The announcement that the Forrest Wood Cup will return to Lake Murray next August has lit a fire in the competitive spirits of several South Carolina anglers who hope for a shot at the championship's $500,000 first prize.
At least two anglers who have fished Forrest Wood Cups in the past before are making plans to try to qualify for next year's championship, and another is mulling the possibility of fishing both the BASS and FLW in hopes of making the tournament.
“You don't get that many opportunities to fish in a tournament of that magnitude on a body of water you are familiar with,” said pro Anthony Gagliardi of Prosperity, who lives a stone's throw from Murray and scored his second FLW Tour win there in 2006. “I definitely want to do everything in my power to make sure I qualify for it and get a shot at the championship.”
For Dearal Rodgers of Camden, having the tournament on Lake Murray means he will have to speed up his planned return to the FLW Tour after taking time off to establish an environmental drilling business with his wife.
“I was a little up in the air about what I was going to do next year, because my wife and I have been working on our new business,” he said. “But seeing it on the schedule makes me excited, and I definitely want to try to qualify for it.”
For Davy Hite of Ninety Six, the prospect of fishing his home lake for a half-million dollars is strong enough to make him seriously consider fishing a grueling BASS-FLW double next year in hopes of qualifying for the Cup.
“It's really hard to fish both of those trails,” Hite said, “but I'd love the opportunity to win a championship like that on Lake Murray.”
The excitement began when FLW Outdoors announced its 2014 schedule after the 2013 Forrest Wood Cup on Louisiana’s Red River in mid-August. What makes the championship on Lake Murray even more attractive to South Carolina anglers is the fact that one of the tour's six qualifying tournaments is on one of the South Carolina border lakes, Lake Hartwell.
The schedule opens Feb. 6-9 on Florida's Lake Okeechobee, then moves to Lake Hartwell March 6-9. The season includes tournaments at Lake Sam Rayburn in Texas, March 27-30; Beaver Lake in Arkansas, April 10-13; Kentucky Lake on the Kentucky-Tennessee border, May 8-11; Alabama’s Pickwick Lake, June 5-8; and ends Aug. 14-17 with the Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Murray.
For Gagliardi, a little better luck will have to fall his way if he makes the 2014 championship after finishing 49th in the standings this year and failing to make the Cup for only the fourth time in 14 years on the FLW Tour.
“It was a weird year,” said Gagliardi, the 2006 FLW Tour Angler of the Year, who has won more then $1.3 million on the Tour. “I had a good year, with two top- 10s and a top-20 finish, but the other tournaments were really bad. I just needed to finish a few places higher in one of those tournaments.”
If he qualifies for the Lake Murray championship tournament, he won’t prepare the same way he did for the 2008 FLW Championship on Lake Murray, where he finished 48th.
“We had a bunch of rain right before the tournament, and it really changed the bite,” he said. “I did pretty good the first day and was in 10th place, but on the second day, everything I had practiced for dried up.
“The last time I pretty much singled out one section of the lake that I figured would give me the best shot. But when my pattern died I did not have an answer.”
Rodgers won the 2010 Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Ouachita in Arkansas as a co-angler after winning the FLW Tour Co-Angler of the Year Award in 2009. He moved up to the Pro Division in 2011 and then fished a partial year as a pro before dropping back to start up his environmental field services company, Elite Techniques. He cut his tournament schedule even more this year, fishing only the Professional Anglers Association (PAA) Series and some local tournaments. But the lure of another shot at the championship on Lake Murray has him gearing up for 2014.
“It a tough tournament, but somebody has got to win it,” he said. “It would be nice to fish for my home state and represent everyone in South Carolina.”
Hite, who has won just about everything BASS and FLW has to offer, would love to add a second FLW championship trophy to his collection. Hite won the FLW Tour's championship in 1998 on the Mississippi River near Moline, Ill., earning $250,000 – at the time the largest first place prize ever awarded in a bass tournament.
“I'll have to weigh the odds and decide if I will fish FLW again,” said Hite, who fished the FLW Tour from 1997 through 2003 while also fishing the B.A.S.S circuit. “But I would love to have the opportunity to fish for half a million dollars on Lake Murray.”
Hite, who grew up on the shores of Lake Murray, still considers his home lake his favorite place to fish. At Murray, he finished second in a 2011 BASS Elite Series event, fourth in a 2008 Elite Series tournament and fourth in the 2002 BASS Southern Open.
“I am committed to B.A.S.S. and the Elite Series, and I have a lot of sponsor obligations, but I really might try to make it to Lake Murray next year,” said Hite, winner of the 199 Bassmaster Classic on the Louisiana Delta and two-time BASS Angler of the Year. “I can't think of anything in the fishing world I'd rather do than win a tournament on Lake Murray.”
Especially one that pays a half-a-million dollars.