By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Bryan Thrift has done plenty of winning over the course of his 14-year tour-level career. He's also had quite a few of near-misses.
The 2019 FLW Cup champion who's in his inaugural campaign on the Bass Pro Tour has posted a pair of runner-up finishes in four outings this year. That jives with a theme that he's established over the years – if he finishes 2nd once, there's usually another one right behind it. The phenomenon occurred twice in back-to-back events during his lengthy and lucrative FLW run.
He finished a distant 2nd to winner Jordan Lee last week in the Heavy Hitters event at Florida's Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, catching seven fish in the Championship Round that combined to weigh 33-03. He employed a three-tiered approach that was quite different than what he'd expected to do.
"I went there thinking that flipping and throwing a frog was going to be the deal," he said. "Then the first day of practice I only had three bites, so on the second (and final) day I had to try something else. If they weren't shallow, they had to be offshore."
He found what he was looking for in isolated patches of hydrilla in Lake Toho. The vast majority of his fish came from the 6- to 7-foot depth range, with some being enticed by a swimjig, some by a Texas-rigged worm and others by a crankbait.
He rotated through four or five locales each day.
"I'd start with the swimjig every time – I had bigger line on it and sometimes the biggest fish would bite first, although that didn't happen all the time. Then I'd go to the worm and crankbait afterward.
"The main key was not panicking because the morning bite was very tough; I never started out catching them good in the first period. Later in that day, that stuff got better and better. I'd come back to a place where I hadn't caught anything in the morning at 12:30 or 1 o'clock and catch two or three off it."
> Swimjig gear: 7'3" heavy-action Fitzgerald Stunner rod, Abu Garcia Revo STX casting reel (7.3:1 ratio), 20-pound P-Line Tactical fluorocarbon line, homemade 1/2-ounce swimjig (white), generic plastic swimbait trailer (white).
> Worm gear: Same rod (7'), reel and line (17-pound), 1/4-ounce bullet weight, P-Line Punchin' Peg Sinker Stopper, 5/0 Berkley Fusion 19 offset worm hook, 11" Damiki Mega Mike (plum).
> He said the worm accounted for a substantial number of his biggest fish, including two over 6 pounds in the Championship Round.
> Cranking gear: 7' medium-heavy Fitzgerald Bryan Thrift Signature Series Squarebill Crank rod, Abu Garcia Revo Winch casting reel (5.4:1 ratio), same line (12-pound), Damiki BTC 60 (mossback).
A finesse-oriented approach paid off nicely for Mark Rose.
3rd: Mark Rose
Mark Rose encountered hot weather, glass-calm water and a lot of locals on the first practice day on Lake Toho. That gave him a notion that ended up paying off nicely.
"I just thought that with all the pressure that area was getting, I might want to downsize a little bit," he said. "They just ate up that little (Strike King) Fat Baby Finesse Worm that day."
He also used the company's 5- and 6.5-inch finesse models throughout the week. He handled some big fish on spinning gear (including a tournament-best 9-02 on his second day of the Qualifying Round that earned him a $25,000 bonus), but lost one that might've been even bigger in the Championship Round when it buried itself in hydrilla.
"The main thing for me was staying offshore and fishing the isolated grass and brush piles that I felt like I had to myself," he said. "Basically, I found some stuff that wasn't in the big grass-flat areas that most people were fishing. I was fishing targets that I don't think many of the locals even knew about. If they saw you there, they wouldn't know what you were fishing."
He boated five fish for 21-14 in the Championship Round.
"I fished clean and I don't think I would've don't anything different – I got good points and good money. I just didn't have enough new water to run (in the finals). I had like a dozen piles and patches of grass that were holding fish, but they were so small that they didn't hold big schools of them."
The 9-02 was the second-largest bass he's ever caught in competition. The biggest was a 10-15 – also from Toho in the 2001 B.A.S.S. event in which Dean Rojas set that organization's all time record with a 45-02 bag.
> Worm gear: 6'10" medium-action Lew's Pro Ti rod, Team Lew's Custom Pro spinning reel, 20-pound Seaguar Smackdown braid (main line), 12-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon (6' leader), 1/16- or 1/8-ounce bullet weight, 2/0 Mustad Big Bite hook, Strike King Fat Baby Finesse worm or 5" and 6.5" Strike King KVD Finesse worm (junebug).
A wacky rig was one of several techniques employed by Justin Lucas.
4th: Justin Lucas
Justin Lucas' finish was his best to date on the BPT – by 9 places. It was a darn sight better than his showing in the circuit's inaugural event at the Kissimme Chain in February 2019 (75th).
He pretty much matched Lee fish-for-fish in the first period of the Championship Round, but his bite vanished when the current picked up and he didn't catch another scoreable fish. He concluded the day with 19-15 on five fish.
"I didn't get a whole lot of bites in practice, but I caught some big ones," he said. "I didn't think the fishing was going to be as tough as it was, to be honest. I really don't know why that was."
He was determined to avoid fishing the hydrilla that attracted so many of his fellow competitors.
"My main thing was trying to find a clean, hard bottom – I tried to get away from most of the grass," he said. "A lot of the places had shell bottoms and some had little tiny brush piles.
His fish came from 3 to 5 feet of water on a variety of baits. He struggled through the first period of the Knockout Round and decided to abandon Lake Toho in favor of another body of water, but then stopped on some piles in front of the lock in the middle of the lake and caught four good fish. He then moved over to the lock and picked up several more.
> Texas-rig gear: 7'3" heavy-action Abu Garcia Fantasista Premier rod, Abu Garcia Revo MGX casting reel, 17-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line, 3/8-ounce bullet weight, 4/0 Berkley Fusion 19 offset worm hook, Berkley Power Hawg (junebug).
> Carolina-rig gear: Same rod, reel, line, hook and bait, 1/2-ounce weight, barrel swivel, 18" leader.
> Finesse gear: 7' medium-heavy Abu Garcia Fantasista Premier rod, size 30 Abu Garcia Revo MGX spinning reel, 8-pound Berkley x5 braided line (main line), 10-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon leader, 2/0 Berkley Fusion 19 wacky hook, 7" Berkley Fatty Bottom Hopper (junebug).
> He also threw a 1/4-ounce Berkley Fusion 19 shaky-head on the spinning gear tipped with a 7" Berkley MaxScent Hit Worm Magnum (blue fleck).
> 5th-place finisher Skeet Reese could not be reached for pattern information. The winner of the Group B Qualifying Round, he spent most of his time fishing current in Shingle Creek. A crankbait produced the vast majority of his fish.