Do You Believe? By Bruce Callis

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The FLW held their championship this past weekend, the Forrest Wood Cup. Unlike some, they still finish the year with a big bang. Lake Murray in Columbia, SC set up to be a great event for the top 53 anglers. And in the end, only one could be crowned as the winner, the Champion! This year, it was rookie angler Justin Atkins of Florence, Alabama taking the lead on day one to get things started.

Thursday saw Justin Atkins, FLW rookie secure the early lead bringing in an impressive 21 pound 5 ounce five fish limit, and the largest limit weighed in on Lake Murray in Forrest Wood Cup competition. It was just 4 ounces larger then Anthony Gagliardi of Prosperity, SC limit, who brought in 21 lb 1 oz, sitting him firmly in 2nd place. Brandon Cobb, Greenwood, SC, caught 5 fish weighing 19-12, landing him in 3rd place to start the tournament. Bryan Thrift, Shelby, NC, and 2017 AOY, had a nice 19-4 bag to take 4th place and Travis Fox of Rogers, AR rounded out the top 5 with a 5 fish limit of 18 pounds 3 ounces. The General, Larry Nixon of Bee Branch, AR sat in 6th place with 17 lb 13 ounces. Rounding out the top 10 were Michael Neal, 7th, Scott Martin, 8th, Aaron Britt, 9th, and Shane LeHew in 10th place.

Justin fished only one bait all day on day 1, a chrome ima Little Stick 135, catching a limit by 7:40 am. He then started to run areas from practice looking to upgrade. Around 10:30 he caught a nice 5 pounder and then hit another spot, he caught a nice 6 pounder. Figuring he had a nice bag to start with, he actually spent the afternoon graphing and looking for more areas to be ready for day two. Atkins said, “I’m fishing more of a pattern rather than certain areas or spots.” He was targeting the cane piles and the fat blueback herring eating largemouths that hung around them.

On day 2, Brandon Cobb continued to find bass with another 19 pound bag limit, 19-4, to take over the lead with 39 pounds total. Justin Atkins stumbled a little an fell into second with a 15 lb 14 oz limit, 1 lb 13 oz behind the leader. Anthony Gagliardi finished day 2 sitting in 3rd place with 36-1, 2 pounds 15 oz off the lead. Travis Fox sat in 4th with 35 pounds, and Bryan Thrift had 33-13 to hold onto 5th place. The top 10 rounded out with Scott Martin, Michael Neal, Aaron Britt, Scott Suggs, and Wesley Strader.

Cobb was throwing 3 different topwater baits and a Zoom fluke. He said he hit about 40 different places during the day, mostly running from one cane pile to the next on the lower end of the lake. He was also fishing some more subtle drops and rock features, where schools of bass were eating the herring. Captain Cobb is still nursing a sore foot that is still mending from a broken bone he suffered in May.

Championship Sunday saw the top 10 anglers fighting to be crowned FWC Champion. Some struggled, but for Justin Atkins, runner up in the Rookie of the Year race, it was another day to shine. He brought a 22 lb 1 oz bag limit, the second heaviest limit ever weighed in the 22 year history of the Forrest Wood Cup to the scales to edge out Travis Fox by 2 pounds 9 ounces and win his 1st tour event and the $300,000 top cash prize. Brandon Cobb finished out the tournament in 3rd place with 54-10 and Bryan Thrift finished in 4th place with 51-15 to earn $37,500. Anthony Gagliardi rounded out the top 5 with 51-3 and winning $30,000. Michael Neal, Scott Suggs, Scott Martin, Wesley Strader, and Aaron Britt rounded out the field and the top 10 FWC contenders.

Justin Atkins started the year “out on a limb of faith.” He didn’t have the money to fish the full Tour when he started, having only enough money to fish about 4 events, “and I was hoping I would make it. I felt like God had a plan, and that’s what I was supposed to be doing. I just went out there and fished.” He fished for Mississippi State team in college and came up through the ranks with other young pros making their debut this year. The future of the FLW looks very promising.

It doesn’t matter sometimes, we just have to follow our dreams, even when the odds are slim. When you are doing what you love, every day is a blessing. When you believe in yourself, you make sacrifices to make it happen. We study, we practice, we do without so we can achieve. We put our trust, in ourselves and our abilities. Do you trust in yourself enough to go for the goal? I’ll never be a top angler on the FLW, but I trust in my abilities to want to be the best angler I can be. I believe I can, therefore I can. No one can tell me otherwise. Do you believe in yourself? Do you believe?

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