Thrift clinches AOY, Long looks unstoppable

Pro leader Brent Long widened his lead Friday by catching 25 pounds, 4 ounces.

GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. - For two consecutive days, North Carolina buddies Bryan Thrift and Brent Long have stolen the show at the FLW Tour finale on Lake Guntersville. Today Thrift clinched the coveted Angler of the Year award by finishing the tournament in ninth place. Meanwhile, Long caught his third consecutive 25-pound stringer and pushed his lead to nearly 9 pounds. Thrift put in yet another workmanlike effort, catching a limit worth 18-3 Friday. Visibly exhausted, he seemed happy the week was over and was ready to start enjoying his latest milestone. "Angler of the Year is all about consistency," he said. "It means that I've caught the most not just for a week, but over the whole year. You can't have one bad tournament. Heck, you can't even have one mediocre tournament; these guys are too good. Bryan Thrift holds up one of the bass that helped him clinch Angler of the Year Friday. "A lot of things went my way this year. I didn't lose many fish and I've got a great sponsor (Damiki) that is producing some awesome new baits." One of those baits was a Damiki Mega Miki, an 11-inch worm that has a cup tail. Among others, the Miki was a producer this week at Guntersville. "I caught some on a Miki, some on spoon, some on a ChatterBait, some on a jig and some on a crankbait. Coming into today, I knew my area was pretty beat up. I basically did what I needed to do." Thrift then reflected on a season that included four top-10 finishes, his first FLW Tour win and now AOY. "I've wanted both so bad. To get them in same year is like shooting two birds with one stone. Hopefully I'll get a few more shots in the future." Long milks best area Heading out as boat No. 2, Long had his choice of prime areas this morning. And not surprisingly, he chose the same spot he's been working the past two days, a community area in the mid-lake region. One portion of it is a U-shaped ledge, and the best spot is only about as big as a bass boat. When he arrived there this morning the fish were breaking the surface chasing bait. They weren't giants, but Long took out a Strike King Shadalicious swimbait and caught a few of them anyway. "Those fish eventually went back down so I picked up a jig (hand-tied 3/4-ounce with Zoom Fat Albert Twin-Tail grub trailer). And for awhile, I had to just keep grinding away. I caught a few around 9 when they pulled some water, but it wasn't easy." Long slowly drags the jig over the ledge's rock bottom. Later in the day, he switched to a Norman DD22 crankbait and caught two. "The fish are lying on the slope between the top of the shelf and the bottom. They're not biting; they're just sitting. That's when I come in with a crankbait and burn it as fast as I can for a reaction bite." Long's total weight with one day remaining is 76 pounds, 7 ounces - an 8-pound, 12-ounce advantage over second. "That lead could mean a lot tomorrow. I'm heading straight to that spot again, but there could be more local traffic on a Saturday. If there is, I think I can run around if I have to. But I've caught all my fish in that spot. Why leave if I don't have to?" Rose slips off the pace Second place pro Mark Rose hauls in another keeper on day three. Veteran pro Mark Rose was not a happy camper after the day-three weigh-in. He missed two brutes that would have put him right next to Long, if not ahead of him. "I'm discouraged," Rose said. "Actually it's a two-edged sword. I'm thankful to be in the position I'm in and for all the fish I've caught, but an opportunity to win doesn't come around all that often. Maybe it just wasn't meant to be." Rose's day-three stringer weighed 17-12, by far his lightest of the week and pushed his total weight to 67 pounds, 11 ounces. "I've got a tall order to try to catch (Long). He's doing a great job. He's doing exactly what you need to do to win. I stumbled today, and you can't do that on Lake Guntersville. You've got to bring it every day, because (the fish) are out there." The Marion, Ark., pro continued to ledge fish Friday. He started the tournament with nearly 15 different areas and he's basically whittled that down to three really good ones. On the flatter areas he'll throw a spoon, on the ledgier structure he'll throw a swimbait and on the stump-filled slopes he'll burn the Strike King 6XD crankbait. Consistent Combs third Third-place pro Keith Combs had another productive day on Lake Guntersville - catching a limit worth 22-11.Like Rose and Long, Keith Combs is burning a crankbait as fast as he can along ledges to trigger reaction strikes. He positions his boat in approximately 26 feet of water and casts to about 12. "I figure these fish see a normal crankbait so much they won't even move for it. So I'm reeling mine as hard as I can trying to bounce it off everything there is down on the bottom." He didn't just use the 6XD Silent Stalker, he also employed a 3/4-ounce Oldham's jig and a 12-inch worm. But the crank is how he starts and ends his day. "The Silent Stalker gets down there quick and just eats the bottom up. It's erratic too. On a long cast, you get it down to 21 feet." Interestingly, Combs believes he can get a school to fire on his best spot so long as it's been left alone for a 30 to 45 minute period. "When I leave it for awhile and its real quiet, I catch a bite guaranteed on the first cast. The area just needs to rest I guess." If there is less boat traffic tomorrow, Combs will rotate other areas and come back to his primary one approximately 6 or 8 times during the day. With a three-day total of 66 pounds, 12 ounces, he'll need to have a banner day to catch Long. Fritts crushes 28 to make the cut David Fritts sacked a whopping 28 pounds to jumped into 4th place on day three.Fritts, the 2009 defending champion on Lake Guntersville, caught the heaviest limit of the entire tournament Friday. His five bass weighed 28 pounds even, bringing his three-day total to 65 pounds, 15 ounces. Most fishing fans would assume the Crankbait King is throwing a variety of Rapala DTs, but that's not the case. "I would throw cranks if they (TVA) would move some of that water," said Fritts. "Believe me, that's how I want to fish, but I had to change up. The bass are still there, but it's tough to get them to bite anything but plastics. But when you get one bite, you usually fire them up and get three or four." How good was the fishing for Fritts? He estimates he culled an additional 20-pound bag. "I threw back a 4.6, a 4.5, a 4.4, a 4 and several 3.15s. The best areas had real rough shell beds that you could barely get through." Walker targeting hippie fish Evinrude E-Team pro David Walker rose from seventh to fifth on the strength of a 21-pound, 12-ounce Evinrude pro David Walker rounds out the top-five finalists fishing on Saturday with a three-day total of 63-4.limit. Walker was the only pro to make the cut that is spending a significant amount of time shallow. His opening-round total was 63 pounds, 4 ounces. "I'm both flipping and ledge fishing," said the Sevierville, Tenn., native, who led the Guntersville event last year on days one and two. "I bet at least half of my fish have come from the grass." Walker starts his day by ledge fishing. But when the sun comes up he switches to the skinny water. With enough light, he can see through little pockets of grass in 4 to 6 feet. As the day wears on, he'll switch back to the ledges. "When I'm flipping, I'm using a 1-ounce jig with either a Chigger Craw or a Paca Chunk. I like a trailer with an erratic motion because 90 percent of bites are coming on the fall. With the heat and the sun, the grass is really growing. And largemouth bass are like hippies, they love grass. "When I'm ledge fishing, I use a big worm. Without any current, I won't use the crankbait." Day four of the FLW Tour event on Lake Guntersville will begin Saturday at 6 a.m. at the Lake Guntersville Resort State Park located at 7966 Alabama Hwy. 227 in Guntersville, Ala.

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