BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Aug. 2, 2005) - Anthony Gagliardi of Prosperity, S.C., the No. 1 seed coming into the $1.5 million Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship presented by Castrol on Lake Logan Martin in Birmingham, Ala., landed the tournament's heaviest catch Wednesday in his quest to win the biggest award in professional bass fishing - $500,000. Gagliardi's five-bass limit weighed a hefty 15 pounds, 12 ounces.
"I've had a great year, and I have to remind myself that it is not over yet," said Gagliardi, who is facing No. 48 seed Ishama Monroe of Hughson, Calif., in the opening round. "I had some success here in 2004, and that gave me a lot of confidence coming into this tournament."
Gagliardi, who caught the majority of his bass on a drop-shot, finished third in the FLW Tour Championship during its 2004 stop in Birmingham. If he were to win this year, it would be the first time in FLW Tour history that an angler has won the Land O'Lakes Angler of the Year title and the championship in the same season.
Fishing was tougher for Monroe, who was fishing in sight of Gagliardi for most of the day, as he managed to catch just two bass weighing 2 pounds, 7 ounces.
"It was adding insult to injury watching him catch three or four of those big fish," Monroe said. "He was culling fish that I could have used, but that's why he is Angler of the Year. Tomorrow, I'm going to have to swing for the fences."
Heavy humidity and temperatures in the 90s greeted anglers from 28 states and Japan on opening day, and the bass did not make it easy for many of the pros. In fact, only 22 anglers broke the 10-pound mark as a total of 421 bass weighing 738 pounds, 2 ounces were brought to the scale.
Threatening to upset No. 2 seed Matt Herren of Trussville, Ala., is No. 47 seed Toshinari Namiki of Hachioji-City, Japan, who caught five bass weighing 12-11 to Herren's five bass weighing 8-1.
Herren, the local favorite, caught largemouth bass while flipping a jig around docks.
"I have two key areas that are dependant on current, and the water wasn't moving," said Herren, who is fishing with a broken tailbone after falling in his garage Saturday. "But I'm not out of it. I'm going spot fishing tomorrow."
Another exciting match-up pitted legendary Arkansas anglers George Cochran of Hot Springs as the No. 41 seed against Larry Nixon of Bee Branch as the No. 8 seed. Cochran, the reigning 2005 FLW Tour Champion, jumped to a 2-pound lead over his close friend by targeting shallow-water bass using a worm and a small crankbait around brush. Cochran's five-bass limit weighed 9-4 to Nixon's three-bass catch of 7-4. Nixon was targeting fish holding near deep structure.
"George is a mud runner, and I fish structure," Nixon said. "What it's going to come down to are the conditions. I had the worst conditions in the world for my style today. What I need is a little current."
"The fish were finicky," Cochran said. "I caught 14 keepers and lost two goods ones. Every fish was just barely hooked. I had to make seven or eight casts to a single piece of brush just to get one to hit."
In the battle of big-money winners, David Dudley of Lynchburg, Va., jumped to a 2-pound, 15-ounce lead over his Castrol teammate Darrell Robertson of Jay, Okla., by "junk fishing" for a limit of five bass weighing 10-9. Robertson's limit weighing 7-10 was caught on a shaky head worm over rocks in 5 to 20 feet of water.
"I just struggled all day long," Robertson said. "But I'm going to catch them tomorrow, so he better be ready."
Robertson and Dudley are both former FLW Tour Championship winners as well as Ranger M1 Champions. Robertson won a record-setting $600,000 at the 1999 Ranger M1 and Dudley broke that record with a $700,000 payday at the 2002 M1. Earlier this season, Dudley, 30, surpassed $2 million in career winnings, making him the youngest angler to accomplish that feat. He also holds the distinct honor of being the youngest angler to surpass $1 million in career winnings, a milestone he reached in March of 2002 at 26 years old. A win here would place him in second on the all-time money list behind the legendary Rick Clunn of Ava, Mo., and just ahead of Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich.
No. 39 seed Luke Clausen of Spokane, Wash., who won the FLW Tour Championship here two years ago as a rookie then went on to win the Bassmaster Classic earlier this year, could add yet another $500,000 win to his list of accomplishments this week. Clausen caught five bass weighing 12 pounds, 7 ounces to lead No. 10 seed Tom Monsoor of La Crosse, Wis., who caught a limit weighing 10-12. Clausen was fishing docks while Monsoor was swimming his signature jig.
On the co-angler side, Chad Parks of Memphis, Tenn., topped the field with a day-one catch of five bass weighing 11 pounds, 4 ounces. The 48 co-anglers compete against the entire field, with the top 24 advancing after day two. Co-angler competition concludes Friday with the winner taking home $25,000 cash.
Rounding out the top five co-anglers are Mark Phillips of Fayetteville, Ark. (five bass, 10-14); Bruce Dale of Jamestown, Ohio (four bass, 10-4); Tyrone Phillips of Little Rock, Ark. (five bass, 9-14); and Andy Montgomery of Blacksburg, S.C. (five bass, 9-10).
Parks caught his fish dead-sticking a jig in 12 to 24 feet of water while fishing behind Kellogg's pro Dave Lefebre of Union City, Pa.
The four-day tournament will conclude Saturday with the winning pro walking away $500,000 richer. The top 48 pros and co-anglers from the six-event 2006 Wal-Mart FLW Tour advanced to the no-entry fee championship, the most lucrative bass tournament in the history of the sport. Anglers were seeded according to their year-end ranking.
Following the two-day opening round, 24 pros advance to the semifinal round based on their two-day accumulated weight. Head-to-head competition continues in the one-day semifinal round, after which 12 pros advance to the final round. The 12 finalists start from zero and compete for one day to determine the winner.
Forty-eight co-anglers, who are paired with the pros and fish from the back deck, compete for two days, after which the top 24 co-anglers based on accumulated weight advance to the third and final day of co-angler competition. Weights are cleared for the co-angler final round, and the winner takes home $25,000.
Championship contenders will take off from Pell City Lakeside Park, located at 2801 Stemley Bridge Road in Pell City at 7 a.m. each day, and daily weigh-ins will be held at 5 p.m. in the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex Arena. The outdoor show featuring more than 140 exhibits; fishing seminars by Hank Parker, Forrest L. Wood and other bass-fishing legends; and free daily giveaways runs 2 to 8 p.m. Thursday, noon to 9 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday. Thursday is free Stren fishing line day. Friday is free Berkley tackle day, and Saturday is free rod and reel and free Fujifilm camera day. Daily giveaways are for children 12 and under accompanied by an adult.
One lucky fan attending Saturday's final weigh-in will also win a new Ranger Z20 Comanche bass boat powered by Yamaha. Three qualifiers will be drawn for the boat giveaway during each day's 5 p.m. weigh-in, with the final three qualifiers and the eventual winner drawn Saturday. Fans must be present to qualify and win. Admission is free, and entry forms are available at the outdoor show.
The week's festivities also include a taping of "The Best Dam Sports Show Period" in the BJCC Arena Friday at 1:30 p.m. and a free concert presented by Chevy featuring country artist Craig Morgan at 4 p.m. Saturday in the BJCC Arena.
In addition to the tournament festivities, professional anglers will visit patients ranging in age from 5- to 18-years-old at Children's Hospital in Birmingham on Friday at 10 a.m. Aside from signing autographs and providing a needed break for the children, the anglers hope to cultivate an appreciation of the environment by teaching about the conservation of fish habitat and being respectful of nature. The anglers will also take this opportunity to explain why more than 50 million people pick up their rods and wet a line each year - because fishing is a fun, wholesome activity the entire family can enjoy.
Named after the legendary founder of Ranger Boats, Forrest L. Wood, FLW Outdoors administers the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, Wal-Mart FLW Series, Stren Series, Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League, Wal-Mart Texas Tournament Trail presented by Abu Garcia, Stratos Owners' Tournament Trail, Wal-Mart FLW Walleye Tour, Wal-Mart FLW Walleye League, Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Tour, Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Series, Wal-Mart FLW Redfish Series and Wal-Mart FLW Striper Series. These circuits offer combined purses exceeding $37.9 million through 249 events in 2006.
For more information about FLW Outdoors and its tournament programs, visit FLWOutdoors.com or call (270) 252-1000.
Wal-Mart and many of America's largest and most respected companies support FLW Outdoors and its tournament trails. Wal-Mart signed on as an FLW Outdoors sponsor in 1997 and today is the world's leading supporter of tournament fishing. For more information about Wal-Mart, visit Wal-Mart.com.
For more information on FLW Outdoors and its tournament circuits, visit FLWOutdoors.com.