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Iaconelli gets himself in gear, cruises to Bassmaster lead

NEW ORLEANS — NEW ORLEANS -- Mike Iaconelli said the only things that could beat him in the Bassmaster Classic were "the uncontrollables."

Yesterday morning, one of those elements -- a mechanical breakdown -- left him dead in the water with no help in sight. But the New Jersey angler made an emergency repair that allowed him to get to his fishing spot with enough time to land an 11-pound, 10-ounce bag of fish, good enough to take the lead with 27 pounds and just one day to go.

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Davy Hite, the winner of the Classic in New Orleans in 1999, was in second place with 24 pounds, 5 ounces. Gary Klein, who has qualified for the event 21 times without a win, was in third place with a total of 24 pounds, 4 ounces.

First-day leader Mark Menendez caught just two fish weighing 4 pounds, 3 ounces, dropping him to sixth place.

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"I wish I could tell you that I lost a 9-pounder or kicked two 4-pounders over the side, but I just couldn't get a bite," he said. "I'm going to go all out [today]. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain."

Iaconelli's mechanical mishap cost him an hour of fishing, but instead of being rattled, he said he felt "a calm come over me."

"When I fished the federation [events], I was young and hot-headed," he said of his amateur days. "But when I got there today, I said, 'I'm here ... let's make it happen.' "

Iaconelli, who started the day in second, said he was making a high-speed run to his favorite spot when the motor on his bass boat quit. The angler bypassed a blown switch with the help of a mechanic he called on his cell phone.

He abandoned the jig that he relied on the first day and went with soft plastics.

For the final day, he expects to go to the same location and cast the same lures.

"The area's going to hold up," he said. "I honestly think I can catch 12 to 15 pounds."

The field was cut from 61 to 25 last night. Many of the top anglers expressed confidence in being able to win the 33rd annual event.

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"Anybody in the top 10 could win," Hite said. "An 18- to 20-pound bag is possible. The second day in 1999 I caught 20 pounds."

Sitting in eighth place is Curt Lytle, a Maryland native who lives in Suffolk, Va. He bounced back from a shaky start Friday to catch a bag weighing 12 pounds, 4 ounces for a two-day total of 20 pounds, 10 ounces.

Lytle ran with an open throttle for more than 90 minutes to reach his spot far down the Louisiana Delta. He said he'll concentrate on the same three small areas today.

"I'm getting four hours of fishing," he said. "I'm not making any mistakes. I've got all my equipment ready to go when I get there. I'm not making hurry-up decisions, like trying to put the boat up on plane in one foot of water."

Rounding out the top 10 was Jay Yelas, defending Classic champion, with 20 pounds. Sentimental favorite, Roland Martin, who has competed in 25 Classics without a win, is in 12th place with 19 pounds, 11 ounces.

Kevin Van Dam, the winner in 2001, the last time the Classic was in New Orleans, failed to make the cut.


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