“I’m kind of done talking about it.”
Anthony Gagliardi was understandably a bit frustrated. Since winning the Forrest Wood Cup a few weeks ago, after a nearly impossible road to qualification and fending off the hometown jinx associated with such a title, all people could talk about was his morals.
And most weren’t even people he knew.
Gagliardi had fallen victim to the Internet, where forum lurkers come out of the woodwork to chime in on subjects they know little about, but on which they become instant experts.
Since winning the title, Gagliardi has been the subject matter on bass fishing’s unwritten laws and code of ethics. Photos taken during the event show Gagliardi fishing just a few feet from a local angler who was first to the spot the final competition day. Post-tournament press conferences included stories of verbal confrontations and “throwing over each other's lines.”
Internet chatter was about Gagliardi being a bully and trying to pull rank because he was a big-league bass pro. Some called for his disqualification or fines for “unsportsmanlike conduct," even bashing event organizers and tournament fishing in general.
I skipped all that and called him. Here’s what I found out, straight from the competitor who lived it:
The local fisherman in question was in the area Gaglairdi stopped at – and was initially 100 yards or more from Anthony. The location wasn’t a “spot” but a general area, likely 3 or more acres in size, where bass schooled.
When schooling fish were busting, both anglers came together and would cast in the direction of the fish; oftentimes each threw over the other’s line. At times, the local angler cast across Gagliardi’s trolling motor.
The local angler’s biggest concern was that the observers and tournament press would call attention to his fishing spot.
Although there were tense moments and the local angler sent several derogatory remarks Gagliardi’s way, after a while the two became somewhat cordial and even talked about striper fishing.
While most opinionated fans have likely been far less informed, and thus made rash comments based on perception rather than facts, I think the bigger picture here is the general trend we’re seeing in tournament bass fishing.
Today’s anglers, both recreational and tournament-driven, are far more advanced and possess far better equipment than those of a generation ago. A case in point: Last season I had a trolling motor on my boat that steered me along contour lines on my mapping software and remotely anchored me on my waypoints.
The open waters of our favorite impoundments, once a vast “unknown," are now scoured by knowledgeable anglers hourly. A few offshore fisheries have actually gained a reputation as havens for cutthroat anglers who regularly move in on successful fishermen and blatantly cut them off, whether there’s money on the line or not.
What’s left are fisheries where multiple boats often share fishing locations, especially those found offshore, as was the case with Gagliardi's “hole” in question.
However, after a quick review of the points expressed by those bashing Gagliardi's actions, it appears not everyone is on the same page. And therein lies a lesson we all must painfully learn.
While I yearn for the days when open-water fishing was a remote escape, in today’s age it’s no different than going down the bank. Yet, as evidenced by the comments gathered in dozens of forum pages, many bass fishermen are simply unaware of this fact regarding some of the nation’s top bass waters. As Gagliardi put, "If only one boat fished each hole at Pickwick, about 30 boats could fish.”
Now I don’t like it any more than you do. But it appears it's a growing trend.
Looking back at the last few years in pro fishing, I vividly remember events on all tours where competitors fished bumper-boat style in open-water areas. Some resulted in cutthroat competition and on-the-water arguments. Others resulted in multiple fishermen working to “fire up the school," and everyone within casting distance thusly benefitting.
While this is the exception rather than the rule, it happens. And with the increased popularity many top fisheries are now experiencing, combined with the rapid learning-curve factors previously mentioned, it’s bound to start happening more often.
By no means am I an advocate for preaching at the general public and suggesting they give way when the big trails come to town. That’s absurd. As we’ve mentioned here before, it’s the general public that pays the bills for this sport and their dollars vastly outnumber those of the hardcore tournament fishermen.
However, I do find it interesting that I’ve seen very few remarks about the mentioned local fisherman’s choice to fish in the first place. I know one thing: If I’ve got some great offshore fishing location and the FLW or B.A.S.S. tours come to town, the last thing I’m doing is going fishing that day. Not during practice and certainly not on the final day of one of the largest fishing tournaments in the world, complete with observers, chase boats, national media attention, drone cameras and even helicopters.
I’m sure the paycheck for half a million takes out some of the sting, but I really hope Gagliardi's interaction with the local angler doesn’t overshadow his heroic feat in winning one of the sport’s greatest championships. As I sit back and observe, what I see from the fan base and media reminds me of reality TV and pop-culture life, where headlines feed off of sensationalism and opinion more than fact.
And that’s the last thing we need.
(Joe Balog is the often outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)