By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

After just one event, Terry Bolton has already ensured that 2018 will be the most profitable season of his long FLW Tour career. And he now owns a piece of hardware that's long eluded him.

The Kentuckian began his 23rd Tour campaign by winning the weather-delayed season opener on Monday at Sam Rayburn Reservoir in Texas. He caught a 17-06 final-day stringer that held off rookie Nick LeBrun, the reigning BFL All-American champion, by 12 ounces.

LeBrun made the final tally extremely close by catching a 21-06 stringer that pushed his total to 90-07. Bryan Thrift, now the all-time record-holder for top-10 finishes in Tour competition, ended up 3rd with 88-13 following a 19-15 effort Monday.

Chad Warren's day-best 23-02 haul gave him the No. 4 slot with an 83-13 aggregate. Veteran Texan Jim Tutt completed the top 5 with 78-07 (15-10 on day 4).

Colby Schrumpf finished 6th with 70-07 and the next three anglers on the list Sam George, Jordan Osborne and Tom Redington all concluded with 67-10. Canadian Charles Sim finished 10th with 60-02.

Bolton, a 13-time FLW Cup qualifier with over $1 million in earnings, had competed in 146 prior Tour events without a victory. He thought he might've blown this one when he lost a 4 1/2-pounder at the net in the closing minutes of the final day, but it turned out that the three culls he'd made earlier were enough to hold off LeBrun and capture the $125,000 top prize.

He took control of the derby with a tournament-best 33-09 sack on day 2. His combined weight for the final two days was 37 pounds even.

FLW/Jody White
Photo: FLW/Jody White

Recalling a pep talk from Scott Martin that occurred a couple of days earlier helped Bolton on the final day.

"It feels pretty amazing," he said. "It's been a long time coming and I've had a lot of close calls. I'm getting so many (voicemails) and texts that it's going to be impossible to answer them all. It just feels really great."

He almost called an end to his Tour-level career after struggling badly last season, but new wife Dacy (they were married in September) talked him out of it.

"She said you're not retiring, you're going to go fish and I said okay, I'd do another year. I don't think I gave my best effort through the motions. This year I was determined to get back to the enjoyment of it.

"Scott Martin pulled me aside (on Saturday) and said, 'Hey, this has gone on long enough. You're not going to lose this one; you're going to make the right adjustments. I kept thinking about that all day, especially when I was struggling. Then I made a move and made those three culls, and that move is what won it."

The trio of upgrades, which he said boosted his bag by at least 3 pounds, came courtesy of a Rapala DT 10. That lineup of crankbaits (he also employed a DT 14 and a DT 16) produced the majority of his fish during the event.

LeBrun not Bummed

LeBrun came within a pound of winning his initial Tour-level event.

"There's a lot of mixed emotions," he said. "Even if I'd finished 10th today, I'd still be excited and thrilled with the way the week went, but at the same time I came real close (to victory). The bottom line is I caught 90 pounds without catching a 7-pounder all week and if you do that and don't win, it's just not your day. I'll sleep fine.

"I'm super-happy for Terry he deserved to win more than anybody in the field."

He went through about 20 keepers, but made only one cull after 10 o'clock. His final bag contained two that were in excess of 5 pounds each.

FLW/Jody White
Photo: FLW/Jody White

Nick LeBrun came within a pound of winning his debut event on the FLW Tour.

He began the tournament cranking, but a 3/4-ounce V&M Baits LeBoom spinnerbait was his primary weapon over the final 3 days.

Thrift Needed More

Thrift, who prevailed the last time the circuit visited Rayburn in 2014, figured his only chance to win was to catch at least 27 pounds on the final day. He ended up more than 7 pounds shy of that mark.

"That's the number I had in my head," he said. "I scrambled around and did everything I could.

"I'm very happy with the finish. The two guys who beat me both had giant bags one day and I never had a huge day like that. Those are the days you need to have to win on Rayburn."

He handled 20 to 25 keepers Monday, but none exceeded 5 pounds.

"I probably had 17 pounds by 10 o'clock, then I culled for a couple ounces here and there throughout the day to get where I was."

His arsenal for the event included a Carolina rig, a Damiki stinger on a football-head jig, a swimbait and a crankbait."

Warren had Fun

Warren's placement was his second among the top 4 in just eight career Tour outings he was the runner-up at the Mississippi River in 2017.

"It feels good," he said. "I wish I'd caught them better on the day I only had 16 pounds because maybe I'd have had a chance to win, but it was fun.

FLW/Kyle Wood
Photo: FLW/Kyle Wood

Bryan Thrift turned in yet another single-digit finish at Rayburn.

"I don't know what the deal was that day I caught just as many fish, but I just never got any big bites; they were all 3-pounders. I got four big ones today.

His final-day stringer was highlighted by a 7-pounder. He caught his first two big ones on a crankbait and the other two on a Neko-rigged stickbait.

"I lost one right before I came in (for weigh-in)," he said. "I went back to my starting spot and I had one that I loaded up on with the crankbait, but I never moved here. She shook her head a couple times and came off."

Tutt Reminiscent

The tournament carried some special signficance for Tutt: It occurred during the same timeframe as last year's Southwestern FLW Series derby at Rayburn and his father had passed away on the eve of that event.

"He was my traveling partner for years," he said. "That kind of got my whole season jacked up and this felt like a little bit of redemption."

He had his marshals keep track of the number of fish he caught each day and the total for day 4 was 70.

"When you catch that many you'd think you'd get at least one that was 5 pounds or bigger, but it didn't happen. I was realistic about today I started 11 pounds (behind Bolton) and kept milking my same areas culling a little bit at a time, and then every once in awhile I'd gain a pound. Every place in the standings is some pretty good money."

He caught all 20 of his weigh-in fish on a Berkley Bad Shad 7 crankbait.

Day 4 (Final) Standings

1. Terry Bolton -- Benton, Ky -- 20-10 (5) -- 33-9 (5) -- 19-10 (5) -- 17-6 (5) -- 91-3 (20) -- $125,000

2. Nick Lebrun -- Bossier City, La -- 29-2 (5) -- 19-2 (5) -- 20-13 (5) -- 21-6 (5) -- 90-7 (20) -- $30,000

3. Bryan Thrift -- Shelby, NC -- 20-15 (5) -- 23-0 (5) -- 24-15 (5) -- 19-15 (5) -- 88-13 (20) -- $25,000

4. Chad Warren -- Sand Springs, Ok -- 25-7 (5) -- 18-15 (5) -- 16-5 (5) -- 23-2 (5) -- 83-13 (20) -- $20,000

5. Jim Tutt -- Longview, Tx -- 23-9 (5) -- 21-11 (5) -- 17-9 (5) -- 15-10 (5) -- 78-7 (20) -- $19,000

6. Colby Schrumpf -- Highland, Il -- 15-5 (5) -- 22-1 (5) -- 15-3 (5) -- 17-14 (5) -- 70-7 (20) -- $18,000

7. Jordan Osborne -- Longview, Tx -- 25-1 (5) -- 16-8 (5) -- 15-3 (5) -- 10-14 (5) -- 67-10 (20) -- $17,250

8. Tom Redington -- Royse City, Tx -- 17-10 (5) -- 18-4 (5) -- 18-15 (5) -- 12-13 (5) -- 67-10 (20) -- $16,000

9. Sam George -- Athens, Al -- 28-5 (5) -- 11-4 (5) -- 14-10 (5) -- 13-7 (5) -- 67-10 (20) -- $15,000

10. Charles Sim -- Nepean, On -- 15-13 (5) -- 22-10 (5) -- 13-12 (5) -- 7-15 (4) -- 60-2 (19) -- $14,000