By Todd Ceisner
Bryan Thrift knows enough to not get greedy at the FLW Cup, especially in the dead of summer.
On a day when he says he would’ve been satisfied with a 10-pound stringer, Thrift went ahead and brought back 15-03 from Lake Hamilton to seize the day-1 lead in Hot Springs, Ark. It was an unexpected turn of events for the North Carolina pro competing in his 13th straight Cup.
“It feels great,” he said. “Any time you can catch 15 pounds in August anywhere down south that’s a good day. It went a lot better than expected.”
The same could be said throughout the field. Nineteen anglers broke the 10-pound mark today and now the challenge becomes who among them can follow it up with a similar effort on Saturday when the race to make the top 10 for Sunday’s final round kicks into high gear.
Thrift certainly wasn’t ready to puff his chest out and predict he’ll wrangle another 15 pounds. He’s going to remain modest with his expectations as conditions are expected to change and boat traffic on the lake is likely to pick up.
“If I can catch 10 tomorrow, I’ll be happy with that,” he said.
So would Nick LeBrun, who seems to be unfazed by the atmosphere surrounding the Cup. LeBrun acquitted himself nicely in his Cup debut last year at Lake Ouachita (he finished fourth), and he laid a solid foundation today with 15-00, which has him in second.
“The weights are higher than I thought they’d be, including me,” LeBrun said. “I figured if I caught everything that bit, I’d have 12 or 13. To my disbelief, I had 15. It goes to show you never know in this sport.”
Kyle Walters, the reigning FLW Series Championship winner, was the first competitor to catch a limit this morning. Later on, he added a pair of four-pounders to get to 13-13, which put him in third, two ounces ahead of Jordan Osborne in fourth. Austin Felix rounded out the top 5 with a 13-05 limit.
The two Arkansas anglers in the field – Billy McCaghren (8th) and Larry Nixon (17th) – had strong starts and will be in the mix to advance to Sunday. Of the four previous Cup winners in the field, Scott Martin (12th) is in good shape while, David Dudley (26th), John Cox (28th) and Brad Knight (32nd) will be looking for big rallies on Saturday.
The weather conditions today were a departure from what the field endured through four days of practice. The blazing sun and high skies were replaced by overcast and sometimes rainy conditions. Some believe it prolonged the shallow bite and prompted some of the fish hovering around deeper brush piles to wander out away from the cover. Others stuck to their game plan regardless of what Mother Nature threw at them.
This is the first time in Thrift’s career he’s led after day 1 of a Cup where cumulative weight determines the winner. He had the heaviest stringer on day 1 of the 2007 Cup, but that event featured a head-to-head bracket format. Thrift, who has eight top-10 finishes at the Cup in his career, said he got the sense he was having a decent day at around noon.
“I had a 10-pound limit and I was happy with that,” he said.
Nick LeBrun seems to relish the spotlight that comes with the FLW Cup.
He culled three times in the afternoon to eclipse the 15-pound mark. He divvied up his day equally between bank-related areas and offshore brush piles, making sure to not recycle anything.
“This lake reminds of home,” he said. “When it’s cloudy, the fish roam more and they don’t tuck in tight. When it’s sunny, it puts them in the heart of the structure. We had considerable cloud cover today, which was something we didn’t have in practice and it kept me on the bank a good bit longer than I would have ordinarily.”
While Thrift drifted in and out, LeBrun seems committed to a skinny-water pattern that involves just one rod.
“I stayed shallow and I have a primary pattern where I’m just covering water,” he said. “I have a deal figured out that’s a little different and I feel like can go behind guys and get bit.
“My main goal was to have a good practice and figure out one pattern that would catch a big fish or two and keep it in my hand all day long. When it’s tough, it’s easy to venture off and try this or that, but I threw one bait 99 percent of the time. I’m committed to it rain, sleet or snow.”
He stayed on the lower and middle sections of the lake, but won’t be afraid to venture up the river if need be.
“It seems like my pattern works best in warmer water,” he added. “I have some cold-water stuff, but I didn’t go to it today.”
LeBrun’s bag was anchored by a 4-04 that he caught in the mid-morning and served as confirmation his pattern was going to be effective. Near the end of the day, he added a three-pounder off a spot he’d never fished before, picking up more than a one-pound upgrade in the process.
“You know it’s going your way when that happens,” he said.
Like LeBrun, Walters didn’t let the change in conditions alter his strategy today. The Florida native, who won the FLW Series Championship at Lake Guntersville last fall, spent most of his time combing offshore habitat.
“I didn’t get as many bites today because we didn’t have as much sun and the fish weren’t positioned where they normally would be,” he said. “I stuck with what I came out of practice with and did what I wanted to do.
Kyle Walters spent the majority of his day offshore.
"I thought the sun would peek out, but it just made the bite a little tougher. Tomorrow it’s going to change with more boat traffic and high skies. It’ll be more like practice.”
He wouldn’t mind a repeat of this afternoon either when he pulled up on one of his deepest spots and caught two four-pounders in the matter of five casts.
“I feel pretty good about (catching 10 pounds tomorrow),” he added. “If you can catch a big one, you’re in good shape.”
Felix said the only time he caught 13 pounds during practice was on Wednesday from 5 p.m. until he got off the water, so it would’ve been well after tournament hours. Needless to say, the Minnesota pro wasn’t expecting to see his name among the top five after day 1.
“It was a little bit of luck and scrambling,” he said. “I didn’t have a great practice doing anything. I did a little bit of everything. Today, I ran deep stuff, ran some bank stuff and schooling stuff. I was fortunate to get a two-pound bite or so just about every hour. I could easily come in with six pounds or less tomorrow, but I’ll essentially do the same thing.”
He saw most of the lake today, noting that one of his weigh-in fish was caught a half-mile from the launch ramp and another was caught within a half-mile of the dam that separates Lake Ouachita from Hamilton. Two of his best fish were caught out of a group of schoolers in the afternoon, but that’s not something he’s counting on moving forward.
“That’s such a wildcard,” he said. “I don’t know where I’m going to catch the next one or on which rod I’m going to catch it on. It’s just junk-finesse fishing.”
Day 1 Standings
1. Bryan Thrift -- Shelby, NC -- 15-3 (5)
2. Nick Lebrun -- Bossier City, La -- 15-0 (5)
3. Kyle Walters -- Grant Valkaria, Fl -- 13-13 (5)
4. Jordan Osborne -- Longview, Tx -- 13-11 (5)
5. Austin Felix -- Eden Prairie, Mn -- 13-5 (5)
6. Bryan Schmitt -- Deale, Md -- 12-15 (5)
7. Joel Willert -- Prior Lake, Mn -- 12-13 (5)
8. Billy McCaghren -- Mayflower, Ar -- 12-4 (5)
9. Jeremy Lawyer -- Sarcoxie, Mo -- 12-1 (5)
10. J Todd Tucker -- Moultrie, Ga -- 11-14 (5)
11. Erik Luzak -- Fenelon Falls, Ont -- 11-12 (5)
12. Scott Martin -- Clewiston, Fl -- 11-9 (5)
13. Cory Johnston -- Cavan, Ont -- 11-7 (5)
13. Matt Becker -- Finleyville, Pa -- 11-7 (5)
15. Matt Reed -- Madisonville, Tx -- 11-3 (5)
16. Kurt Dove -- Del Rio, Tx -- 11-0 (5)
17. Larry Nixon -- Quitman, Ar -- 10-9 (5)
18. Bradford Beavers -- Summerville, SC -- 10-4 (5)
18. Todd Castledine -- Nacogdoches, Tx -- 10-4 (5)
20. Dakota Ebare -- Denham Springs, La -- 9-8 (5)
20. Matthew Stefan -- Junction City, Wi -- 9-8 (5)
22. Ryan Salzman -- Huntsville, Al -- 9-5 (5)
23. Zack Birge -- Blanchard, Ok -- 9-3 (5)
24. Joseph Webster -- Winfield, Al -- 9-2 (5)
25. Brandon McMillan -- Clewiston, Fl -- 9-1 (5)
26. David Dudley -- Lynchburg, Va -- 9-0 (5)
26. Josh Douglas -- Isle, Mn -- 9-0 (5)
28. John Cox -- Debary, Fl -- 8-15 (5)
29. Jason Reyes -- Huffman, Tx -- 8-14 (5)
30. Casey Scanlon -- Lake Ozark, Mo -- 8-13 (5)
31. Braxton Setzer -- Wetumpka, Al -- 8-12 (5)
32. Brad Knight -- Lancing, Tn -- 8-8 (5)
33. Sheldon Collings -- Grove, Ok -- 8-5 (5)
34. Wade Strelic -- Alpine, Ca -- 8-4 (5)
35. Brian Latimer -- Belton, SC -- 8-1 (5)
36. Jon Griffith -- Mesa, Az -- 7-15 (5)
37. Tom Redington -- Royse City, Tx -- 7-11 (5)
38. Ron Nelson -- Berrien Springs, Mi -- 7-9 (5)
39. Adam Puckett -- Bloomington, In -- 7-2 (5)
40. Miles Burghoff -- Hixson, Tn -- 7-1 (5)
41. Blake Albertson -- Bloomington, In -- 6-13 (5)
42. Buddy Gross -- Chickamauga, Ga -- 6-11 (5)
43. Christopher Brasher -- Longview, Tx -- 6-10 (5)
44. Terry Bolton -- Benton, Ky -- 6-7 (4)
45. Kurt Mitchell -- Milford, De -- 6-4 (5)
46. John Voyles -- Petersburg, In -- 5-8 (4)
46. Andrew Upshaw -- Tulsa, Ok -- 5-8 (5)
48. Brennon McCord -- West Frankfort, Il -- 5-1 (3)
49. Preston Craig -- Philadelphia, Tn -- 4-15 (3)
50. Jared McMillan -- Belle Glade, Fl -- 4-7 (4)
51. Tommy Dickerson -- Orange, Tx -- 1-15 (2)
52. Joshua Weaver -- Macon, Ga -- 1-5 (1)