BENTON, Ky. – Everyone knew it was going to be close Saturday, but nobody figured it would be decided by an 8-ounce penalty. Anthony Gagliardi of Prosperity, S.C., emerged from the pack and edged past Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La., to win the Pro Division in Wal-Mart FLW Tour competition at Kentucky Lake.
Gagliardi caught a final-round total of 10 bass weighing 29 pounds, 8 ounces and collected $100,000 for his first FLW victory.
“It feels great. This is incredible,” said the 26-year-old Gagliardi, who became the fifth first-time winner in five FLW tournaments this season. “It feels like it’s been a long time coming. I haven’t fished that long, but you wonder if it’s ever going to happen, if you’re ever even going to come close. This is my first top 10 in two years and to win it is just amazing.”
This one was a tight finish. Gagliardi caught a five-bass limit Friday that weighed 14 pounds, 11 ounces, which was only good enough for sixth place coming into Saturday. The reason: The top seven pros each caught similar weights Friday and were all within 2 pounds of each other. Saturday, eight out of the 10 pro finalists again caught limits, but it was Gagliardi and Hackney who brought in the heavy artillery.
With a 14-pound, 13-ounce limit Saturday, Gagliardi landed almost a carbon copy of his catch on Friday. Hackney, with 15-5 Friday, had a slight lead on Gagliardi but came in with 13-14 Saturday and totaled 29-3 for the final round. The result: Gagliardi wins by just 5 ounces.
Here’s the kicker: Hackney actually caught more weight than the winner, but suffered an 8-ounce, deceased-fish penalty Friday. His was the only lost fish brought in by the pros in the entire final round.
In a tournament this close, perfect execution was crucial. Gagliardi said he didn’t lose any keepers that counted the entire week. He came into the tournament determined to throw a crankbait, and that’s just what he did. Fishing main-lake ledges in about 12 to 14 feet of water exclusively in Kentucky Lake, he cranked a Lucky Craft deep diver until the cows came home. He caught 18 of the 20 bass he weighed in this week – which were mainly largemouths but also included one good smallmouth each day – on crankbaits.
“My arm is really killing me after four days of pulling it,” he said. “From the first day of the tournament, I never put another bait in my boat. I was dedicated to doing it whether I caught them or not. It’s not really my favorite technique, but if I get around them, I feel like I can catch them as good as anybody.”
Today, he caught a small limit right off the bat at his main fishing area, then the bite dropped off and he moved to another couple locations. After about a three-hour dry spell, he returned to his first location and culled out his limit to its winning weight.
“I really didn’t think it was going to be enough,” he said.
Hackney was on the other end of the technique spectrum. He caught “about 98 percent” of his fish this week by flipping in shallow water on Lake Barkley.
He had reason to be disappointed with second place, especially considering his penalty. But Hackney, who has had a standout season and is now ranked second in both the FLW and BASS standings, is a glass-half-full kind of guy.
“The only thing that would top it off would be a great, big, ol’ win,” he said. “But if I had to trade one win for maintaining consistency, I wouldn’t do it. I’d definitely choose consistency. The main thing is that I just made $37,000 – and that’s pretty good for a week’s work.”
Pro David Dudley of Lynchburg, Va., the reigning 2003 FLW Championship winner, added another $25,000 to his more than $1.6 million in FLW Outdoors career earnings Saturday. He caught 10 bass weighing 27 pounds, 15 ounces in the final round at Kentucky Lake and finished in third place.
“I just didn’t get any good bites today,” said Dudley, who fished a variety of techniques this week. “But I don’t second-guess anything that I did.”
Fritts falters on day four
David Fritts of Lexington, N.C., couldn’t complete the four-day sweep and finished in fourth place with a 10-bass weight of 26 pounds, 14 ounces in the final round. He earned $20,000.
After the crankbait king led the first three days, he said that he had trouble getting a feel for the bite the last two days when the weather turned south.
“I had some big bites, but today just wasn’t my day,” he said. “Yesterday, I had a chance for a really big bag, but when you can’t feel your bait because of the wind, all you catch are those suicide fish that don’t know any better.”
Shinichi Fukae, the fishing sensation from Osaka, Japan, ended up in fifth place and collected $18,000 with a 10-bass weight of 26 pounds, 11 ounces. He, too, caught the bulk of his bass on a deep-diving crankbait Saturday.
“This lake, I like it,” he said.
He must like more lakes than this one, considering this was his third top-six and fourth top-11 finish in just five FLW tournaments. Fishing his first season on tour, Fukae has already collected $75,300 in FLW career earnings and has taken a decisive lead in the standings with just one tournament left. He has 908 points and the next closest pro, Hackney, has 875.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pro finishers at FLW Kentucky Lake are Andy Morgan of Dayton, Tenn., with a final-round total weight of 24 pounds, 9 ounces (6th place, $17,000); Brennan Bosley of Benton, Ark., with 23-5 (7th, $16,000); Morizo Shimizu of Osaka, Japan, with 22-8 (8th, $15,000); Alton Jones of Waco, Texas, with 20-8 (9th, $14,000); and Terry Segraves of Kissimmee, Fla., with 4-5 (10th, $13,000).
The next FLW Tour stop is the sixth and final regular-season event of the year. The Forrest Wood Open is scheduled for Lake Champlain near Plattsburgh, N.Y., June 23-26.