Photo by Jody White - A former FLW Tour Angler of the Year, Anthony Gagliardi is no stranger to the top of the standings. Back in five-bass competition on a consistent basis, the South Carolina pro is thriving, with a 10th-place showing to start the season at Okeechobee, a 29th at Smith and a runner-up finish on the home pond at Murray.
Gagliardi has finished in the top five in the FLW Tour standings three times before, and he nearly always qualified for the FLW Cup, so the idea that he’d win another AOY isn’t wild, especially given a little home cooking.
Obviously a great bet in the Carolinas and on clear, southern fisheries, Gagliardi has had a long enough career that you can find a bad event or a good event for about any situation you want. Of course, that’s not a knock – even Bryan Thrift doesn’t catch them literally every time. If forced to pick a stumbling block going forward, it might be the St. Lawrence. Though you’d think he’d be great when it comes to smallies, Gagliardi didn’t make the Knockout Round in the Bass Pro Tour event on Sturgeon Bay in 2020 and he’s got a bit of a checkered past up north. Still, he’s wildly good and likely won’t be the only pro slightly on their heels when smallmouth season fully engages.
Photo Jody White - Back in 2014, a lost 5-pounder late on the final day by Scott Canterbury opened the door for Anthony Gagliardi to overtake him by an ounce and win the FLW Cup on Lake Murray. Gagliardi now knows what it feels like to be on the other end.
Already with the biggest bag of the tournament sitting in his livewell the final day, the local favorite had one 3-pound, 9-ounce bass he wanted to cull out. He hooked the fish to do it, a 5-pounder that would’ve made weigh-in razor close. Unfortunately for him, he accidently left his Power-Poles down, the fish wrapped around one and it broke off.
Then again, if not for a “shank” on Day 1, Gagliardi might not have needed that fish at all to win.
Despite having a home on the lake, Gagliardi admits he doesn’t fish Murray all that often during this time of the year. So any advantage he had was definitely muted.
“I practiced herring-spawn stuff, and I didn’t find them,” says Gagliardi. “I had a handful of spots I’d caught them before, but they weren’t there in practice. I found some bedders. So that’s what I did the first day.”
Yet, he also caught a lone fish Day 1 on a herring-spawn pattern. So he decided to “keep them honest” and start on it Day 2.
“I caught a limit quick, and then I went to another spot and culled a couple times,” says Gagliardi. “I went sight fishing for a few hours and didn’t do any good. Then I went back to the herring and caught my two biggest. That just pointed me in the right direction. So that’s all I did from then on.”
Cycling through main-lake points, Gagliardi says he threw a lot of different things, but a Berkley PowerBait Power Swimmer on a 1/16-ounce head was his biggest player, with a Sebile Magic Swimmer and a double soft-jerkbait rig with Berkley PowerBait Jerk Shads also getting the call often. He threw the swimbait on a 7-foot Level medium-action spinning rod and Abu Garcia Revo MGX reel rigged with straight braid to short Gamma fluorocarbon leader.
While the switch allowed him to increase his weights every day, it ultimately couldn’t help him overcome that start.
“My Day 1 was a flop,” says Gagliardi. “It was teed up for me, and I just shanked it into the water.”
4. Anthony Gagliardi – Prosperity, S.C. – 51-4 (15)
Photo - Charles Waldorf If there is anyone Becker may be worried about most, it’s Anthony Gagliardi. After all, he was the obvious pre-tournament favorite thanks to being a local who has won more than once at the top level on Murray.
Then again, Gagliardi admits he’s surprised he’s done as well as he has this week.
“I keep telling people, I don’t fish here much during this time of the year,” says the 2014 FLW Cup champion. “I have a handful of spots I’ve caught them before, but they weren’t there in practice. So, I just went practicing like everyone else.”
Hence why he started Day 1 sight fishing. But eventually, he made the switch to the herring spawn, and his weights have kept going up, with today being his best day all week.
“I had a good day today,” says Gagliardi. “I caught more than 20 some fish, and I lost a legit 6 just as the rain started. But as soon as the rain quit I caught fish on my last five casts of the day. They just didn’t like that rain.”
Photo Kyle Wood - In a normal five-fish-limit tournament, five fish for 21-1 would be nothing to shake your head at, especially when your kicker is a 7-15, and the biggest bass caught in your group. Still, Anthony Gagliardi finds himself sitting in 15th place and 9-12 below the Toro Cut Line.
“If I didn’t catch that 7-15, I could be in a whole lot of trouble,” Gagliardi admitted. “Flipping these laydowns, I’m not going to catch a ton of fish to be able to keep pace with these guys. But I knew I was bound to catch a big one doing this, and I was right.”
While his focus is advancing to the Knockout Round, it’s easy for Gagliardi to find a silver lining in his performance thanks to his Berkley Big Bass of the Day. The South Carolina pro was fishing laydowns in Period 2 when he set the hook on the 7-15 lunker.
“I came up to a laydown I had marked during practice that had some depth to it,” Gagliardi recapped. “I knew when I pulled up it was going to be good. I made a pretty long cast beside the laydown and the fish got it on the fall.”
Gagliardi was using a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Creature Hawg with a 5/16 tungsten weight to go along with a Level 7-foot-6 Heavy Flippin’ Stick and 50-pound Gamma Torque braid to catch the near-8-pounder. He knows he has work to do if he wants to advance to the Knockout Round, but if his 7-15 holds on for the big bass in his group, Gagliardi admits he wouldn’t be too upset heading home early if it meant he had $25,000.
“Most of the time, that ride home after you get knocked out isn’t a fun one,” Gagliardi said. “But if I’m going home with $25,000 in my pocket, I’m going to be just fine. Don’t get me wrong, I want to win, but it’s nice to have a backup plan.”
Photo by Garrick Dixon - Until Robinson started his epic run, the day looked like it belonged to Gagliardi.
After a relatively slow start to the morning where the South Carolina pro caught three fish in the first two hours, Gagliardi keyed into an open-water jerkbait bite late in the first period, recording 10 fish in a 27-minute flurry just before the period break. That burst added 20-10 to Gagliardi’s weight, pushing him past Hackney and into the lead, which he added to with six fish and 12-5 in the second period.
But not long after that, Gagliardi hit an afternoon lull where he failed to catch a scorable bass for nearly two hours, and Robinson went on his tear.
“To me, it’s all about positioning myself well in that Top 20 (to advance out of the Elimination Round), so today was a successful day for me,” Garliardi said. “I coudn’t ask for a better way to kick off this new part of my career.’
Having not fished under the MLF format before, Gagliardi wasn’t sure what to expect, but after the strong start, he can’t wait until Friday.
“It was awesome. Granted, a lot has to do with the fact that I caught ‘em well. I was thinking about it after I was out there. I had 14 or 15 fish and I was thinking about what my best five would be and then what would happen if I catch a 2-even or four of them and they don’t help you. That’s frustrating, but now, every time you catch one it adds fuel to the fire. It keeps you focused. I don’t think as much or crunch numbers as much about what I need. I’m not worrying about what I need to catch. I can just fish and focus on that.”
While the majority of his catches came offshore, he did spend time poking around some grass and other emergent vegetation, but had no luck doing so. Ultimately, he thinks if the weather warms up, he might have to switch gears.
“I honestly don’t know,” he said. “I could do (the offshore thing) for two more days and not get a bite. Eventually, at some point, the grass bite (could improve). With a break in the weather that’s going to trump offshore. The numbers are in your favor out there, but the guys in the grass catch numbers, too, with 4s and 5s mixed in and that can make up a lot of ground.
“If it stays cold and windy, that gives the offshore bite more of a chance. If the nicer weather comes through, it might turn into something different.”