April 8, 2014 by Curtis Niedermier
Top-10 highlights from the first half of the 2014 Tour We're at the halfway point of the 2014 Walmart FLW Tour season, and already we've witnessed records being set and streaks ended, as well as what's shaping up to be one of the most star-studded Angler of the Year races in FLW history. To get you up to speed on where we are now, we present the 10 most notable highlights from the first half of 2014. 10. Brett Hite opens season with almost 35 pounds Lake Okeechobee has been a regular launching point for Walmart FLW Tour competition over the years. This season, Western pro Brett Hite added an exclamation point to the 2014 inaugural by bringing in a limit weighing 34 pounds, 15 ounces - the second-largest limit in Tour history. On a day when 17 pros weighed at least 20 pounds, Hite opened up a 7-pound, 13-ounce lead, which he never relinquished. He won the event with 88-14 and a cushion of more than 6 pounds. See the full Okeechobee results. 9. Wild weather swings test anglers at Hartwell Springtime fishing is about mastering fluctuating conditions, and there has been no better test for pros in recent years than the Walmart FLW Tour stop No. 2 at Lake Hartwell. Pros experienced air temperatures in the upper 30s, rain, sleet, winds up to 25 mph, a three-hour fog delay, sunshine and clear skies, all in a four-day period. 8. New "Circuit Breaker" season airs Where else other than FLW can you watch two established professional anglers drag a fully wrapped truck and boat out of a muddy rut in someone's front yard? The answer: nowhere. That's what you'll see if you tune in to the second season of FLW's reality program "Circuit Breaker," which follows best buddies Straight Talk pro JT Kenney and Keystone Light pro Chad Grigsby along the 2014 Walmart FLW Tour trail. Get a front-row seat to everything (well, everything that we can actually air) that goes on behind the scenes along the way. Episode 1 is available online. Tune in to FLW's YouTube channel to see more episodes and the full list of fishing content. 7. Anthony Gagliardi fishes his way toward Forrest Wood Cup qualification Chevy pro Anthony Gagliardi is on pace to do the unthinkable. After being disqualified from the 2014 Walmart FLW Tour season-opener at Lake Okeechobee, Gagliardi has countered with seventh- and 30th-place finishes at Lake Hartwell and Sam Rayburn, respectively. The FLW millionaire jumped from the Angler of the Year cellar into 74th place, with a legitimate shot at qualifying for the Forrest Wood Cup. Why is this noteworthy? Gagliardi is the odds-on favorite to win the 2014 Cup on Lake Murray, his home fishery. If he makes it, the entire dynamic of the event will change. After Okeechobee, we estimated that Gagliardi needed to average finishes of 30th place in order to end up on the bubble for Cup qualification. He's currently well ahead of that mark. Check out Gagliardi's career statistics. 6. iON captures Mark Rose's 9-pounder If you haven't already purchased an iON camera for your bass boat, what are you waiting for? There's no better way to capture those one-in-a-million catches than with a point-of-view video camera. A perfect example: An iON captured Walmart pro Mark Rose catching a 9-pound bass on Sam Rayburn on the second day of competition. It was the biggest bass caught on the pro side in that event, and it propelled Rose into the lead. He eventually slipped to second place. Tune in to FLW's YouTube channel to see Rose's catch and the full list of fishing content. 5. Thrift comes from behind on final day at Rayburn Chevy pro Bryan Thrift opened the 2014 Walmart FLW Tour season with, by his standards, mediocre finishes: 59th at Okeechobee and 107th at Lake Hartwell. Dejected but determined, Thrift bounced back in a big way at Sam Rayburn. He found a honey hole up the Angelina River where he broke from his stereotypical fast tactics and won the event by slowly soaking soft plastics around cypress trees and shallow grass. Thrift overtook Walmart pro Mark Rose, the leader on days two and three, to claim victory the final afternoon. He bumped himself up to 34th place in the Angler of the Year standings, which is right on the bubble for Forrest Wood Cup qualification. See the full Sam Rayburn results. 4. Co-angler Bryan Partak catches 10-pounder Catch a 10-pounder in competition: awesome. Catch a 10-pounder from the back of the boat in competition: miraculous. Illinois co-angler Bryan Partak experienced the unbelievable at Sam Rayburn on day two, when he caught the tournament's largest bass while fishing behind George Foreman pro Dan Morehead. The bucketmouth weighed 10 pounds, 2 ounces. The 10-pounder bolstered his limit to 18-12, a huge improvement over his day-one catch of two fish for 6-4. Partak caught only one keeper on day three to finish in 10th place, vaulting up the Co-angler of the Year standings into fourth place and nearly locking up his chance to fish in the Forrest Wood Cup. 3. Cody Meyer ends consecutive-limit streak Repel pro Cody Meyer is the new Mr. Consistency on the Walmart FLW Tour. He extended his record for consecutive limits caught in Walmart FLW Tour Major and Forrest Wood Cup competition to 50 on the third day of competition at Lake Hartwell. On day four, however, Meyer brought in only four bass, ending the streak. Meyer is known for his ability to show out at the Forrest Wood Cup (he made the top 10 three years in a row from 2009 to 2011), and it appears he's well on his way to making the Cup this year. He is the 2014 Walmart FLW Tour Angler of the Year leader at the halfway point. Oh, and his current streak of limits is two. Check out the current AOY standings. 2. Casey Ashley wins hometown title at Hartwell Casey Ashley doesn't believe in hometown curses. He believes in hometown opportunities. The Donalds, S.C., pro signed up to fish the Walmart FLW Tour this season mainly for two reasons: First, the Forrest Wood Cup is on Lake Murray, one of his home lakes. Second, the second stop of the season was at Lake Hartwell, his other home lake. Ashley banked on a strong finish at Lake Hartwell to get him into the Cup, where he hopes to take home the biggest title in bass fishing in front of his local friends and family, and he made big on the investment. Ashley walked away with the event with a wire-to-wire win that started with a 21-pound, 7-ounce limit - the tournament's biggest - on day one. He earned $100,000 for the win and at the halfway point sits in 39th in the Angler of the Year standings. The top 35 vie for the Cup. See the full Lake Hartwell results. 1. Brett Hite wins season-opener on both major tours Brett Hite failed to qualify for the 2013 Forrest Wood Cup, but he came out of the gate in 2014 with a solid bid to be this season's Angler of the Year - on the Walmart FLW Tour and the Bassmaster Elite Series. Hite won the Tour opener on Lake Okeechobee in February, then followed it up with a sixth-place finish at Lake Hartwell in early March. His next stop was the Elite Series opener on Lake Seminole in Bainbridge, Ga., in mid-March, and Hite won that one too. Hite won both tournaments with a Z-Man Original ChatterBait. He currently sits in eighth place in the Tour AOY standings but has slipped to 41st in the Elite Series AOY through three events. Hite's FLW career earnings have surpassed $880,000. See Brett Hite's career statistics.