By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Just as he was 3 years ago, Anthony Gagliardi is a prohibitive favorite to win the Forrest Wood Cup on his home lake. It's a bit different this time around, though, as he doesn't feel the sense of urgency that enveloped him back then.
His 2014 victory in FLW's premier event at South Carolina's Lake Murray took care of that.
"After winning that one, I don't feel the same pressure," the 17-year Tour veteran said. "I'd like to do well, but I don't feel like I have to win. I've only got the normal pressure I put on myself to do the best that I can.
"I'm not thinking 'this might be my last best chance' like I was in 2014. I'm a little more relaxed going into it. After winning last time, that monkey's off my back."
Coasted to Qualification
Gagliaridi, the 2006 Tour Angler of the Year, had a much less difficult time securing his Cup berth this year. He finished 11th or better in three of the seven regular-season events and had no placement lower than 67th en route to ending up 3rd in the points standings.
That tied the second-best points showing of his career – he was also 3rd the year before he won the AOY.
In 2014, he had to overcome a season-opening disqualification at Lake Okeechobee due to an inadvertent rules violation regarding practice partners. He had only five events in which to compile the necessary points to make the Cup instead of the six that the rest of the Tour field was afforded, and he pulled it off with three Top-30s and nothing worse than a 48th the rest of the way.
"That year I wasn't even thinking about what I'd do if I made it – I didn't have that luxury," he said. "I was just trying to get there as the season wore on. This year I still tried to not look ahead, even when it got to a point in the latter part of the season where I'd make it even if I didn't have great tournaments in the last couple of events."
In addition to the Tour, he also fished the full slate of Southeastern FLW Series events this year for the first time since 2006. He ended up 19th on that points list with three finishes ranging from 30th to 52nd.
"I'm the type that if I'm not fishing a tournament, I'm not thinking about bass fishing," he said. "My boat goes in the garage and my focus is on baseball (his son plays) or whatever else we have going on.
"One reason I made the decision (to fish the Series) was it forced me to be out on the water more and just thinking about fishing more. The more you fish, the better you stay in tune with everything."
Plenty of Prep Time
Gagliardi spent a full week on Murray before it went off-limits last month. He believes the setup is similar to '14 – it could be won either deep or shallow – and there are a couple of factors that could favor the bank-beaters.
"The water's a little bit higher this time and there's a little more shoreline vegetation," he said. "If anything, that probably lends itself to a better shallow bite. Right now, I'm scared to say which way I think it'll be won because it could go either way."
There will be extra demands on his time this week as media members will attempt to probe him for thoughts and insights leading into the event. He doesn't think that will be any sort of detraction, but if it becomes one he'll take measures to control it.
Again, he's simply not feeling a lot of pressure this time around.
"The Cup came here the first time in '08 and I didn't have a good finish (48th). When I got a second opportunity, I figured I'd better make it happen.
"This being the third time here, if I hadn't won last time, I'm sure the pressure would be building – like how many opportunities am I going to get? The stakes would definitely be a lot higher."
> Gagliardi recently spent several days pursuing bonefish off the Turks and Caicos Islands east of Cuba and caught several, although none would be considered big. "It's a tricky bite – they don't just come and grab your bait and you hook them. You try to get their attention and make (the bait) move one time when they see it, then you just let it sit there."