Folgers pro aims to be second bass angler to earn $1 million payday on home lake

By Patrick Baker – 06.Aug.2008

Largely out of the spotlight since winning his 2006 Land O’Lakes Angler of the Year title, many eyes are nonetheless trained on bass pro Anthony Gagliardi as the 2008 Wal-Mart FLW Tour season prepares to go out with a bang at the Aug. 14-17 Forrest Wood Cup. The reason for the attention is simple: Gagliardi is a favorite – if not the favorite – to win $1 million at Lake Murray.

“You can’t deny I’ll have a home-field advantage,” said Gagliardi, a Folgers pro from Prosperity, S.C., just a stone’s throw from the famous fishery.

In addition to his two FLW Tour wins, over $800,000 in career earnings and six championship qualifications, Gagliardi’s zip code explains much of the attention he is receiving from both Punditville and bass-fishing fans at large in the run-up to the Cup. At press time, here’s a look at his numbers among FLW Fantasy Fishing players: 100 percent of the pundits have him on their roster; 76 percent of all Player’s Advantage members put him on their list; and a whopping 43 percent of overall players worldwide selected him.

But the votes of confidence don’t guarantee a win, of course. At the end of the regular season last month at the Chevy Open in Detroit, Gagliardi had a simple plan for the weeks leading up to the Cup to enhance his chances of success: practice.

Fishing close to home

Anthony Gagliardi discusses his 2008 FLW Tour season with FLW Outdoors President Charlie Evans at the end of the regular season at the Chevy Open. But even in Detroit, Gagliardi had his mind on the Forrest Wood Cup.“I’d imagine I’ll be out on the lake a bit before off limits,” he said with a grin, alluding to the advantage he has in living on Lake Murray.

Fellow Folgers pro Scott Suggs of Bryant, Ark., proved that a local can win the biggest event in bass fishing at last year’s Cup, when he was the first angler ever to be awarded a $1 million cash prize after winning the championship on Arkansas’ Lake Ouachita. But some would argue that the “home lake curse” could prevent Gagliardi from repeating the scenario. The “curse” is probably more logically explained as a phenomenon wherein local pros tend to rely on past knowledge of patterns and hot spots when fishing their home waters as opposed to adapting to current fishing conditions like visiting anglers.

“It’s not like I have five or six honeyholes I plan to go to,” Gagliardi said. “In fact, I’ve probably only fished a couple tournaments there in August.”

Then Gagliardi explained that Lake Murray is not a fishery where most anyone would fish recreationally in the dog days of summer. Give him a tournament there in another season, and years of fun fishing in his backyard would more greatly come into play. How about a late-winter tourney on Lake Murray? Anthony Gagliardi of Prosperity, S.C., cleared $200,000 for victory at the 2006 Chevy Open.Gagliardi’s last FLW Tour win came from Lake Murray in the second event, held in early February, of his 2006 AOY season.

“Actually, I don’t have a lot of on-the-water experience there (when it comes to tournaments), but I know the lake,” he said.

As it is, Gagliardi just hasn’t spent much time seining Murray’s waters for bass under the August sun – or while tournament fishing in general. What he does consider advantages, however, are his knowledge of the lake – structure, depths, bottom contour, vegetation, etc. – and proximity.

In other words, he had full access to the fishery during the two weeks between the Chevy Open and the beginning of the Cup’s off-limits period, which began July 28. That window of time should have provided an opportunity for him to test his mental database of Murray against deep-summer conditions. Anthony Gagliardi, the 2006 Land O'Lakes Angler of the Year, puts his third keeper in the boat Sunday morning.And while many of the 76 other pros qualified for the Cup likely made trips to South Carolina to test its waters prior to off-limits, most wouldn’t have been able to rejuvenate in the comfort of home during the evenings.

Whether Gagliardi will be able to capitalize on these advantages during the Cup remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: He has been thinking about the event since the 2008 FLW Tour schedule was released last year.

Taking the long view

When this year’s FLW Tour schedule was released in mid-July 2007, during the Chevy Open in Detroit, Gagliardi’s eyes likely became transfixed by the entry at the bottom of the schedule: Forrest Wood Cup, Lake Murray. After all, how often does a pro bass angler get a shot to compete for a $1 million payday in his backyard?

With the Champlain tournament over and the standings finalized, Anthony Gagliardi accepts his 2006 Land O'Lakes Angler of the Year trophy.But first Gagliardi would have to earn the right to fish for the million. That has been his quest throughout the 2008 season, which partly explains why such a successful pro hasn’t stepped into the winner’s circle since the last time the Tour visited his neck of the woods.

“I really tried my best not to think about it … but deep down, I knew I had to get it done,” Gagliardi said of fishing the 2008 regular season. “I probably fished more conservatively than normal.”

Conservative or not, the strategy paid off: Gagliardi handily cruised into a Cup berth, finishing the year ranked 16th on Tour. His finishes tell the tale: 47th at Lake Toho; 19th at Lewis Smith Lake; 23rd at Lake Norman; 37th at Beaver Lake; 54th at Fort Loudoun-Tellico lakes; and, his only stumble, 149th at the Detroit River.

He cashed a check in five straight events for total earnings of $65,000 before slipping at the Chevy Open; but by the waning moments of the regular season, Gagliardi had already earned the prize he’d been eyeing for almost an entire year – entry into the Cup. (Unlike some pros who fish the Wal-Mart FLW Series, Gagliardi didn’t fish his way to an early Cup qualification through that circuit).

Folgers pro Anthony Gagliardi and his wife Kristin recently welcomed their first child into the world.“It could’ve been a disaster,” he said of his strategy of playing the points game in 2008 instead of aiming for top finishes. But after he’d sealed a Cup berth at stop No. 5, he knew he’d made the right decision.

“Then I was able to come up here and relax,” Gagliardi said in Detroit.

It’s good he got a few days of R&R in before he began preparing for the championship full on, because 76 of the world’s best bass pros are about to invade his turf, each one on the same quest: to capture the Cup and a million-dollar payday.