What a year it was. 2014 ranks as one of the most exciting seasons in FLW history, and that includes everything from the Walmart Bass Fishing League level to the Forrest Wood Cup. On the cusp of a new year and a new season, we decided to take a look back at our 10 favorite stories of 2014.
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Three men now share the title of “Mr. Rayovac.” With wins at Kentucky Lake and the James River, respectively, Randy Haynes and Bryan Schmitt are now tied with Koby Kreiger for the most Rayovac wins of all time, with five apiece. Interestingly, Haynes’ wins have all come on the Tennessee River system, while all of Schmitt’s trophies were handed over on the shores of the Chesapeake system, including the James and Potomac rivers. Kreiger’s wins have been spread out throughout the Southeast and include two Rayovac FLW Series Championships, which give him an edge over the others in terms of career Rayovac performance.
You’ve likely heard of Todd Kline by now. The former professional surfer who’s now a co-angler is carving up the Western Division of the Rayovac FLW Series like it’s a morning swell. In two seasons with FLW, Kline has three Western Division wins and has won back-to-back Co-Angler of the Year titles. He backed up his performance on the West Coast with a 10th-place finish at the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup in South Carolina. Probably his coolest award for his fishing success was an opportunity to hand over the game ball at center court at an L.A. Lakers’ game.
Kline is still active in the surfing world as an on-air commentator at professional events, and he’s building his resume to take a shot at an angling career in the front of the boat.
Thank to Mother Nature, FLW anglers had to fight the weather to earn every penny of their prize money in 2014. The troubles started at Sam Rayburn in January, when anglers fishing the second Rayovac FLW Series event of the year braved wind, rain and plummeting temperatures on day one of competition, only to have an overnight winter storm drop enough ice and snow in the surrounding area to force a cancellation of day two. The entire field fished on Saturday, and, to the surprise of no one, veteran Texan Chris McCall rocketed from eighth place to win the tournament thanks to a final-round limit of 19 pounds, 10 ounces. Just a couple of weeks later, the Walmart FLW Tour had its own spat with winter weather. Rain, sleet and bitter cold plagued the opening rounds of the Lake Hartwell stop, though conditions couldn’t slow down local favorite Casey Ashley. He assembled a four-day total of 68-05 to win by an impressive margin of 14 1/2 pounds.
Things didn’t get any better as spring and summer arrived. At Sam Rayburn in March, an evening thunderstorm knocked out power for most of the FLW staff, halting media coverage and generally making life difficult for everyone associated with the event. The May Rayovac FLW Series event on the James River was postponed at the last minute due to unsafe river conditions, forcing everyone to return home and setting up an August victory for tide-master Bryan Schmitt. And at Pickwick in June, awesome thunderstorms rolled across the weigh-ins the first three days. Instead of ogling Greg Hackney’s near-100 pounds of bass, spectators were left to dodge hailstones and run for cover.
Of course, the price paid for a colder-than-normal winter might have earned dividends at the Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Murray in August. Rather than endure a sweaty Southern showdown, the tournament field enjoyed reasonably mild conditions. It was a refreshing end to a season of wild weather swings.
Aside from annoying wintery weather, the beginning of the 2014 season was marred by another unfortunate occurrence. About a week prior to the season-opening Lake Okeechobee Tour event in February, pros Frank Clark and Anthony Gagliardi were disqualified from competition due to inadvertent rules violations that occurred while they were practicing for the Rayovac FLW Series event on the same fishery in January. Then, just a day before the tournament began, FLW announced that another pro, Brandon McMillan, was also disqualified for a similar infraction.
Disqualifications always make headlines in professional fishing, but this story spread farther and faster than any DQ tale before it because of the anglers involved. McMillan is considered a rising star in professional fishing and is one of Lake Okeechobee’s best anglers – a sure favorite in the opener. Gagliardi lives on the shores of Lake Murray, site of the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup. Zeroing in AOY points at the opener nearly eliminated his chances to qualify for the Cup, where the odds would favor Gagliardi as the person to beat. Faced with such a huge setback in AOY points and earning potential, McMillan and Clark opted to forgo the remainder of the FLW Tour season. Gagliardi, however, persevered and went on to write one of the greatest comeback stories in professional fishing history … but more on that in a minute.
Meanwhile, on the water, Arizona pro Brett Hite was making headlines too. His day-one limit of 34 pounds, 15 ounces was the second-largest single-day catch in Walmart FLW Tour history. Hite went on to win his second Tour event in wire-to-wire fashion and did it with the same bait – a ChatterBait – that he used to win back-to-back titles in 2008 at the Tour event on Lake Toho and the FLW Series event on the California Delta.
Marcus Sykora seems like a nice-enough guy, but if you had to fish against the Missouri angler, you might not find him to be so cordial. That’s because he’s likely to take your money more times than not. Sykora has won eight Walmart Bass Fishing League tournaments since 2001, the most recent being his 2014 All-American victory on Wilson Lake in June.
The three-day tally showed that Sykora won the tournament by 4 1/2 pounds, but it was actually a much bigger blowout than that. After two days of fishing, he had a commanding lead of more than 14 pounds. A final-day “slip” in which Sykora only brought 12-05 to the scale, coupled with Jayme Rampey’s 25-14 day-three rally, made this one look closer than it really was.
Sykora, who by all accounts is a Tour-ready angler, later won $10,000 for a 31st-place finish at the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup as the BFL representative.
There might be less steel in your car’s bumper than is used to craft the Ben Parker Signature Series Magnum Spoon, which was unveiled in a big way at the Tour’s season finale on Kentucky Lake. Ledge experts Randy Haynes, Clent Davis, Jason Lambert and others got their hands on early samples of the Magnum Spoon from Parker just a few days ahead of the tournament. With limited supplies – well, basically no others were available – those who had the Magnum Spoon had an obvious advantage. They whirled and ripped the 8-inch, 3 1/2-ounce monster gizzard shad-imitator around Kentucky’s ledges. In the end, about half of the top 10 was using the Magnum Spoon, and another ledge-fishing secret weapon was born in FLW competition.
Not to beat the DQ drum too loudly, but a rules violation made headlines again in June, and it was another biggie. Co-angler Jason Johnson was fishing with his good buddy Cody Meyer on the third day of competition when an iON camera rigged in the boat captured Johnson making a cast from the front deck of Meyer’s boat – a clear rules violation. Unfortunately, the footage wasn’t discovered until after Johnson was awarded the title of 2014 Co-angler of the Year. FLW was forced to disqualify Johnson’s day-three catch, causing him to drop in the tournament standings and, subsequently, to second place in the COY standings. The title was then awarded to Braxton Setzer.
Johnson has since announced that he’ll be moving to the front of the boat next season on the FLW Tour.
One is the established best in the world; the other is the contender for the crown and a regular “Mr. Consistency.” In 2014, we got to watch Andy Morgan and Cody Meyer square off in a record-paced Angler of the Year race. When final 2014 AOY scores were totaled (it took until day three at the final tournament), reigning AOY Morgan was able to fend off Meyer’s incredible run.
So how good were they? The way that FLW calculates the AOY award has been revised a couple of times throughout the Walmart FLW Tour’s history, but summarily, Meyer’s AOY pace was arguably the best of all time. Yet, he’ll never have a trophy to back up the performance because “the G.O.A.T.” – the Greatest Of All Time, a nickname given to Morgan by Meyer – was just a little bit better.
Morgan logged two top-10 finishes and never finished lower than 22nd. Meyer set an FLW Tour record of 50 consecutive limits, with the streak ending at Lake Hartwell, and finished in the top 10 three times. Only nine AOY points separated them, but Brent Ehrler in third place finished 53 points behind Meyer.
What made it even more entertaining was a friendly rivalry that developed between Southern good ’ol boy Morgan, the shallow power fisherman, and West Coast young gun Meyer, a finesse expert. They ribbed each other, pushed and prodded each other, respected each other. And they put on a show with what were probably the two greatest seasons in Tour history … in the same year.
The December announcement that Ranger Boats had been sold to industry giant Bass Pro Group didn’t directly involve FLW, but the relationship between Ranger and FLW has been so strong through the years that the implications of the sale instantly raised questions about both companies’ futures. While this is still news and some questions are still unanswered, Ranger Boats President Randy Hopper assured FLW members and fans that Ranger’s involvement with FLW tournaments is, and will remain, as strong as ever. And it seems at this point that with Bass Pro’s backing, Ranger could be poised for even greater accomplishments in the future.
There were enough sensational storylines at the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup to fill half this article, but we lumped them all into one because this was, without a doubt, the greatest tournament in FLW’s history.
The story really starts at Okeechobee, when Gagliardi was disqualified at the dawn of the new season. At every tournament, our media members crunched the numbers for every possible outcome to try and predict where Gags would end up in the standings. Could he make the Cup? What if he won this event? What if he missed the cut? What if he finished in the bottom 50? What if he averaged a 30th-place finish? Slowly, Gagliardi climbed closer and closer to Cup contention, and we were all more and more fascinated by the chase. On the second day at Kentucky Lake, we learned that he made it by just one AOY point. Thus, slim margins sort of became the underlying theme of the 2014 season and the Forrest Wood Cup.
Gagliardi was in contention all week at Lake Murray, but so were some of the greatest anglers in professional fishing, including David Dudley, Bryan Thrift, Brent Ehrler and Scott Canterbury. And it appeared early on that one of those four might steal Gags’ hometown glory.
Then Steve Kennedy came out of nowhere on the final day. Fishing far upstream in Murray’s murkier river water, Kennedy boated a huge limit. Estimates from observers put his catch at anywhere from the low 20s to nearly 25 pounds.
The Alabama pro, who entered day four in 10th place (beating out 11th place by only 1 ounce), was the first to weigh his catch. Could he pull off the comeback? It turned out that estimates were wrong. He took the lead with a 20-pound, 2-ounce limit, but it was obvious he didn’t have enough.
Next to the stage was Casey Ashley, another local favorite. He weighed 14 pounds to tie Kennedy, taking over the lead through a tiebreaker rule.
Canterbury followed. Hours earlier, at midday, Canterbury lost a fish that might have weighed 5 pounds. That fish would end up costing him the championship. Still, he took the lead from Ashley by less than a pound.
Thrift slipped on the final day with only three keepers. Gagliardi then followed Thrift to the stage and wowed the crowd with a limit of 13-14. It gave him the slimmest of margins over Canterbury – one single, tiny ounce.
Finally, the last obstacle standing between Gags and an improbable Cup victory was one of the most consistent and accomplished anglers of the last decade: Brent Ehrler. No one could have predicted how it would end. Ehrler had been on fish all day, but observers couldn’t get close enough to him to make a good estimate of his weight. Would he end up the first two-time Cup champion, or would Gagliardi hold on? Sometimes, such stories seem too good to be true, but after coming so far, it was as if the Cup was meant to be Gagliardi’s. Ehrler’s fish registered on the scale at 11-10. Not enough.
Gagliardi was crowned 2014 Forrest Wood Cup champion.
Until Next Year
The only downside to a season so full of great stories is that it will be difficult to match it in 2015. What could possibly happen that could compete with an Andy Morgan-Cody Meyer showdown, or a literal zero-to-hero Forrest Wood Cup champion? We’ll see. Perhaps the storylines won’t be the same, but 2015 is sure to have its own tales of drama and achievement, heartbreak and accomplishment – and surprises.
Happy New Year, and we’ll see you on the water in 2015.