(Editor's note: This is part 1 of a 2-part story with 2006 FLW Tour Angler of the Year Anthony Gagliardi.)

In just 7 years as a tour pro, Anthony Gagliardi has achieved a level in the sport of professional fishing that few ever reach. And he did it all before his 28th birthday.

He won a tour-level event in 2004 – the Kentucky Lake FLW – and again this year at the Murray FLW Tour.

Then, after a string of consistent finishes, he clinched the 2006 FLW Tour Angler of the Year (AOY) title at the recent Champlain FLW Tour.

And he's currently ranked No. 6 in the BassFan World Rankings – territory traditionally populated by legend and near-legend names like Greg Hackney, Kevin VanDam, Mike Iaconelli and Skeet Reese.

For his AOY win, he banked $25,000 and a Ranger boat powered by Evinrude, along with the recognition of having won one of the four major titles in professional bass fishing.

BassFan spoke with him about the AOY title, what it means, and what he thinks about the future.

BassFan: You won the Murray FLW Tour this year, which was at your home lake, and AOY. Which meant more to you?

Gagliardi: I think the AOY definitely means more, but out of all the tournaments I've ever fished, Murray's the one I wanted to win most.

So I really did accomplish two things this year, and I never thought I would've accomplished both in the same year.

There's really two things I've ever wanted – to win on my home lake and AOY. They're both really special to me.

Last season, you were only 2 points behind J.T. Kenney in the AOY race with one event to go, but you couldn't clinch at the Potomac. This year you led the race with one event to go, and did clinch. Emotionally, were you in better shape this year than last year?

I was pretty calm and collected (this year). I've been doing this long enough that nerves don't really play a part anymore.

At morning before blast-off, and at check-in, I could definitely tell the difference between that (Champlain) and a regular tournament. But as far as being on the water, I felt I fished the same as I always do.

I didn't put any added pressure on myself. I never felt rushed or hurried. I'd had a pretty decent practice, and had a lot of confidence going into that event. I really felt good going in.

And the way my year was going, I really felt it was my time. My track record up there (at Champlain) has never been good – the previous two times I was out of the money. And it wasn't because I hadn't found the right fish. Each time I had the chance to make the Top 50 cut, but it never worked out. I'd catch a bad break or lose a few fish.

So this time I just felt like I was due.

So you felt more AOY pressure last year than this year?

I don't know. Honestly, I think last year, I gave myself just as good of a shot, and I actually came away in the tournament with a higher finish (37th last year vs. 44th this year), but the two guys who beat me (in AOY points last year) made the cut.

FLW Outdoors/Jeff Schroeder
Photo: FLW Outdoors/Jeff Schroeder

Gagliardi hopes to use his AOY crown to both strengthen his relationships with current sponsors, and open some new doors.

Last year I felt more pressure on me to finish higher because I was trying to come from behind. I knew I had to really catch them. This year, I had a little more room for error. It made it a little easier for me.

So yes, I really don't feel like I had as much pressure this last tournament than I did last year at the last tournament. But I will say that overall, I put more pressure on myself this year for AOY. It really was a goal since the start of the season.

With AOY in your mind this year, was there ever a time that you changed your fishing because of it – maybe fished more conservatively to keep points?

I don't think so. The first tournament at Okeechobee – that could never play into the equation because it was the first tournament. The second was at Murray. I definitely didn't fish conservative there. Then I was on a ton of good fish at Pickwick, and I don't think you can fish conservative there. You either catch them there or you don't. So it was just another tournament.

At Kentucky Lake, I actually fished less conservative than I should have. I targeted big fish, and that first day really hurt me, but I was able to have a decent comeback on the second day. (He was 143rd after an 8-pound day 1, then caught 19-06 on day 2 to finish 27th.–Ed.)

At Beaver, I fished what I'd found. I never really found a ton, but it was enough to keep myself in the Top 30.

I did win this thing (AOY), but I never had a finish (worse than) 50th place on the Tour this year. I think it's hard to even make a Top 50 finish anymore if you fish conservatively.

Has your life changed at all since the AOY win? Have you been more busy with media?

It's been kind of slow, actually. I don't think I've had near as many calls as when I won Lake Murray. But I've had two people call today (Tuesday).

I think it'll be more hectic toward the end of the week. That's when I got the bulk of my calls after Murray.

Do you feel this has opened some doors for you in terms of possibly adding some new sponsors?

Yes, I definitely do think it'll provide me with more opportunity. And it'll strengthen relationships with sponsors that I have now – it's something I can use to help them.

I have some photo shoots we're trying to set up with a couple of different sponsors I have already so they can get some exposure out of it. And I'm going to the Ranger dealers meeting next week and I'll be there for 3 or 4 days.


> This is the first year the FLW AOY won't appear on a Kellogg's cereal box. It was announced in the FLW Tour brochure prior to the start of the season that the FLWTC champion will instead get the cereal box.

> Gagliardi joined the Folgers coffee fishing team in April of this year.

> He currently runs a Ranger and Evinrude, but said he plans to sell the Ranger award boat he received for the AOY win.

– End of part 1 (of 2) –