BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Competition was hot in both senses of the word on day one of the Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship at Logan Martin Lake: Anglers fished all day under still, muggy conditions with temperatures soaring into the 90s, and when they came in – most of them with five-bass limits – the majority of pros found themselves locked up in the tightest of bracket battles. Some were separated by a pound or less, and some even tied. When all was said and done, it was the hottest pro on tour this year, Land O’Lakes Angler of the Year Anthony Gagliardi, who landed the day’s heaviest catch.
Gagliardi still not satisfied, opens up on Monroe
Despite winning the 2006 AOY award and even after winning his second $100,000 FLW tournament check at Lake Murray this year, Gagliardi sent a message Wednesday that he’s certainly not content to rest on his laurels. The pro from Prosperity, S.C., caught a limit weighing 15 pounds, 12 ounces and opened up the largest lead of the day over bracket opponent Ishama Monroe of Hughson, Calif., who caught just 2 pounds, 7 ounces.
“Everybody’s talking about what a great year I’ve had – and I have – but I’ve got to remind myself that it’s not over yet,” said Gagliardi, who is widely known as one of the tour’s “young guns.” “I had a lot of confidence coming into this week because I had some spots from two years ago where I know I can catch some pretty good fish.”
Two years ago, Gagliardi finished third at the FLW Tour Championship here at Logan Martin, and he capitalized on that experience to gain the upper hand Wednesday. While many predicted the shallow-water bite would prevail as it did for Luke Clausen that year, many of the top pros like Gagliardi instead focused their efforts on deeper quarry.
“I have two spots that had a lot of fish on them,” he said. “I’m fishing humps and points pretty much exactly as I did two years ago. The first spot, I never made a cast on it in practice, but on my second cast there today, I caught that big one. I had a limit pretty early, just fishing isolated, deep structure. I actually caught them better than I thought I would.”
Gagliardi said he caught the majority of his bass Wednesday on a drop-shot, but he caught his biggest bass – a kicker in the 5-pound range – on a deep-diving crankbait. While conditions were steamy-hot on the water, he said the recent lack of rainfall in the area has helped him.
“The thing that seems to be playing into my hands is the water falling because it moves the fish down onto these humps,” he said. “Fifteen-twelve, that is big weight on this lake, especially this time of year.”
As for Monroe – who qualified for the championship ranked last in 48th place and caught the lowest weight of the day against the heaviest weight – he actually fished the same area as Gagliardi Wednesday.
“To add insult to injury, I watched Anthony catch three or four fish; it’s just that I was fishing the other side of the hump,” Monroe laughed. “When he netted that big one, I asked him how big it was. He said, `Five or 6 pounds,’ and I just shook my head. That’s why he’s the angler of the year.”
Scheide makes a milk run for 15-1
Ray Scheide of Russellville, Ark., caught the second-heaviest limit of the day with 15 pounds, 1 ounce, opening more than a 6-pound lead over Wesley Strader of Spring City, Tenn., who caught a limit weighing 9-0.
“I really didn’t catch too many off of just one spot,” Scheide said. “I kind of had a milk run going with about eight different spots. I had what I weighed in by about 10:30 this morning, and I think I’ve got enough going where I can save my best spot enough so it will replenish for day three.”
Scheide said he fished both deep and shallow Wednesday, throwing Berkley Power worms shallow and action baits deep in the current. While not unusual in terms of covering lots of water, Scheide took an inverted approach to the shallow-deep pattern that many pros were using. While many anglers fished shallow in the cooler hours of the morning and then went deep as it heated up in the afternoon, Scheide did the opposite.
“I’m not fishing shallow, which is actually about 4 feet of water, until the middle of the day,” he said. “It just worked out that I was on my best spotted-bass places when they started drawing current in the afternoon, and I had an exceptional day.”
Alvin Shaw of State Road, N.C., also had both shallow and deep patterns ready for action this week, but he chose to stick to the deeper pattern Wednesday. It paid off; he caught the third-heaviest limit of the day with 13 pounds, 2 ounces, establishing more than a 5 1/2-pound lead over Brennan Bosley of Benton, Ark.
“I’m catching them in a way that I don’t normally catch them, which is offshore in about 13 to 15 feet of water,” Shaw said. “I really hadn’t made up my mind where I was going to fish until this morning because I’m trying to let the tournament come to me instead of forcing it. When I looked at the water level, I decided to go deep.”
Shaw caught his limit early, mainly on football jigs and Shaky Heads.
“I’m basically looking for high places near deeper water where fish will come up to feed,” he said. “There seems to be a key combination of current and baitfish that will attract the fish.”
Coming in with the fourth-heaviest limit was Jay Yelas of Tyler, Texas. His 13-pound, 1-ounce limit opened up a good lead over Mike Hawkes of Sabinal, Texas, who caught a limit weighing 8-11.
“It was a great day of fishing. Even though my target weight was 15 pounds, I’m just thankful for a good day,” said Yelas, who added that he caught his fish on Berkley Power Bait soft plastics in water anywhere from 3 to 20 feet deep. “It was steady all day, but I caught my 5-pound spotted bass around noon. I like my chances for tomorrow because I still have a lot of places that I didn’t hit today.”
Andy Morgan of Dayton, Tenn., caught the fifth-heaviest limit – 12 pounds, 15 ounces – and topped his buddy Dan Morehead of Paducah, Ky., by almost 8 pounds. Morehead caught five fish weighing 7 even.
“The early bite has been good, but it really slowed down in the afternoon, which is good because I had a breaker go out on my trolling motor at about noon,” Morgan said. “Without that trolling motor, we were hurting. You’ve really got to bob and weave to catch them here in the afternoon. It’s just hard to do it with a paddle, you know?”
Morgan said he caught his bass, primarily largemouths but also a few spots, in shallow water on worms, jigs and a Super Hog.
A total of 44 out of 48 pros caught limits Wednesday, which led to scores of bracket matchups that ended the day within just a few pounds of each other.
Four bracket matchups ended the day with competitors sitting within a single pound of each other: Jason Knapp (11 pounds, 2 ounces) vs. Danny Correia (10-5), Kim Stricker (10-15) vs. Jim Moynagh (10-7), Dean Rojas (8-12) vs. Terry Bolton (8-4), and Tim Klinger (8-0) vs. Steve Kennedy (7-6). One bracket matchup, Shinichi Fukae vs. Alton Jones, ended up in a tie, each with 11-10.
In the clash of the titans, defending FLW Tour champion George Cochran (Lake Hamilton, 2005) leads Larry Nixon by 2 pounds. Cochran caught a limit weighing 9-4 while Nixon caught just three bass weighing 7-4.
With all eyes upon him, the defending FLW Tour champion from Logan Martin Lake in 2004, Luke Clausen, didn’t disappoint. He caught a limit weighing 12 pounds, 7 ounces and leads his bracket over Tom Monsoor, who caught a limit weighing 10-12. Clausen said he was “very happy with his day.”
First cut Thursday
The second half of the opening round in bracket competition begins Thursday as all 48 pros take off from Lakeside Park in Pell City, Ala., at 7 a.m. Central time. Following tomorrow’s fishing, the field will be cut in half. The 24 pros who win their respective head-to-head matchups, based on two-day weight, will advance to Friday’s semifinal round.