PARIS LANDING, Tenn. - Under normal circumstances a pro doesn’t get overly excited about placing 48th in a tournament, but you would have thought that Anthony Gagliardi had won the way he reacted after Friday’s second-round weigh-in here on the shores of Kentucky Lake in the Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Evinrude.
Though the Chevy pro didn’t make the cut and won’t fish Saturday, he did learn that he had qualified for the Forrest Wood Cup, a goal that had seemed virtually impossible to him in February. Because of an inadvertent rules infraction, Gagliardi was disqualified from the first Walmart FLW Tour event of the year – at Lake Okeechobee – and faced a steep uphill climb through the season to earn a berth in the championship. It takes place August 14-17 on Lake Murray near Columbia, S.C. It will mark Gagliardi’s 10th appearance as a pro in the Forrest Wood Cup.
“Release, relief, elation combined with just about every other emotion you could imagine – that’s what I feel right now,” says Gagliardi. “To be honest about it, I thought my season was pretty well laid out for me when I learned I was disqualified. I planned to fish every tournament and do the best I could, but I didn’t feel any pressure because I felt it [qualifying for the Forrest Wood Cup] was such a long shot. But then I had a good tournament at Hartwell [seventh place], and as it went along I started thinking that it was possible. And that’s when I started feeling the pressure.”
After Hartwell, the FLW Angler of the Year in 2006 finished 30th at Sam Rayburn, 13th at Beaver Lake and 46th at Pickwick Lake in early June. By then, it was apparent that Gagliardi’s season was riding on this, the last qualifying tournament of the year.
“Coming into this event [Kentucky Lake] I was more nervous than I probably was in the first tournament I ever fished. I knew what was at stake here. Early in the season, it wasn't imminent, and it didn’t seem so important, but then it got closer and closer,” continues Gagliardi. “Of course, that’s the case with a lot of guys. When they come in to the last tournament they know that it’s where they’re going to qualify or not. It’s not just something I was feeling.”
Gagliardi and his family live on Lake Murray in a home they built in 2006. Although the South Carolina pro will be regarded as a favorite in the event, he’s been a pro too long to buy in to the “home lake advantage” myth.
“I fished in the Forrest Wood Cup in 2008 and didn’t have a very good tournament [48th place],” Gagliardi recalls. “I know the lake and would rather have the championship there than just about anywhere else because of my family and friends, but the main thing to me is just having the chance to fish in the Forrest Wood Cup after almost blowing it at the beginning. I’m just so glad to be able to say that I’m going to be there.”
Bill Taylor, director of tournament operations, is also happy that Gagliardi overcame the huge hurdle that his early disqualification raised before him.
“I spoke with Anthony immediately following his disqualification and told him to keep his head up and that he still had a chance to make the Cup,” says Taylor. “He said that it was going to be his goal and he was going to try his best. His determination and performance proved him right, and I admire him for having the courage and ability to overcome that kind of adversity. What a great example he is to aspiring anglers.