BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Land O’Lakes Angler of the Year Anthony Gagliardi of Prosperity, S.C., easily defeated No. 24 seed Danny Correia of Marlborough, Mass., by a 2-pound, 6-ounce margin Friday to advance to the final round in the $1.5 million Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship presented by Castrol on Lake Logan Martin in Birmingham, Ala.
Today’s win against Correia places Gagliardi one step closer to becoming the first angler in history to win both the Angler of the Year title and the FLW Tour Championship in the same season. He landed the heaviest catch of the opening round, defeating Ishama Monroe of Hughson, Calif., by a 19-pound, 14-ounce margin. Today he had a five-bass limit weighing 8 pounds, 8 ounces, besting Correia’s five bass weighing 6 pounds, 2 ounces.
“I had my doubts all day,” Gagliardi said. “I struggled and didn’t catch any fish off some of my spots.”
Gagliardi, who finished third in the FLW Tour Championship during its 2004 stop in Birmingham, had confidence in the pattern he developed during his practice period.
“I caught a very small limit within the first 30 minutes,” he said. “After that, I started my milk run to the areas where I’ve caught better fish. I only culled once the first time through. Then I started the run all over again. Fortunately, I was able to catch five or six more fish.”
Gagliardi used a drop-shot to catch his quick limit then switched to a crankbait to catch better fish in 16 feet of water.
Heavy humidity and temperatures in the 90s greeted anglers from 28 states and Japan for the third consecutive day. The unfavorable dog days of summer, along with an abundance of local fishing pressure, made the bass finicky and tough for anglers to catch. Only 13 anglers broke the 10-pound mark, as a total of 219 bass weighing 363 pounds, 6 ounces were brought to the scale, including 37 limits.
The last three FLW Tour Championship winners – Wal-Mart pro George Cochran (2005), Chevy pro Luke Clausen (2004) and Castrol pro David Dudley (2003), along with Chevy pro Dion Hibdon (2000), all faced tough opponents in today’s semifinal round.
Cochran, who moved to the semifinals by defeating his good friend Larry Nixon of Bee Branch, Ark., by 1 pound, 8 ounces, faced fellow Hot Springs native Rob Kilby on Friday. Cochran’s shallow-water pattern held up against Kilby, who fished a worm on a jig head in 8 to 12 feet of water. Cochran caught five bass weighing 9 pounds, 9 ounces to Kilby’s 6 pounds, 12 ounces and moved to the final round for a shot at becoming the first back-to-back championship winner in tour history.
When asked about the prospect of setting a new tour record with back-to-back wins, Cochran quipped, “Records are made to be broken.”
No. 39 seed Luke Clausen of Spokane, Wash., who won the FLW Tour Championship here two years ago as a rookie then went on to win the Bassmaster Classic earlier this year, won’t add another $500,000 win to his list of accomplishments this week. Shinichi Fukae of Mineola, Texas, who caught five bass weighing 12 pounds, 14 ounces ousted Clausen, who caught five bass weighing 12 pounds, 12 ounces.
Dudley, 30, of Lynchburg, Va., became the youngest angler to surpass $2 million in career winnings earlier this season. Today he faced BFGoodrich Tires pro Scott Martin of Clewiston, Fla., in the semifinal round. Known for “junk fishing,” Dudley weighed a five-bass limit of 10 pounds, 14 ounces to defeat Martin by 14 ounces.
“I’ve been learning a little bit more every day,” Dudley said. “If I can take everything that I’ve learned over the last few days, I think I can do pretty good tomorrow. I’m not saying I’m going to win, but I feel good about it.”
Dudley also holds the distinct honor of being the youngest angler to surpass $1 million in career winnings, a milestone he reached in March of 2002 at 26 years old. A $500,000 win here would place him in second on the all-time money list behind the legendary Rick Clunn of Ava, Mo., and just ahead of Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich.
Hibdon, a Chevy pro from Stover, Mo., was unable to advance to the finals with his fellow championship winners. Brennan Bosley of Benton, Ark., weighed a five-bass limit of 9 pounds, 15 ounces to edge past Hibdon’s 8 pounds, 15 ounces.
“I had a tough day,” Bosley said. “I had six keeper bites all day, but fortunately I was able to put all six in the boat. I’ve had an every other day pattern and today was an off day. Maybe it will be back on tomorrow.”
Bosley used a crankbait around shallow-water riprap and jigs around docks to make the final round of his first FLW Tour Championship.
Friday’s action saw the conclusion of the co-angler competition after the co-angler field was cut from 48 to 24 competitors on Thursday. Matt Arey of Shelby, N.C., walked away with a check for $25,000 thanks to his tournament-winning catch of five bass weighing 11 pounds, 15 ounces.
“It was a wonderful day,” Arey said. “I had a gut feeling that today might be the day I took home my first victory.”
Arey threw a drop-shot and Shaky Head worm in 12 to 18 feet of water, targeting offshore structure while fishing with Ranger pro Rob Kilby of Hot Spring, Ark.
Rounding out the top five co-anglers are Andy Montgomery of Blacksburg, S.C. (five bass, 10-8, $15,000); Arch Cornett of Huntsville, Ala. (five bass, 8-2, $10,000); David Hudson of Jasper, Ala. (five bass, 7-14, $9,000); and Michi Oba of Tokyo (five bass, 7-14, $8,000).
The four-day tournament will conclude Saturday with the winning pro walking away $500,000 richer. The top 48 pros and co-anglers from the six-event 2006 Wal-Mart FLW Tour advanced to the no-entry-fee championship, the most lucrative bass tournament in the history of the sport. Anglers were seeded according to their year-end ranking.
Championship contenders will take off from Pell City Lakeside Park, located at 2801 Stemley Bridge Road in Pell City at 7 a.m. Saturday, and the weigh-in will be held at 5 p.m. in the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex Arena. The outdoor show featuring more than 140 exhibits; fishing seminars by Hank Parker, Forrest L. Wood and other bass-fishing legends; and free daily giveaways runs 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday is free rod and reel and free Fujifilm camera day. Giveaways are for children 12 and under accompanied by an adult.
Country Music recording artist Craig Morgan will perform a free concert presented by Chevy at 4 p.m. Saturday in the BJCC Arena, and one lucky fan attending Saturday’s final weigh-in will win a new Ranger Z20 Comanche bass boat powered by Yamaha. The final three qualifiers and the eventual winner will be drawn during Saturday’s 5 p.m. weigh-in. Fans must be present to qualify and win. Admission is free, and entry forms are available at the outdoor show.
Named after the legendary founder of Ranger Boats, Forrest L. Wood, FLW Outdoors administers the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, Wal-Mart FLW Series, Stren Series, Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League, Wal-Mart Texas Tournament Trail presented by Abu Garcia, Stratos Owners’ Tournament Trail, Wal-Mart FLW Walleye Tour, Wal-Mart FLW Walleye League, Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Tour, Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Series, Wal-Mart FLW Redfish Series and Wal-Mart FLW Striper Series. These circuits offer combined purses exceeding $37.9 million through 249 events in 2006.
Day Three Notes:
• Former Land O’Lakes Angler of the Year Toshinari Namiki made his last appearance in FLW Tour competition. Namiki is returning to Japan to care for his parents and meet sponsor obligations.
• Shinichi Fukae of Mineola, Texas, who advanced to round two by a mere ounce, defeated Luke Clausen by two ounces to make the finals.
• Four wins in the Pro Division were decided by a pound or less.
• Chevy pro Kim Stricker of Howell, Mich., was the only pro to win his bracket without a five bass limit. He defeated Tony Couch of Buckhead, Ga., with four bass weighing 7 pounds, 1 ounce. Couch caught five bass weighing 6 pounds, 7 ounces.
• The final round of 12 pros includes four former Land O’Lakes Anglers of the Year – Anthony Gagliardi (2006), Shinichi Fukae (2004), Jay Yelas (2002) and Clark Wendlandt (2000 and 1997).
• The final round of 12 pros includes three former Bassmaster Classic champions – George Cochran (1996 and 1987), Dion Hibdon (1997) and Jay Yelas (2002).
1987), Dion Hibdon (1997) and Jay Yelas (2002).