We are witnessing history. I know; I’ve seen it before.
I saw it when Fritts put 300 grand in the bank in one year, fishing FLW alone. I saw it when KVD took down four Classics in 11 years, and again when Jordan Lee went back to back. And I saw it again Sunday.
With his win at the Forrest Wood Cup, Bryan Thrift easily became the best bass fisherman in the world, record books and point races be damned. He’s completely overtaken the FLW Tour and become the most feared angler in the sport. And he surprised no one.
On stage the final day, Thrift’s wife, Allison, gave the most influential speech of the week, describing how she’d kept her super-human husband in check, trusting faith and patience to deliver their blessings of good fortune. She cried. Chris Jones cried.
Bryan Thrift didn’t cry. And surprised no one.
The week was one built for storybook endings. Hot Springs proved the perfect venue to test the skills of many of the country’s best anglers; a town fully enveloped in competitive bass fishing, capable of packing an arena for the final day weigh-in. FLW’s staff played their best hand, keying on the conservative, family feel the organization’s known for, business as usual. And in the end, their prodigal son hit it out of the park.
It’s funny; ironic, really, that I’d spent nearly a week with Bryan Thrift at the beginning of the season, attempting to unlock his secrets on the field of battle. As a ride-along marshal for the Toho event last February, I was paired with Thrift, both in practice and competition, as he fished his way to another top-10.
I’d use my observations to build a piece on Thrift’s methods. At the time, nothing stood out more than the ordinary practices of one of the world’s best anglers. Therein lied the enigma.
At times, I feel like the Forrest Gump of professional bass fishing, routinely bearing witness to events that would forever change our sport, almost before they happen, as I shadow some of the most unique individuals in the world on their quest toward what could be described as nothing less than fate. Since that time, I’ve routinely contemplated what makes Thrift so good, so unflappable in the face of turmoil.
At Hot Springs, we watched Thrift charge out of the gate to establish a lead, one he’d never relinquish. By day 2, he was up a pound-and-a-half. I caught up with him that evening behind the scenes.
“It is what it is,” Thrift calmly commented. “You’re either gonna win, or you’re not.”
I wonder what went through his head that final morning. If he was nervous, he certainly didn’t let on for the cameras. It would be just another day of fishing. Another day in the life of Bryan Thrift.
Mindful fans would recognize Thrift’s methods that fateful day. Twenty rods on the deck. Constantly active, searching; his head on a swivel as he seemed to never settle in. Cast, move, observe. Adapt.
Watching Thrift fish is almost fatiguing to the recreational angler. Never satisfied, he’s always looking for a more productive way to catch bass. Fishing, you see, is limitless.
As a fan, Thrift’s persona draws similarities to VanDam’s during KVD’s period of dominance. It’s as if he’s the only angler on the lake; competitors seem just a temporary inconvenience. We’ve heard the old saying before: fish against the fish. But rarely have we witnessed it performed.
There’s an understandable desire to root for the underdog. To watch in awe as a young gun makes a last minute decision that would seal his fate, or a veteran wards off retirement and climbs to the top one last time. It’s Randy Howell crying all the way to check-in. Cochran winning at home and hanging it up. Takahiro when he “knew it."
But there’s equal value in the best going out and proving it. In a sport that constantly faces criticism of legitimacy, one that was once regarded as a measure of luck, we need proof of what’s possible. Real, tangible proof.
Bryan Thrift gives us that. He gives it to all the high school kids heckled for not playing football, and the college kids trying to convince their dads.
He gives it to the wives wondering what’s gotten into their husbands. And to the countless touring pros wondering just how they’re going to pay their mortgages.
And he gives it to us, the fans, who wait in the wings for a hero.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: When there’s money on the line, my money’s on 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.)