March 15, 2009 by Rob Newell
BRANSON, Mo. - On day two of the Walmart FLW Tour event on Table Rock Lake, Chevy pro Anthony Gagliardi of Prosperity, S.C., was in full-on survival mode, just hoping to scratch out enough weight to get a $10,000 check.
He had weighed in 15 pounds, 4 ounces on day one, which got buried by a rush of 18- to 20-pound limits brought in by his competitors, and he lingered in 41st place.
With just two keepers in his livewell at midday on day two, thoughts of dropping completely out of the money in the second Tour event of the year were beginning to creep up on him.
Then the sixth sense that earns top pros like Gagliardi FLW Tour Angler of the Year titles kicked in. He moved his boat off the bank, picked up a deeper-diving jerkbait and began fishing where his boat had just been sitting - and bingo - the winning move of the tournament came into focus.
Two days later Gagliardi found himself holding a $125,000 check as the winner of the Table Rock event with a two-day total of 28 pounds, 14 ounces.
"I still can't believe it," Gagliardi said. "Two days ago I was scratching and clawing just to get a check, and now here I sit the winner - unreal. After I moved out on Friday and began fishing over deeper water, I caught 18 pounds immediately, and it all suddenly made sense as to how the fish were positioned on the points. In essence, I had been fishing up too shallow and moving out was the key move, no doubt."
Gagliardi's "Eureka" moment on how the fish were relating to the points came from a long history of fishing suspending jerkbaits over channel-swing banks in cold water on lakes like Hartwell and Clarks Hill near his home in South Carolina.
"These fish were relating to the points here much in the same way they do back home this time of year," he explained. "They suspend out off the bank on channel-swing points - but not bluff points that drop straight off into the channel. I was not keying on sheer vertical stuff; rather, it had to be a point that tapered off more gradually into 18 or 20 feet before reaching the channel. Those kinds of points give the fish something to relate to and suspend over."
Though the Chevy pro did not find this pattern in practice, he had several places that fit the bill when he discovered it on day two.
"I was up the James River on day two when the light came on and I realized what was happening," he said. "Right then I remembered every place like it I had fished in practice. The problem was many of the better points were up the White River. I had one creek in particular up the White that had a series of these channel-swing points that set up perfectly for this kind of fishing."
After making the top-10 cut with a two-day total of 33 pounds, 3 ounces, Gagliardi took a major gamble and ran up the White on day three to see if his hunch was correct - and it was.
"I was right," Gagliardi said. "I returned to those points in the creek in the White River, and instead of fishing right up on them like I did in practice, I backed way off and began jerking a Lucky Craft 100 DD (with the bigger lip) so it would get down a lot farther in the water column - and that was the deal. I caught 14 pounds, 6 ounces on day three and really started to understand how the fish were positioned."
Gagliardi's Lucky Craft 100 DD was tracking down about 8 feet, and he figures the fish were suspended in about 10 feet, right over the very end of the point in 20 feet before it broke into the channel.
Earlier in the week, especially on day one, Gagliardi had been using a standard Lucky Craft Pointer 78 and Pointer 100. But once he realized the fish were set up out deeper, he relied on the deeper Pointer 100 DD the rest of the tournament.
As for a win after somewhat of a top-10 dry spell (he has not made a top-10 since 2007), Gagliardi noted that having the Forrest Wood Cup on his home lake (Lake Murray) in 2008 made him fish much more conservatively last season.
"Above all, I wanted to make the Cup last year, and I did not gamble near as much in my fishing," he added. "This tournament reminded me that sometimes big gambles are necessary in tournament fishing."
Suggs broken up about runner-up
When Folgers pro Scott Suggs of Bryant, Ark., realized he missed out on the FLW Tour win at Table Rock by just 11 ounces, he had to take a few seconds to contain his emotions.
"I really felt like I had the strategy to go the distance," said Suggs. "And to come that close - I'm not going to lie, I'm pretty torn up about it. Now all the second-guessing begins."
Suggs' final-day catch of 12 pounds, 7 ounces gave him a two-day total of 28 pounds, 4 ounces, and he took home $50,000 as a consolation.
Even before the Table Rock event began, Suggs took the fickle nature of the lake's shallow largemouth bite into consideration, and he spent a lot of practice time looking for schooled-up spotted bass - something other competitors might have deemed a waste of time. But Suggs' plan all along was to have five swimmers in the well before he went shallow each day.
"I spent one whole day of practice doing nothing but idling huge flats in 100 feet of water, using my Lowrance electronics to find schools of bait and bass suspended over trees," Suggs said. "And I found just what I was looking for - spotted bass suspended in about 25 to 30 feet of water over 40- and 50-foot trees. That Lowrance unit showed everything beautifully: the trees and the bass suspended right over the tops of them - it was picture perfect."
Even on day one when the field smashed the largemouths up shallow, Suggs just smiled with his 17-10 limit. On day two, he bided his time with another 17-12 limit and made the cut, lurking in third place.
Suggs' plan did not really start to shine until day three, when the wheels ran off the shallow largemouth bite for many and he stayed consistent with a 15-13 catch, which put him in second going into the final day.
The stage was set for the true genius of Suggs' carefully laid strategy today, but he ended up just short of his target.
Suggs' bread and butter in the morning was to swim a 4-inch Berkley Hollow Belly swimbait through schools of suspended spotted bass over 130 feet of water. His unique swimbait rig consisted of threading the little Hollow Belly on a Jewell Bait Company 1/2-ounce jighead and securing the swimbait on the jighead with his own homemade bait-keeper system - something Suggs plans to keep under wraps for while. He then fished the setup on 12-pound-test Trilene 100% fluorocarbon.
After getting a limit of spotted bass early (usually by 9 a.m. each morning), Suggs would then cull up by casting and swimming a ¾-ounce Frank Divis jig on channel-swing banks.
"A lot of guys were cranking channel-swing banks with Wiggle Warts, but I was swimming that heavy jig down through the rocks, and the fish were eating it," he said.
Each of the first three days, Suggs could cull up handsomely with the jig, but today it produced only one decent cull.
"Now, seeing how close I was to winning, I wish I had just used the swimbait in those deep schools all day long," he said. "I left those deep fish biting this morning to go to the bank, and had I stayed there, I'm sure I could have culled up ounces at a time all day. Earlier in the week, I actually caught some quality largemouth from those deep places as well - there were some bigger fish out there. But I felt like I had the winning strategy by culling up on the bank, and ironically, in the end, my winning strategy is what got me beat."
Scott Canterbury of Springville, Ala., finished third with a two-day total of 26 pounds, 3 ounces worth $40,000.
After day three, Canterbury looked like he was going to make the shallow largemouth bite go the distance by leading the event with 16 pounds.
Today, he fell just a couple of bites short of his first FLW Tour win with three quality bass weighing 10 pounds, 3 ounces - 2 pounds, 12 ounces shy of the winner's circle.
But after two top-10s in the first two Tour events of the season, Canterbury is now tied with David Walker for the Angler of the Year lead at 391 points.
"It just was not my turn, again," said Canterbury. "I fished flawless all day today - I got my three keeper bites in the boat - that's all I can do. But now I'm in contention for Angler of the Year, and honestly, that would be a bigger accomplishment for me than winning a tournament. I know we still have a long season ahead of us, but if you were to give me a choice between my first win and an Angler of the Year title - I'd take the Angler of the Year."
Canterbury spent the week fishing far up the White River, throwing Wiggle Warts and a jig.
"I was fishing the steepest banks I could find, leading into the backs of spawning pockets," he said. "The best banks were the steep ones that had big rock mixed in with pea gravel. I kept my boat in 10 to 12 feet, and I was trying to hit rocks in 4 to 5 feet with the Wiggle Wart."
Dan Morehead of Paducah, Ky., finished fourth with a two-day total of 24 pounds, 2 ounces.
Morehead spent his week in the midlake area, just before the rivers split.
He alternated between a MegaBass Vision 110 jerkbait in "pro blue" and a Storm Wiggle Wart, both tied to 8-pound-test P-line. The jerkbait accounted for roughly 85 percent of his keepers weighed.
"My best places were channel-swing banks with submerged cedar trees," Morehead explained. "I'd keep my boat out in about 20 feet of water and make long casts over about 10 feet of water."
BP pro David Walker of Sevierville, Tenn., finished fifth with a two-day total of 23 pounds, 1 ounce worth $20,000.
Walker was fishing up the James River with a Wiggle Wart and ¾-ounce jig most of the week. His jig was tied to 22-pound Sunline fluorocarbon, and the Wiggle Wart paired best with 10-pound-test Sunline.
"The jig really did most of the damage this week," Walker said. "And I went with a heavy jig for the sake of speed - I needed to get it to the bottom fast because I was covering a lot of water each day, and I didn't have time to wait on it. The bite was all a reaction bite around transition rock banks.
"Today I had to compensate for the brighter, windless conditions by going to the dirtiest water I could find."
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros in the FLW Tour event on Table Rock Lake:
6th: Brent Ehrler of Redlands, Calif., two-day total of 14-5, $19,000
7th: Michael Bennett of Lincoln, Calif., two-day total of 6-11, $18,000
8th: Greg Bohannan of Rogers, Ark., two-day total of 5-11, $17,000
9th: Chad Morgenthaler of Coulterville, Ill., two-day total of 4-5, $16,000
10th: Shinichi Fukae of Mineola, Texas, two-day total of 0 $15,000
The next FLW Tour event will be held on Lake Norman near Charlotte, N.C., April 23-26, 2009.