By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Anthony Gagliardi, the 2006 FLW Tour Angler of the Year, and second-year pro Frank Clark have been disqualified from next week's Tour opener at Lake Okeechobee for violations of Rule 5, which covers restricted access and off-limits periods for tournament venues. They've thus become the first competitors to be severely impacted by rule changes the organization announced late last summer.
Both anglers were DQd for being on Okeechobee with ineligible practice partners inside the 30-day restricted-access window prior to the first Tour practice day. Gagliardi said he was familiar with the new rule, but it didn't come to mind when he practiced with a fellow South Carolinian almost 4 weeks ago for the Okeechobee Rayovac held earlier this month. Clark said he was simply unaware of the regulation change when he practiced with a friend who resides in Florida.
The applicable portion of Rule 5 is the first paragraph, which reads:
"Thirty days prior to the first practice day, pros are only permitted on tournament waters alone or accompanied by a contestant in the tournament, a member of their immediate family (mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter, grandparent, grandchild or spouse), approved sponsor representatives, approved youth age 18 or younger or approved media representatives. With prior approval from the tournament director, pros may participate in FLW, B.A.S.S. Elite Series, B.A.S.S. Opens, PAA and other pro/am tournaments featuring random partner draws within the 30-day window."
Prior to this year, competitors could practice with whomever they chose until the actual 13-day off-limits period.
Gagliardi now faces a severe challenge to qualify for the Forrest Wood Cup, which will take place on his home water (Lake Murray) in August. Unlike the Bassmaster Elite Series, there's no win-and-you're-in provision on the Tour – his only route into the Cup field is via the Angler of the Year (AOY) points list.
"It's probably mathematically possible, but I'd have to have the best five-tournament stretch of my career," he said. "This isn't like having a really bad tournament, where you still get 50 points or whatever.
"It'd have to be a better stretch than I had in '06 (when he won a regular-season event at Murray en route to capturing the AOY). They take fewer people (from the points list to the Cup) now and the size of the fields has changed the number of points available."
He said he hadn't planned to practice with the ineligible partner, who rode to Florida with him for the Rayovac and competed in that event as a co-angler. That situation came about purely due to logistics.
"What's crazy is he was supposed to fish with another friend who was already down there," he said. "We got in really late at night, so I told him to stay in the room with me and fish with me the next day (Jan. 6), then catch up with the other guy and fish with him the (following) 2 days.
"It was a silly oversight on my part that was totally meaningless – the guy knows nothing about the lake. If I was going to get DQd for something, I wish it was at least something that would've given me an advantage."
Clark competed in four of the six tour events during his 2013 rookie campaign, with a best finish of 99th at Okeechobee. Unlike Gagliardi, he said he was not aware of the new restricted-access rule.
"I don't get the text messages from FLW anymore, and I don't know why," he said. "They told me they'd sent me texts that said to be sure to read up on the rules, so it was an oversight.
"It's my fault – I just did not read them."
> To read BassFan's report on the new rules from last September, click here.