Ask Prosperity, SC, native Anthony Gagliardi to pinpoint the highlight of his 18-year professional fishing career, and you might think he'd have difficulty picking between two of the biggest deals in his sport.
Gagliardi, who turned pro in 2000, won the FLW Tour's 2006 Angler of the Year. Then in 2014, as a pretournament long shot, he rallied to capture the Forrest Wood Cup - the Super Bowl of pro bass fishing - which was held practically in his backyard at Lake Murray and returns there Aug. 11-13, 2017.
So which was it? Actually, the 40-year-old says, it's not that tough a call - for him, anyway.
"If you asked most pros what the ultimate goal is, it'd probably be a mixture of Angler of the Year or the year-end Cup," he says. "But the way I won the championship, on my home lake, trumps Angler of the Year for me. The fact it was here, on Lake Murray, with all my family and friends there, makes it by far the highlight."
And that means a chance to repeat that feat at home makes this year's Cup a special event for Gagliardi, who ranks third in the FLW points list in 2017. Hosted by Lake Murray Country, this will be the third time the FLW Tour's premier event has come to the Midlands (the first was in 2008). Based on past numbers - some 65,000 spectators, which produced a $25 million economic impact in 2014 - it's no wonder the Tour is back.
And the Capital City/Lake Murray Country Regional Tourism Board, which hosts the event, is glad it's back. "We are thrilled to bring the Forrest Wood Cup back to Columbia and Lake Murray for the third time," says Miriam Atria, President/CEO of Capital City/Lake Murray Country. "It's exciting being able to host an event of this caliber."
"Our hotels, restaurants and event venues will be filled which will provide a tremendous impact on our local economy. You don't have to be a fishing fan to enjoy this weekend event."
While attracting the Forrest Wood Cup involves a bid process, Lake Murray is also attractive to the tour for other reasons: the large past turnouts, the lake's popularity with the pro fishermen and the infrastructure. Besides facilities at Dreher Island and the Lake Murray Dam, the event's weigh-ins - always well-attended by fishing fans - will take place at the Columbia Convention Center, an easy 15-25 minutes away.
Gagliardi, of course, is more than happy to compete so close to home, and where he believes he'll have a "home lake advantage."
"For sure," he says. "Some might think that's a jinx, but I'm familiar with the lake, which is an automatic advantage, and I've got experience on that water, which gives me confidence. It helps to have that knowledge to fall back on. I know a lot of places there to fish."
That, in fact, was part of his success in 2014. Though his season started slowly, Gagliardi used a late run to tie for the last spot in the elite Cup field. His margin for getting in, in fact, was one ounce of catch in his last event.
That number would come back eerily during the Cup. On the final day of competition, with the event's top five places separated by just 11 ounces, Gagliardi hoisted a total catch of 51 pounds, two ounces - one ounce more than runner-up Scott Canterbury.
"It's hard to point to one thing (that made the difference) over four days," Gagliardi says. "I did different things, used two different patterns and caught fish doing both. Going in, I knew I might need to have multiple patterns, and that was the key.
"The last day, I'd caught a limit where I started, so I was in good shape fishing near the dam. Then I headed up to another pattern, stopped on the way and had my biggest catch there. But I can't say it was one fish that won it for me; obviously, every ounce I had was key."
That one-ounce victory translated to a $300,000 payday, the biggest of Gagliardi's five career victories in nearly 200 competitions. He began fishing as a "co-angler" (amateur, competing against both amateurs and pros) but switched to professional just three events into the 2000 season. His sponsors include Falcon Boats and Chevrolet.
"I'd always had a passion for fishing as far back as I can remember," he says. "I watched tournaments on TV and fished local tournaments with friend and my father (Mike), but I never thought about being a pro when I was young."
Not until after he graduated from Clemson did the notion hit him, and his father offered to financially back him for a year. "I made enough money to pay him back, and then my third year out, I won and got sponsorships," Gagliardi says.
Now a veteran of the FLW Tour, he still revels in having the "Super Bowl" in his hometown area. "It's big, for the lake and the community," he says. "Lake Murray Country does a good job of getting the word out, and it's something the community wants to be a part of."
Gagliardi, too, would love to be a part of this year's tournament: the champion, again. And if that's not as dramatic as his last Forrest Wood Cup victory, that'll suit him, too.
"(The Cup) does a heck of a job; it's a production, and it gets better every year," he says. "But if I win again, I'm not worried how ‘dramatic' it is. I want to blow it out."
Forrest Wood Cup Details:
Dates: Aug. 11-13
Take Off: Days 1-3, 7 a.m., Dreher Island State Park, 3677 State Park Road, Prosperity. Phone: (803) 345-7275
Weigh-ins: Days 1-3, 5 p.m., Colonial Life Arena, 801 Lincoln St., Columbia. Phone: (803) 576-9200
Expo: Days 1-3, 10 a.m., Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, 1101 Lincoln St., Columbia. Phone (803) 545-0001
Marina:Dreher Island State Park, 3677 State Park Road, Prosperity. Phone (803) 345-7275
Registration: Aug. 10 deadline, South Carolina Alumni Center, 900 Senate St., Columbia
Host:Capital City Lake Murray Country Regional Tourism Board, 2184 N. Lake Drive, Columbia. Phone (803) 781-5940
Housing:Capital City Lake Murray