Give Gagliardi a break

Chevy pro Anthony Gagliardi broke down the lake with Chris Jones prior to takeoff. Gagliardi lives on Lake Murray and is as local as local favorites come.

It didn’t take long for the knives to come out.

Anthony Gagliardi didn’t even have time to savor his Forrest Wood Cup victory on Lake Murray before the naysayers started showing up. He isn’t a good sportsman, say some. His victory should be nullified, say others.

The smear campaign started soon after an alleged incident on the water that was reported on a couple of Web-based bass forums. People jumped to conclusions without knowing the facts, but these days that’s pretty standard operating procedure for some who have nothing better to do than put a negative spin on everything.

Sunday, at the start of the championship round, Gagliardi ran to the same large cove near the dam that he had fished the day before and from which he had caught keeper bass. Another boat, with a local angler, was there ahead of him. Gagliardi started fishing, and the other angler continued fishing, though obviously he was disturbed by all the boat traffic that followed Gagliardi, and he expressed his displeasure. He wasn’t mad that Gagliardi was fishing there. He was mad that Gagliardi was showing the world “his” fishing hole. Gagliardi was deferential – to a point. But he caught three keepers there the day before, and there was no way he was going to make the long run all the way from Dreher Island State Park to the dam and not fish.

That was it. The man wasn’t fishing a dock or a brush pile. He was doing the same thing Gagliardi was doing: casting to bass busting blueback herring on the surface in what is regarded by locals as a community hole. Sometimes the fish came up astern, sometimes off the bow, sometimes to port or starboard. Gagliardi and the local moved around, the anglers casting in different directions and sometimes at the same targets. All in all, it was pretty peaceful other than the verbal jabs lobbed in Gagliardi’s direction.

I was part of the FLW On The Water coverage teams at Pickwick Lake and Kentucky Lake earlier this summer. If fishing close to somebody who isn’t anchored or who doesn’t have a place staked out is grounds for disqualification, a third of the field in both those ledge tournaments would have been disqualified.

Jeff Samsel was among the media covering Gagliardi that final day at the Cup. I was a few hundred yards away covering Scott Martin. Guess what: Martin was doing the same thing, and there were other boats around him as well. He was casting at targets of opportunity, and so were they. Nothing was said by anyone. Fishing the jumps is not a restrictive activity.

“Fish were coming up, and people were casting at them,” recalls Samsel, a Georgia writer. “Anthony stayed pretty quiet, which is normal for him. He was moving around, and the other guy would turn with him. It was like he was chasing Anthony. He was totally the aggressor, and apparently the guy has a reputation on the lake for that sort of thing. He wanted to aggravate Anthony. I could tell from his posture and boat positioning. I think others who were there had the same perception. The people commenting about the situation aren’t commenting on facts, just assumptions. I thought that through it all, Anthony was pretty professional about it.”

Mark Rose, who didn’t make the final round, was sitting in his wife’s car nearby, sipping on coffee and watching Gagliardi fish. He says he was so infuriated by the man’s actions that he almost decided to go launch his boat, return to the spot and give the angler a “respectful piece of my mind.”

“It made me so furious to see that guy cast over Anthony’s line. I wanted to tell him what a bad sport he was about it,” says Rose, who placed ninth in the 2008 Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Murray.

Martin had a confrontation with the same fisherman the day before, on Saturday. He arrived in the cove early in the morning, and found the angler there ahead of him.

“I pulled up there first thing, and he was sitting there,” Martin says. “I put my trolling motor down, and before I even cast I hollered at him, ‘Good morning, sir, mind if I make a cast or two across the point?’ He said, ‘Might as well. It’s not going to do any good anyhow.’ So I started casting away from him. Then he started coming at me fast. I hollered ‘Hey, man, we’ll be out of your hair after tomorrow,’ just trying to be friendly. All the while he’s coming at me and cursing under his breath, but loud enough that I can hear him. Then I asked him where he wanted me to fish, meaning where did he want me to get to be out of his way. He waved his hand around and said, ‘I’m fishing all this.’

“I decided to make a big loop around him and fall in behind somewhere. But he turned with me and headed right at me,” continues Martin. “When he got about 20 yards away, I said to him, ‘Dude, are you going to ram me?’ He was like a dog guarding his yard, but he finally turned around and went back. I moved on, thinking that I’d go back and fish that part of the cove when he left. By the time he got ready to leave, a few spectator boats had showed up. He got up on half-plane and ran between them and me. Then Anthony showed up and started fishing by himself. He beat me there the last morning, but there wasn’t anything wrong about that.”

Martin insists that he was courteous to the local angler the whole time. He asked permission – though none was required – planned to maintain a minimum distance of 60 yards from the man and did not cast toward him. Even then, the fisherman displayed an aggressive attitude.

“He definitely wasn’t some angel out there enjoying his day on the water,” says Martin. “He just didn’t want anybody anywhere around him. It was pretty weird.”

By all eyewitness accounts, as well as a review of video from the encounter, Gagliardi was the utmost professional. He was courteous and polite despite having a difficult situation thrust upon him. In the end, both Gagliardi and the local angler shared the water, chasing bass busting on the surface, without any real incident other than the one imagined by those trolling the bass-fishing forums looking to muddy the waters with half-truths.

Don’t miss the FLW Podcast that was posted today for a first-hand account of the encounter from Gagliardi.

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