By Todd Ceisner
Bryan Thrift can’t stand river systems. Just ask him – he’ll tell you how he’s never been able to figure them out and never gets comfortable no matter how many times he goes back. Basically, they’re his kryptonite.
Give him a reservoir where he can run and gun and skip docks and throw a topwater and he’s as good as any angler, maybe ever. This year, though, rivers were a crucial ingredient to his second career FLW Tour Angler of the Year title. Mainly because he didn’t implode over the final two events on the schedule.
“I just don’t understand them,” Thrift said. “Especially the two we went to. It seems like they’re all community holes and there are only fish in certain areas where you have to fish around everybody else. I can’t stand that. I can’t stand sitting there watching others guys catch fish. When I try to do it on a river, it usually doesn’t work.”
While his finishes at the Mississippi (59th) and Potomac (48th) were far and away his worst of the season, they capped off a memorable season for the 37-year-old from Shelby, N.C.
Rather than go home to decompress and relax before ICAST next month and the Forrest Wood Cup in August at Lake Murray, Thrift figures he’ll back on the water pretty soon.
“I love it,” he said. “I’ll go home this week and probably fish 2 or 3 days. To me, that’s the cure for anything. If I’m feeling down or depressed, I’ll go out on the lake and have a good day on the lake. If I feel like I’m in a slump or getting tired, I’ll call a buddy and we’ll go out and smash ‘em.”
Bryan Thrift in a slump? Ha, good one.
More of the Same
Thrift isn’t one to fix something that isn’t broken. His approach to tournament fishing works and he stuck to the program in 2017. He only pre-fished one event and that was just a one-day trip to the Harris Chain of Lakes in Florida.
“I usually take the season tournament to tournament,” he said. “That’s all I’m thinking about.”
After operating in Mark Rose’s shadow at the first two events – Thrift finished 2nd to Rose at both Lake Guntersville and Lake Travis – he continued his tear with a 6th-place effort at the Harris Chain and a 12th at Lake Cumberland in Kentucky.
It wasn’t until after his 3rd-place finish at Beaver Lake that his attention shifted somewhat to the AOY chase. By then, he’d built an 84-point lead with the Mississippi and Potomac rivers to go and ascended back to the No. 1 spot in the BassFan World Rankings. That’s when he shifted into don’t-screw-it-up mode.
“I figured with two rivers left and an 80-point lead, I had to finish 40th or better in both and I’d be fine,” he said.
A 59th-place finish at the Mississippi snapped his streak of finishing 12th or better in FLW Tour events at eight, dating back to last season. More importantly, only seven points had been shaved off his cushion.
Thrift went to the Potomac River with a 77-point cushion over three-time AOY Andy Morgan. It was the largest margin entering an FLW Tour season finale since at least 2001, when BassFan began archiving points standings after each tournament. Anthony Gagliardi’s 35-point lead entering the final event in 2006 had been the largest margin prior to this year.
Thrift relieved a measure of the pressure he was feeling with a 14-09 stringer on day 1. Morgan caught 15-07, but as long as Thrift stayed above 77th, there was nothing Morgan could do to pass him. Thrift came back with a 15-03 effort on day 2, including a 3-pounder on his first cast, and coasted to the title with a 48th-place finish.
This was the third time in Thrift’s career he was the points leader entering the final tournament. He turned a 21-point lead into a 51-point blowout to win his first AOY title in 2010. In 2015, he held a 9-point advantage going to the Potomac for the season finale. He finished 74th and slipped to third as Scott Martin captured his first career AOY crown.
This time around, he didn’t want to let another opportunity slip away at the Potomac.
“It feels great,” Thrift said. “It feels good to do it on the Potomac. After leading the AOY in 2015 and not winning it, it’s a good feeling to have the lead and be back here and get some redemption on the river.”
Travis & the Stinger
In a season full of highlights, Thrift pointed to Lake Travis as the one that stands out. He finished 2nd there in his FLW Tour debut in 2007, but it was a much different lake this time around with the water considerably higher.
“Practice was terrible,” Thrift said. “Numbers were good, but catching keepers was tough. To come out with 24 pounds on day 1 was the shock of all shocks. It was the most stunned I’ve ever been after a day of fishing. I didn’t know fish like that lived there.”
Of all the baits Thrift used this season to catch fish, he said one stood out above the rest. Some years, it’s a variety of lures that carries someone to the AOY title. For Thrift, the go-to bait was the Damiki Stinger, a soft-plastic stickbait with one end that tapers to a point. He relied on both the 4- and 5 1/2-inch versions.
“I caught half of my fish at Harris Chain and Travis and all my fish at the Mississippi, Beaver and the Potomac on it,” he said. “I caught them on everything from a Carolina rig, weightless, Texas-rigged and a Ned rig.
“It’s something I’ve used a lot, but I finally put together what all I could do with it. I’ve thrown it before, but never applied it to other situations. I finally figured out how versatile it was this year.”
> Thrift was the only FLW Tour angler to catch more than 300 pounds this season and his 341-01 total was nearly 59 pounds better than Morgan.
> Thrift joins Morgan (three), David Dudley (three) Clark Wendlandt (three) and Jay Yelas (two) as anglers with multiple FLW Tour AOY titles.