Seemingly every year, someone new and surprising sees success in the Forrest Wood Cup, but they shouldn’t all be surprises. For instance, when Kevin Hawk won the whole shebang back in 2010 on Lanier he’d essentially lived on the lake for an entire year. The Bass Federation National Champion Joseph Webster banked a top 10 on Wheeler Lake after a long, hot summer of practice and decades of experience on Wheeler and the surrounding waters, despite a deceptive Mississippi address. In 2011, a strikingly young Jacob Wheeler finished in 12th on Lake Ouachita, ounces from fishing on the final day. The next year he won the Cup on Lanier and began to cement a reputation as one of the best August anglers on the planet.
It could be entirely too much to expect Ridgeville, S.C., angler Bradford Beavers to duplicate that kind of success, but there’s a chance that Anthony Gagliardi and Brandon Cobb aren’t the only in-state favorites vying for immortality come the final day on Lake Murray.
Beavers has spent the last few years accumulating top-10 finishes at the Costa FLW Series and T-H Marine FLW Bass Fishing League (BFL) levels. His crowning achievement came last fall, when two strong days and just enough on Saturday at the Costa FLW Series Championship on Table Rock qualified him for the Forrest Wood Cup in his home state.
“When I went to Table Rock I wasn’t really expecting to make it [to the Cup]. I just wanted to go and have a good tournament,” says Beavers. “It really didn’t sink in until the last day when I made the top 10 and [Tournament Director] Ron Lappin told us that eight of the 10 of us were going to make it. That was a lot of pressure, and it was a real exciting time, but I was real fortunate.”
Finishing in eighth at Table Rock, Beavers was the last man in for the Cup, but when he puts the boat in on day one at Dreher Island next month, all that will matter is that he’s there. At 31, Beavers has been fishing since he was a child, but his introduction to pro fishing has been gradual.
“My dad and I would go out in the johnboat every weekend and fish in the springtime,” says Beavers, whose first trips were to Santee Cooper. “I guess he took me from as far back as I can remember, and now I drag him around. We got our first bass boat when I was a senior in high school. It was a 17-foot Stratos, and my dad and I started fishing a couple little tournaments around Santee and Murray. One day I wanted to give it a shot and see if I could compete with other people.”
Beavers entered his first BFL on Santee Cooper in March 2010. Then 24 years old, he finished seventh and cashed a check for $744. After a few more years of cherry-picking BFLs, Beavers entered the Costa FLW Series event on Santee in 2014 and finished ninth out of 172 competitors. The next year, he fished the whole Southeast Division, and in 2016 and 2017 he finished top 20 in the points. He won’t tell you he’s in his prime as an angler, but from the results it looks like Beavers is rounding nicely into form.
Since February, Beavers has popped over to Murray at nearly every opportunity, already logging more than 20 days on the lake in preparation for the Cup. A couple of hours of driving down Highway 26 is a small price to pay for the chance to learn Murray.
“February was good. That was fun,” says Beavers, who finished fourth in the South Carolina Division BFL on Murray in February. “But, February is not August. May was tough, with those fishing chasing bluebacks on the points. It’s pretty fun when they first get on them, and then they get almost impossible to catch. I’ve been coming up a day or two a week since June, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t struggling.”
By no means is Beavers the first pro to prequalify for the Cup and then dedicate a significant portion of his time to preparing on the water. Other pros in similar situations have had varied results. Kevin Hawk’s 2010 Cup win at Lake Lanier is the best example of the strategy paying off.
Hawk, a Californian, moved across the country and committed his life to learning Lanier. He broke the lake down into sections and idled nearly all of it in pre-practice, looking for brush piles that summertime spotted bass would hang around.
It all paid off, as Hawk was one of the few anglers with fresh places to fish in the waning hours of the tournament. After leading the first day and then giving up the top spot, he roared back for the win on day four.
That fateful year, Hawk dedicated his life to fishing, competing on the Tour as a co-angler and virtually living on the Cup lake the rest of the time.
Beavers is in a similar boat.
“This year I didn’t do anything but fish,” he says. “After I qualified for the Cup that was my safety net to know I would have some money at the end of the year, even if it might not be much.”
Instead of working his previous job under Kent Ware for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Beavers has spent his time on the water – down at Okeechobee with his dad, Dwight, to prepare for the Costa FLW Series kickoff, at Santee Cooper for his first BFL win and lots of hours on Lake Murray.
“I don’t have to rely on one big scouting trip. It [living close and making frequent trips] either saves a lot of money, or it makes me spend more,” says Beavers. “I’ve seen a lot of the lake, but as much as I’ve fished down here I still couldn’t tell you how I’m going to go into the tournament. I just try to sample a little bit of everything. I’ve got an idea of what I prefer to do, but I don’t know what is going to end up happening.”
Preparation obviously paid off handsomely for Gagliardi when he won at Murray in 2014, but he had a lifetime of it. Moreover, Murray probably doesn’t lend itself to the same style of preparation that earned Hawk the win on Lanier in 2010. Marking brush piles is a fraction of the game on Murray.
Whatever happens, it won’t be for lack of dedication. Beavers says he’s memorized every video from the last two Cups on Murray. If things do work out, the Cup might be the springboard Beavers feels he needs to turn fishing into a full-time reality and not a one-year exception.
“It’s all going to depend on how good I do,” muses Beavers. “If I didn’t win this thing or finish in the top two I probably wouldn’t have enough money for entry fees. If I was lucky enough to win I’d try to fish the Tour if they’d have me, but you have to have a lot to kick off a career like that. Unless you’re Bryan Thrift, there’s a lot of failure involved with a little success when you’re starting out.”