For the next several months, at the very least, South Carolina will be the bass-fishing capital of the world. Anthony Gagliardi poured in the first load of cement last summer, and Casey Ashley set the cornerstone among the all the snow and ice of February.
Gagliardi, from Prosperity, won the FLW Tour’s Forrest L. Wood Cup last July on Lake Murray. Ashley, from Donalds, won the Bassmaster Classic in February on Lake Hartwell.
Two great fishermen, two great fisheries, two great comebacks and two huge trophies and outsized paychecks.
Gagliardi started the final day of the Forrest L. Wood Cup in third place and won by a single ounce. Ashley started the final day of the Classic in fifth place and won by several pounds after recording the second-largest catch of the tournament.
Both Columbia and Greenville put on great shows as the host cities. At the Classic Expo, you might have had a half-mile walk from the parking lot to the TD Convention Center to act like a sardine jammed in any of the main thoroughfares in one of the main ballrooms, just to get within a stone’s throw of Kevin Van Dam — who must have autographed 10,000 shirts, hats and photos. I’ll bet he wants to qualify for the next Classic, just so he can get some relative rest for his right hand and wrist while he’s making a thousand casts a day.
Really, where did all those people come from? Did the last guy who left Charleston to drive four hours to get KVD’s autograph turn out the lights before he left town?
Sure, Gagliardi and Ashley were fishing on their home lakes, so maybe the stars and planets were all aligned — the FLW Cup and Bassmaster Classic in the same state in the same year — but in all the years the major professional bass circuits have crowned champions, only once has the winner been fishing on his home lake or river.
How many times did Woo Daves come up short on the James River? How many times did David Fritts watch somebody else carry off the trophy at High Rock Lake? How many times have fishermen from the same state won the two tournaments in the same year, no matter where they were held? Well, once actually, in 2008, when Californian Michael Bennett won the Forrest L. Wood Cup on Lake Murray and Californian Skeet Reese won the Classic on Louisiana’s Red River.
But the Gagliardi-Ashley doubleheader sweep is definitely one for the books. First of all, there’s a huge influx of cash for South Carolina banks. And there’s the opportunity for local and state tourism folks to make hay while the bass-fishing sun shines. Put the Palmetto State on the map, or redraw the map and make it bigger.
It’s definitely a year to remember.