The headlines seemed almost contradictory. One day, the big news was all about how badly Bryan Thrift had slumped, the next day I’m reading about him winning a tournament. To the casual observer, such a coincidence might seem to be an attempt at journalistic sensationalism. But I can assure you it wasn’t, as Thrift’s interview following his Okeechobee spin-out sounded more of “doom and gloom” than ever before for the FLW standout.
But then, immediately following, Thrift again established himself as one of the best players in the game with a Costa Series win at the Santee Cooper lunker factory.
When I again briefed Thrift’s sorrowful interview from earlier, I found an interesting statistic originally reported here by the BassFan snoops. It seems that, following his most recent triple-digit finish (107th at Hartwell in 2014), Thrift also won the next tournament on his schedule. Interesting, I thought.
As any tournament competitor knows, it’s often incredibly difficult to rid your mind of a bad finish and replace it with confidence going into the next tournament. I can personally attest to many long rides home that found me mad at the world following poor events. Evidently, Thrift has found a way to separate himself from this. Or he just takes out his frustrations on the fish.
I decided to call him and get the low-down. I didn’t want answers to normal questions about why he’s so good, or how his fishing style fits certain venues but not others. Instead, what I wanted to know is what makes him tick. In our world of superstars who now seem to win effortlessly, what could take a guy from zero to hero so fast, and so regularly? How does Thrift put himself in contention to win – and often do so – despite his current position, streak, or past history?
As I suspected, I caught Thrift on the lake. In fact, during our brief conversation, he throttled up and moved once, and sounded to be frothing the water the entire time. Evidently, this guy operates on only one speed.
Thrift has fished professionally for 10 years, and is the primary bread-winner for his family, consisting of his wife and 5-year old son. He credits the little guy for helping him release from a bad finish. “When I get home,” he says, “ I like to play with my son. And you sure can’t be mad when you do that.”
I mention to Thrift that I’ve often felt that childlike innocence – where everything is possible and each day is a good day – that uniquely corresponds to the successful mind of a fisherman. He agrees and adds that, “You can’t change the past. All you can do is learn from it and try to figure out where you messed up.” From his tone, I believe him.
Thrift also confirms that his love for fishing, and time on the water, has never waned since his early days. Even when not on Tour, Thrift still spends a minimum of 2 or 3 days a week on the water, often testing and tweaking to better himself and remain open to options. Thrift confirms that, when he aims to learn a new technique, he’ll often spend the entire day utilizing only that lure.
Perhaps Thrift’s ability to separate himself from negativity also flows through his practice style. As reported years ago, Thrift confirms that he never saves waypoints from any body of water from year to year. As that has continued to baffle me, I ask him again point blank. “Never,” he says. “If a spot’s that good, I’ll remember where it is.”
Credit can also likely be given to Thrift’s business relationships. He’s a firm believer in keeping a base of sponsors for as long as possible, and not “bouncing around” from one supporter to the next. In fact, Thrift’s main sponsor, Damiki, has been with him for the entire duration of his career. “It’s a family relationship,” he mentions.
Again, I think how this small, overlooked variable makes it much easier to breathe when the pressure’s on, and facing a streak of bombs. Nothing helps a tournament angler relax more than knowing the world’s not going to end, and the mortgage will still get paid, even if he doesn’t weigh a limit.
Finally, perhaps the secret to it all of it is in Thrift’s constant belief in the possibility of perfection. “The cool thing about fishing,” he mentioned “is that you never know. On any five casts, you could catch the five biggest fish in the lake.”
Yeah, maybe. But it helps to be Bryan Thrift.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)