He lives on the lake in Prosperity, South Carolina, and has had great success on his home waters (to the tune of $730,000 winnings in MLF tournaments alone). On Championship Day – when it mattered most – Gagliardi didn’t disappoint, claiming a dominant win with a two-day total of 47 pounds, 12 ounces to eclipse runner-up Ott DeFoe by 4-11.
Gagliardi’s 26-13 on the final day was the best five-fish bag on the week and was emphasized by an 8-pounder he caught a few minutes before noon to claim the win in his hometown.
How Gagliardi did it
Much of the talk throughout the tournament was centered around spawning – either bedding bass or bass eating spawning herring. Gagliardi sampled a bit of both, but generally did something against the grain and relied on a drop-shot rig for his winning bass this week.
“I had a decent practice, but was also a little disappointed,” he admitted. “I had found a way to catch fish with a drop-shot but never felt like I’d found the winning fish. It was a consistent bite, but I didn’t think I could catch big enough fish to win. But, the bite kept improving every day.”
Gagliardi opened the event by posting 17-12 and backed it up with 17-8 the next day. That was good for a ninth-place finish in Group A to advance to the Knockout Round, where he totaled 20-15 to settle fifth (2-8 behind leader Jeff Sprague).
But, local favorite the saved his best for the final day, highlighted by his 8-0 (the biggest bass of the event), Gagliardi added a 5-12, 4-12, 4-6, and 3-15 for his impressive limit.
Gagliardi wasn’t sold on his “advantage”
With his stellar résumé on the Lake Murray – which includes a FLW Tour win in 2006 and a Forrest Wood Cup title in 2014 to go with a runner-up spot at the 2021 Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit tournament – you’d think that Gagliardi’s local knowledge was a significant factor. While it undoubtedly helped some, Gagliardi’s willingness to try something different than everyone else was the difference-maker.
“This time of year, a lot of the advantage is taken away because the bulk of the bass are shallow,” he said. “It’s a clear lake and everyone can see them on beds. Having some experience here helped a little, but some of the points I was fishing, I’d never really fished before. I’d fished the areas, but not those specific spots.”
Instead of visibly targeting fish busting on herring as many did, Gagliardi ran points in 8 to 12 feet of water and fished quickly. He focused on places where largemouth bass and stripers gathered to feed on herring, but found a way to target them when they were not visibly feeding on the surface.
“I was fishing staging points and places they would use to ambush herring, but stayed out a little deeper,” he said. “Instead of the typical fluke and topwater baits that we all use for herring spawn, I went with a drop-shot. I was looking for fish on my Garmin LiveScope and there were a lot of stripers around. I cast to stripers all week because every now and then you’d catch a nice bass out of there. Plus, the stripers won’t bite a drop-shot like they will other baits.”
His drop-shot rig wasn’t anything secret – a simple morning dawn 6-inch straight-tail finesse worm – but it worked to the tune of $100,000.
“It wasn’t fancy,” Gagliardi said of his winning pattern. “I just point-hopped with it all day and rolled with it. I did catch a few sight fish earlier in the week to help me advance, but that drop-shot was the main deal for me all week.”
A win for the hometown
The final period brought stiff winds, steady rain, and a drastic drop in air temperature. Still, people stuck around the ramp at Dreher Island State Park to congratulate Gagliardi on his win, making the victory even sweeter.
“It means a lot to win here in front of all my family and friends,” he said. “I’ll take a win anywhere, but it’s special to win one where you’re from. To have the support of my family, friends, and the community here means a lot to me.”
That weather that rolled in also helped him secure the win.
“That front this afternoon played into my favor because I had already built my lead,” Gagliaridi said. “It made it more difficult for those guys to fish effectively and catch up. What an awesome feeling this is; it all came together perfectly. You always want to have a good showing at your home lake and I was able to do that.”
Notes from the day
With his second-place finish, DeFoe now leads the Bally Bet Angler of the Year race by 13 points over Chris Lane.
The highest-finishing rookie at Lake Murray was John Hunter, who finished sixth, helping him climb to ninth in the AOY race after three events.
Three anglers (Gagliardi, Brent Chapman, and Lane) each posted bags over 20 pounds on each of the final two competition days.