July 3, 2014 by Kyle Wood
In just six weeks, 45 of the best anglers will be competing for the top prize in professional bass fishing at the Forrest Wood Cup presented by Walmart and hosted by Capital City/Lake Murray Country. Now that the roster has been set for the 18th edition of the Cup, which will be held Aug. 14-17 in Columbia, S.C., focus can be turned toward the emerging story lines that have begun to unfold.
To review the list of anglers fishing in the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup, click here.
Here are five story lines to take note of as the countdown to the Cup rolls on.
1. Gagliardi gets in
Before the 2014 season even started, Anthony Gagliardi was one of the most heavily favored pros to win the Cup on Lake Murray – and with good reason. The Chevy pro lives on the lake, and you can’t get much more local than that. After being disqualified from the season-opener on Okeechobee, the Prosperity, S.C., resident's odds of making an appearance on Murray looked bleak. Yet he battled through the season and managed to punch his ticket to his 10th Cup. The biggest factor for Gagliardi is practice time and sheer knowledge of the lake. He will be able to log the most time, keeping up with how the lake changes over the next month and how the fish react. The competitive fire was lit within Gagliardi this year, and it’s safe to say that the fire burns even hotter for him to place his hands on the Cup trophy at his home lake.
2. Five previous champions will fish
A quick glance at the roster for the Forrest Wood Cup shows that it's a bit light on the side of previous Forrest Wood Cup champions. This year only five returning champions – David Dudley (2003), Brent Ehrler (2006), Scott Martin (2011), Jacob Wheeler (2012) and Randall Tharp (2013) – will have the opportunity to make a run at becoming the first-ever two-time Cup champion. To be honest, there is a very good chance we could see that happen this year. All five are phenomenal when it comes to adapting to the conditions and tackling shallow water – something that will play a vital role in the Cup. Each has fished strong this year, and when they get momentum going they are like wolves on the hunt. Out of the group, Dudley lives the closest to Murray, so that could lead to increased practice before the lake goes off limits. However, these guys are the best of the best, and they excel at figuring out a lake in a short period of time.
3. The Carolina crew totals four
Aside from Gagliardi, Casey Ashley from just down the road in Donalds, S.C., would have to be considered the other major local favorite. Ashley not only understands how bass move when feeding on blueback herring, but he also knows how to extract bass from deep water. Both patterns will factor in on Lake Murray this August. Ashley also won a B.A.S.S. event on Murray back in 2011. A copule of other “locals” to consider in this tournament would be Matt Arey and Bryan Thrift, both of Shelby, N.C., which is about 75 miles from Murray. Both Tar Heels have experience on Murray and are masters at fishing docks – a likely pattern to play at the Cup. You can bet that each of these pros will be putting some serious time in before the lake goes off limits at the end of July.
4. Shallow-water patterns at play
It’s no surprise that unlocking the mystery of catching bass that feed on blueback herring will be the focus of a lot of the anglers. But looking back at the last Forrest Wood Cup held on Murray, you will find that a majority of the top anglers – including winner Michael Bennett – fished shallow. Probing the shallow grass and wood cover around the Saluda River – the primary inflow for Murray – is a much stronger option for consistency versus chasing nomadic largemouths on the lake's lower end. The many docks that line the shore of Murray also offer great options for finding hungry largemouths. Several local anglers – including Gagliardi – say that the shallow bite in August can be one of the best things going. The shallow-water aspect will also give anglers the option of bagging a quick limit before they go hunting for a blueback-fed kicker fish. When it is all said and done, don’t be surprised to see a shallow pattern have a role in how the Cup is won.
5. 15 first-timers to fish
Fifteen pros will make their Forrest Wood Cup debuts in Columbia. That means that one-third of the field is new to the pressures of fishing for $500,000. It's understandable that several Cup rookies have never fished the championship before, such as the FLW College Fishing champion, BFL All-American winner, The Bass Federation national champion and AOYs from each Rayovac FLW Series division – minus Dan Morehead. But that means a sizable group of anglers qualified for their first Cup via the Walmart FLW Tour. The newbies will be tasked with trying to figure out a lake that many of them have never even seen before. But don’t make any assumptions just yet. This crew of “new guys” contains some very qualified deep-water specialists, as well as some shallow-water studs. The Forrest Wood Cup is the perfect stage to launch a career in the sport, and many of the anglers in this crowd are hoping to take full advantage of the opportunity.