July 2, 2014 by Dave Lefebre
My recap of the Walmart FLW Tour event on Kentucky Lake has less to do with this particular event than it does a feat I consider to be one of the most amazing in modern-day tournament fishing – but I’ll get to that later.
As was expected, ledge fishing was the deal on Kentucky Lake. A few big bags were caught shallow, about 2 to 6 feet deep, but doing it two days in a row was not happening. The top 10 were all out off the bank somewhere and throwing the typical ledge-type baits: crankbaits, swimbaits, jigs, big worms, drop-shots and the big spoon. The only real surprise was the size of the spoons a few of top 10 guys were turned on to. You can see and hear more about them by watching Rob Newell’s day-three Reeltime Report. I’d guess we’re about to see another industry boom.
Wesley Strader and Randy Blaukat proved that a monster bag could come from 3 feet or less. Each had more than 22 pounds on day two fishing shallow grass. Kentucky Lake is truly an amazing place, and the bass are literally everywhere.
I caught all my fish on a 5-inch green pumpkin/blue Yamamoto Kut Tail Worm paired with a 1/4-ounce VMC Finesse Half Moon jighead, and a drop-shotted 4-inch green pumpkin/blue Senko.
Before the rules meeting, I was rigged with big Storm Pro Paddle Tail swimbaits, Rapala DT-16 crankbaits and Terminator football jigs. However, after the meeting I found myself with a horrible boat draw, so I re-rigged everything and even added a couple of spinning rods to the mix.
On the first morning, of course, my best schools were covered with boats, so I camped on two last-resort deep spots that were “open” for two days and fished as hard as I could. I culled up ounces all day long during both days. I had two great co-anglers, which was truly refreshing in such a stressful situation. It helped make this, the final qualifying event, much more pleasurable … thanks to them both.
Basically, I was making two exact casts with the little worm for hours and hours when the fish were biting, and then moving on top of them with the drop-shot when they were inactive. It was critical to be above the fish vertically with the drop-shot and tease them for several minutes to get them to bite – at least for me it was. I could tell when I marked a fish whether it would bite or not. It was a cool deal.
My stressful moments started at the pre-tournament meeting when I drew out boat No. 150, knowing that a top-30 boat number would make for a simple top-50 finish. A good boat draw in a ledge deal like this is so nice, but it never happens for me. Even so, I’m extremely thankful that I happened to find a couple of smaller schools in my two days of practice that were capable of producing enough weight for a $10,000 check. I worked hard to find those places, and it was a challenge mentally and physically. Thankfully it all worked out.
Speaking of challenges, there are two ways to face adversity of any kind, such as – in my case – a devastating setback at the first major tournament of the season. The way your season kicks off can set the tone for your entire year – for better or worse. If you start off with a top 10, you tend to create momentum, which can carry you to a great year and seemingly smooth Forrest Wood Cup qualification. A disastrous start can lead to a snowballing, downhill slide. Both scenarios are completely mental, and how we deal with such circumstances makes all the difference in fishing, or any other sport for that matter.
Of course I know this, but I still fell into the trap and let it consume me, unlike my good friend and fellow competitor Anthony Gagliardi. This relates to the miraculous tournament feat I mentioned earlier, but let me set it up first.
After a mechanical failure on the way to the day one weigh-in at Lake Okeechobee, I began the 2014 season with a big fat zero instead of the 15 pounds I had in the livewell. As a result, I finished 176th in that event, and my attitude took a serious nosedive. No chance at AOY, and a serious uphill climb even to qualify for the championship, which I inevitably missed. You’re always so excited when presented with a new clean slate, and I can’t describe how disappointed I was at Okeechobee in February.
What could be worse? How about being disqualified on a technicality and missing the first event completely? That’s what happened to Gagliardi at Okeechobee. Someone is always worse off than you, right? That’s what my mom always told me.
Statistically, Gagliardi has been one of the most consistent fishermen on the FLW Tour for several years, but what he accomplished this year is simply incredible, especially when you consider the circumstances involved. He finished 48th at Kentucky Lake and qualified for the Forrest Wood Cup on his home lake, Lake Murray near Columbia, S.C. Even more amazing, he finished the season with the exact number of points needed to make it – one less point in any of his five events and he would have been out.
In this game it’s all about attitude and believing, and Gagliardi’s achievement is an inspiration to me, and one I think should motivate all of us who fish tournaments. It seemed impossible, but he overcame the odds and accomplished something that is clearly one of the most incredible feats this sport has ever seen, especially with only five tournaments to work with. My year – along with a record of 11 consecutive Cup qualifications – is finished, but because of a superior mental attitude and a serious dose of belief in himself, my good friend Gags moves on to compete for a half-million bucks! Lesson learned.
Who do you think is destined to win this year’s Forrest Wood Cup?