice I've ever had.

"And I'm very excited about that for two reasons: One, my first Classic was there as a Federation angler and I had a sixth-place finish there; the other thing I'm excited about is that it's my style of fishing. I had a phenomenal practice. I had just had a phenomenal practice. I know a lot can change in a month, but I'm very, very excited."

Runner-up Gary Klein: "I did not have a great pre-practice down there. Yeah, I caught a few fish, but nothing where I said, 'Alright, I can win the Classic.' I fished around enough to know that it is not going to be an easy event. I've got a good feeling about how to run from certain areas to certain areas based on where I decide to go. Besides that, it's going to be a turkey shoot for me.

"I think I can catch them as well as anybody. There's no doubt about that. The key is, 'Can I put myself in an area where I can catch them?' And that's what I'm going to be struggling with."

JERSEY BOY. Iaconelli became the first northeastern pro to claim competitive fishing's biggest crown. (Connecticut angler Bryan Kerchal was the first northeasterner.) His New Jersey roots hardly constitute fertile grounds for champion-caliber bass pros.

"I get asked that about that a lot," he said, "New Jersey is a sleeper state for bass fishing. I really cut my teeth and learned what I know now in the state of New Jersey.

"It's a shame that people automatically associated New Jersey with a big city like New York or Philadelphia or Atlantic City. But we have a great fishery. In the pine barrens we have acidic bodies of water that are just like Florida. In north Jersey we have glacial lakes that are perfect. And then we have sand ponds, which have clear water. We have the tidal Delaware River, which runs right up our border. So I learned everything I needed to learn within an hour's drive of my house. And the Chesapeake Bay (is) an hour and 15 minutes away. I had everything right at my fingertips growing up."

BICEP BASS. Iaconelli has a high-quality tattoo of a leaping bass on his right bicep. "I got it in '99 when I won the Federation (national) tournament," he said. "It's from a BASSMASTER (Magazine) cover that really caught my eye. I had dreamed of getting a bass tattoo and when I saw that cover, I decided to do it. I researched the tattoo parlor in my area and found one that was super reputable. They were artists more than anything. They did a great job. It was a little expensive, but it's a piece of me now. It's a neat part of my history."

TRITON'S INNOVATION. In a major step forward for angler safety, Triton Boats recently introduced a new re-boarding ladder in its 2004 product line. The design was quickly recognized with a special award by the National Safe Boating Council.

The newly designed ladder, which is hidden from view until the angler releases a lock enabling the ladder to telescope from the stern, is compatible with the sleekest of bass boat designs. It is designed to allow fishermen to re-board after falling overboard.

 "It is a common incidence for an angler to fall overboard. But even when wearing a lifejacket that keeps one afloat, it is important to climb back aboard as soon a possible. Without assistance, it is a difficult task. Depending on the water temperature and the capabilities of the angler, a simple fall into the water can become fatal," said Virgil Chambers Executive Director of the National Safe Boating Council.

In accepting the NSBC Special Life Saving Award for Innovation, Triton president Earl Bentz said, "We manufacture boats for the serious bass fishing tournament professional as well as the weekend angler. We have always considered comfort, style, performance and safety. This ladder is just a continuation of that commitment to our consumer. We also believe this feature will give our bass boats greater flexible to be used as a family craft for in-water sports like swimming, water skiing and diving."

DID YOU KNOW? Michael Iaconelli started his career as an amateur in the 1992 Bassmaster Top 100. His first partner: Gary Klein.

PRO BIRTHDAYS. Kentucky pro Mike Auten celebrates his 33rd birthday on Aug. 6. Sam Swett (39) of Louisiana and Arkansas' Mike Wurm (50) share Aug. 15. Massachusetts' Danny Correia will be 40 on Aug. 19, while Joe Thomas turns 41 on the same day.

THEY SAID IT. "I thought I had done a good job of not listening to all of the local favorite stuff. But when I was signing autographs at the Kids Classic it really hit me how much people were expecting from me." Roger Boler, who lives across Lake Ponchatrain from New Orleans, was considered a heavy pre-Classic favorite because of his familiarity with the Louisiana Delta.  Boler finished in 48th place.

For more information contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375.