Fresh off a top 10 finish just a few weeks ago on the Harris Chain, Anthony Gagliardi is poised to repeat that performance this week on a fishery that favors his knack for catching prespawn bass as well as schooling fish. Currently, Gagliardi sits 6th in the Pennzoil Marine Angler of the Year standings and being that the rest of the schedule looks promising for him, he could be looking at grabbing his second AOY title.
Since the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup champion is off to such a great start, I thought I’d jump in the boat with him on the final day of practice for the FLW Tour presented by Ranger on Lake Lanier.
We meet at a small ramp near the middle of the lake at 6:45 a.m. Gagliardi wastes no time dumping the boat in the water in hopes of making a run down the lake before the next wave of rain moves in. It rained some overnight, but currently there is a small window of peace and calm, so he bundles up and takes off down the lake.
As we roll into a creek, Gagliardi spots some birds diving and quickly runs to them. It takes all of three minutes for him to hook up. It’s not a big one, but it is as fat as it can get. He quickly unhooks it and tosses it back looking to capitalize on the next fish.
Just a few casts later he’s tied up with another. This one is a little bigger and he takes his time fighting it on light line. It’s honestly amazing at how fast the big spot can swim and how well it can jump considering the size of its gut.
You can tell Gagliardi is having a blast. He’s smiling from ear to ear and just enjoying being on the lake and catching fish. I suppose you can’t be in this sport for almost 20 years and not have fun doing it.
He holds the chunky 3-pound plus spotted bass up for a quick photo before tossing her back to fight another day.
We move just around the corner to another area Gagliardi could see some fish schooling in the distance. He fires some casts around randomly, but mostly waits till they break the surface before sending the bait out.
“There were a lot of fish busting back here, but I kind of think they may have been stripers,” says Gagliardi. “I’d just like to catch a couple to see what species they are and how big they are.”
No sooner does he say that before a small spot eats his swimbait. At least he knows now that there are spotted bass schooling in the area, though the size leaves something to be desired.
Around 7:45 the rain begins to fall. It’s not terribly annoying to start, but the heavier stuff is on the way.
“I hate practicing in the rain,” Gagliardi laughs. “It makes me not want to move around like I normally would because I hate driving in it.”
He moves towards some docks with a crankbait and spinnerbait hoping to pass some time before making a move.
Gagliardi finally fires up the Evinrude and moves back towards the mouth of the creek until more birds grab his eye and he sets down. Not long after David Dudley comes rolling in the creek having spotted the same group of birds and he comes over to have a chat with Gagliardi.
The two go over how their day has been so far and how much fishing in the rain is a bummer. Then the two get on the topic of catching schoolers and baits and the next thing you know Dudley is climbing into Gagliardi’s boat. The two are buddies and Dudley is hoping Gagliardi will share a little advice on catching schooling fish, while Gagliardi also gets some advice from Dudley.
The two fish for a few minutes, but mostly talk about fishing before Dudley is back in his boat and headed off.
As Dudley moves off, Gagliardi decides to work his way into another pocket where some fish had been busting. The rain has let up some, making it easier to see fish break the surface.
“The problem with this schooling bite is that it doesn’t last too long in the morning,” says Gagliardi. “Clouds will help it keep going, but rain like this makes it so tough to see fish that just swirl on the surface.”
He slowly trolls his way around the pocket waiting for one to break the surface, but the birds and bait have left the area.
As he starts working his way out, a few fish blow up on bait and he quickly slings his wakebait out to them. It takes about five cranks of the reel before one crushes his bait.
“I know I should probably leave these schoolers alone, but they are just so much fun to catch. It is my absolute favorite way to catch them and if I can’t run around that much because of the rain I might as well have a little fun.”
It’s another bloated spot that probably weighs close to 2 ½ pounds. After releasing it, he puts the trolling motor up and we’re off to the other side of the lake.
The rain is coming down harder now and the air temperature seems to be dropping, which signals it’s time to boost morale with a sandwich. It’s nothing fancy, just a hamburger bun and some turkey – basically the remnants of what’s left in the fridge from the week.
He idles around a few places while the rain pours down, making short moves to avoid too much pelting from the big drops before settling on a main lake point.
The wind is picking up now and Gagliardi tries dragging some stuff on the bottom of the wind-blown point to no avail. He then picks up his swimbait to make a few casts, hoping the wind might help that bite, but still no takers.
He’s only got a few rods on the deck and it’s a basic lineup. Shaky heads, flukes, a crankbait and topwaters make up the primary selection today.
After a few minutes with no bites it’s time to strap the rods down and make a move. The rain has let off a little now, so Gagliardi plans to make a decent run up the lake.
As he pulls up to his next spot, Gagliardi’s roommate Scott Suggs calls to check in. Gagliardi slowly works his Carolina rig while the two chat about their day. But the rain starts to pick up so the phone call gets ended quickly.
Now the serious rain hits and the camera has to go back in its case for safety. Gagliardi winds up working a few more points, but hasn’t had a bite in a few hours.
The next window of opportunity hits with some light rain and Gagliardi decides to run me back to the ramp while we have a moment. Considering the weather, that’s fine by me.
It’s early afternoon by the time we get back to the ramp and it seems as though the rain may finally be passing, which figures it would as soon as I leave the boat. Though, it will give Gagliardi most of the afternoon to run around as much as he’d like to solidify what he’d like to do in the tournament. Despite the rainy, cold day it’s been pretty enjoyable. Gagliardi may not have accomplished as much as he wanted, but he sure has had fun. Maybe now he can get down to business and dial in how to catch those 5- and 6-pound spots that roam these waters.