Justin Atkins’ final day of the FLW Forrest Wood Cup fishing tournament didn’t get off to a good start, but he wound up bringing the heaviest string in the tournament Sunday.
Travis Fox had come to the scales at Colonial Life Arena and shot to the leader spot with a 21-pound, 9-ounce bag of five fish, for a three-day total of 56-11. He kept that lead when Prosperity angler and 2014 Forrest Wood Cup champion Anthony Gagliardi finished the tournament with a 15-2 effort Sunday and a 51-3 weight for the weekend.
Then Atkins, who was in second place behind Greenwood’s Brandon Cobb, walked up with a 22-1 string that put him in the top spot for good, at 59-4.
“It’s hard to put that into words,” Atkins said about winning against a field that included the several Forrest Wood Cup champions, 2017 Angler of the Year Bryan Thrift, 2006 Angler of the Year Gagliardi, and Cobb, Atkins’ roommate for the tournament and friend. Last year, Atkins was just a spectator.
“I’ve looked up to these guys for a long, long time,” he added. “I was just telling Bryan a minute ago that this time last year, I was following him around on the final day of the Cup and dreamed about getting to be here.”
When Cobb delivered just four fish and a 15-10 weight for a tournament total of 54-10, Atkins was in the clear for the Forrest Wood Cup and a $300,000 check.
“To win this is unbelievable and life-changing,” he said. “It’s a dream come true.”
Atkins had struggled getting fish to bite in the early morning, missing fish a couple of places. He tried an area he hadn’t been to yet in the tournament, a place where he knew there were fish.
“I’m a calm cool person, but I’m literally about to go in a meltdown,” he told the crowd that packed Colonial Life Arena, which had an attendance of 68,315 over three days of weigh-ins.
He left that spot and rode to another area where he knew a couple of cane piles were, and his luck began to change. There, he put out a line, and a five-pounder ate it.
“I get him in the boat,” Atkins said. “Then I sail across the water, get another five-pounder in the boat. Things are going good, and the rest of the day goes like that. I couldn’t make a wrong decision. It was the greatest day of bass fishing in my life, it seems like.”
For Gagliardi and other anglers, preparations for next season have already begun — along with thoughts about how to fish Lake Murray in future events.
“I got sucked into schooling, that’s what it came down to,” Gagliardi said. “I had 80 cane piles I could have ran to if that’s all I wanted to do. I couldn’t run and gun and fish the schools too, it takes too much time. The schools I were seeing were too big for me to not try to catch them. I caught 21 pounds of fish doing that on the first day, but I may have fished only two or three schooling spots. The schooling fish were awful big and they were running pretty strong this week, and that’s what I like to do.”
Cobb said he will remember his third consecutive top 10 Cup finish not so much from the fishing, but from the crowd of boats that followed him.
“It was pretty absurd,” he said. “At one point this morning, I didn’t know how many boats it was, but I noticed a whole creek was ruined after I drove through it. Out of everything I remember from the whole week, I won’t remember catching a six-pounder or anything, but I’ll remember so many boats I couldn’t see the lake.”
Final Standings, With Money
Day 1, Day 2, Day 3
1. Justin Atkins
21-5, 15-14, 22-1
2. Travis Fox
18-3, 16-13, 21-9
3. Brandon Cobb
19-12, 19-4, 15-10
4. Bryan Thrift
19-4, 14-9, 18-2
5. Anthony Gagliardi
21-1, 15-0, 15-2
6. Michael Neal
16-0, 14-4, 15-13
7. Scott Suggs
14-13, 13-11, 14-11
8. Scott Martin
15-14, 16-0, 9-6
9. Wesley Strader
14-6, 13-14, 5-14
10. Aaron Britt
15-9, 14-1, 1-4