In the 22-year history of the FLW Forrest Wood Cup, just five 20-plus pound strings of fish came in at the end of a single day.
Two of those strings came in Friday after the first day of Forrest Wood competition at Lake Murray.
Justin Atkins knocked Prosperity’s Anthony Gagliardi out of the top spot when the Florence, Ala., resident turned in a 21-pound, 5-ounce total at the weigh-in held at Colonial Life Arena.
Gagliardi, the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup winner, owned the lead with a 21-1 weight before Atkins came to the scales in the middle of the 53-fisherman field.
“I spent the last day of practice just idling through to see which spot had the most fish in it,” Atkins said. “I saw some schooling activity in one area, so I started in on that spot.”
Anglers left the docks on Lake Murray at 7 a.m. Atkins said he had his five-fish limit by 7:40. After that, he said he started running to areas he found in practice that he thought would be productive.
“I managed to catch a couple of good ones at about 10:30 at a spot that I saved where I thought I would catch a big one,” he said. “I caught a 5-pounder off it, and I went to another place that I felt that nobody would have found, and I caught a 6-pounder off it on my first cast.”
As the day went by, Atkins said he caught 20-25 fish before anglers started coming in at 3 p.m.
In the August heat, Lake Murray is not usually known for giving anglers big bags of fish. But on the cloudy Friday afternoon, the fish seemed to be biting.
“It’s kind of crazy. To think back on all the lakes that we fished over the course of the year, the biggest bag that I caught all year is here in August,” Gagliardi said. “It was just one of those days. It was probably the biggest fish I’ve ever caught fishing like I do out there. I’m probably not going to catch another one like that tomorrow, but I’ve still got some stuff left. I don’t perceive catching another 20-pound bag, but I’ve got bites.”
Despite the massive hauls, Atkins and Gagliardi will see a lot of competition as the anglers vie to make the 10-fisherman cut at the end of Saturday’s run. The final 10 anglers will compete for a $300,000 prize.
Greenwood’s Brandon Cobb is third with a five-fish weight of 19-12, and Shelby N.C. angler Bryan Thrift is fourth with his five fish totaling 19-4.
Travis Fox of Rogers, Ark., was one of the last anglers to come off the water, and therefore the last to come to the weighing table. He wound up snagging a fifth-place spot with five fish weighing 18-3.
“They say you save the best for last. I’m not the best, but I’m the last,” Fox told the crowd. “I was kind of worried about that, but that’ll just give me more time to practice and chill out. You hear these stories about the last guy out winning, and maybe I’ll get lucky. Who knows?”
All leaders brought in five fish
1. Justin Atkins
2. Anthony Gagliardi
3. Brandon Cobb
4. Bryan Thrift
5. Travis Fox
6. Larry Nixon
Bee Branch, Ark.
7. Michael Neal
8. Scott Martin
9. Aaron Britt
Yuba City, Calif.
10. Shane LeHew