May 17, 2013 by Brett Carlson
EUFAULA, Ala. - Leave it to Bryan Thrift to find a happy medium between fishing fast and fishing offshore. While the North Carolina native is known for running and gunning around shallow docks, he's taken a similar approach, albeit offshore, on Alabama's Lake Eufaula this week. As a result, he's leading the fourth Walmart FLW Tour qualifier of the year at the tournament's halfway point.
Thrift spent 12 hours each of the three practice days idling around, looking for the first place bass would retreat to after the spawn. The only fishing he did in practice was to sample the shad-spawn bite early each morning. After that, it was back to the offshore grind. It was laborious, boring and hot, but the hard work has paid off.
"I have 60 or 70 one-stop places and I'm fishing at least 50 spots throughout the day," said Thrift, who has two previous top-10 finishes at Lake Eufaula. "I'm pulling in and making four or five casts, and then I'm moving somewhere else. All of the big fish that I have caught over the last two days have been biting on the first or second cast."
Thrift elaborated on his program, but wouldn't name the bait he's using.
"Every stop I make, there is something down there - hard spots, standing timber, brush piles - something that is up off of the bottom a couple of feet. If you make the right cast and they are there, they're going to bite it."
These spots vary in depth from 6 to 15 feet, but he's definitely off the bank. In some areas, he's just a few yards off, others a few hundred.
"Sooner or later, you pull up on the right area and catch a good one. I think I can keep it up for the next two days, but it's so random. I only caught seven keepers today."
When it was said and done, Thrift weighed 16 pounds, 15 ounces, giving him a two-day total of 37 pounds, 5 ounces. Anchoring his day-two stringer was a 5 1/2-pounder that bit early.
"That was a difference maker and I've been fortunate enough to catch three of those this week. The last few tournaments I had been catching a bunch of fish but no big bites. I'm just glad to finally get a few of those big bites."
Several things are working in Thrift's favor. The water continues to warm as the air temperature has pushed into the mid-80s the past few days. Additionally, Eufaula's clarity is improving and the water level is dropping - all variables that point to an exodus from shallow to deep. Still, Thrift doesn't like the randomness of his pattern.
"There's really no rhyme or reason to it. I can't tell which spots I'm going to get a bite out of. I caught that 5 1/2-pounder today where I never had a bite yesterday. The spot where I caught two 5-pounders yesterday, I never had a bite today. You just have to keep running and have the confidence that sooner or later you are going to pull up on the right place and make that right cast and catch a good one."
After dominating EverStart events and other regional tournaments on the Tennessee River, Randy Haynes is developing quite the reputation as an offshore stick. He's a little out of his element this week on the Chattahoochee, but thus far is adjusting well. After catching 17-3 on day one, Haynes caught 17-11 on day two for an opening round weight of 34 pounds, 14 ounces.
"I'm just not dialed in quite right," said Haynes, the EverStart Series Pickwick Lake champion. "I can see a school of six or seven fish but I'll only catch one or two and that's it, it's over. I just don't think the majority of fish are out there yet."
Haynes said he currently has six main spots and tries to find new schools every day.
"I'm happy with my weight, but I missed a few and I couldn't cull out a 2 1/4-pounder. That was pretty frustrating."
Haynes said he's not really looking at his graphs, instead just picking up a plug and going down the river bars.
"I'm mainly fishing in seven to 15 feet of water. This is the first time I've been here so I'm not sure how it acts."
Haynes' crankbaits of choice are Strike King 6XDs and 5XDs in a variety of colors.
Kenney up to third
Like Haynes, Kenney is fresh off some EverStart success, his being a second-place finish at last week's Wheeler event. Like Haynes, Kenney is exclusively fishing offshore. His limits have weighed 17-13 and 16-9.
"It's classic structure fishing," he explained. "They're all around something, holding tight. Whether it's a brush pile, standing timber or a drop they're around something. On the Tennessee River you'll sometimes just find a school of fish on a flat. Not here, they're always on something. You'll mark a school of six or seven and catch two and that's doing good."
Kenney said he has so much confidence in his Lowrance electronics that he won't even cast on a spot until he sees a fish. In fact, he has nicknamed his beloved graph "Larry."
"The great thing about Larry is that he don't lie. I went to several spots today, probably idled for over an hour and never made a cast. That's how confident I am."
Most of Kenney's best places are in approximately 18 feet. He found a spot late today that he didn't catch any on, but likes so much he'll start on it tomorrow.
"I'm catching them on three things - a Strike King 6XD crankbait, a five-wire rig and a Carolina rig. I start with the crankbait and the five wire and finish up with the Carolina rig."
Lucas falls to fourth
The cloud cover that aided Justin Lucas' shallow bite on day one was inexistent on day two. As a result, he caught only one keeper shallow. And the deep bite wasn't all that much better.
"I thought I'd still start shallow on shady banks, but the same pocket I caught that 16 pounds in just over an hour only produced one keeper today. So then I left to go offshore a little earlier."
Lucas was eager to visit his best offshore spot, a spot he termed "magic" yesterday.
"I really thought it was the kind of spot you dream about. It's produced six fish for me, but all of them have been big."
Lucas also had 3-pounder on bed that he thought ate his bait. He swung on it and the fish was hooked outside the mouth, which meant he had to release it. All in all, it was a frustrating day and the Guntersville, Ala., pro isn't sure how he's going to adjust.
"I have zero plan right now, other than I'm obviously going to hit my deep spot again tomorrow. At this point you've got to throw it all out the window and start over. Maybe tomorrow I'll throw a frog, do my swimmin' deal and cover a lot of water."
Lucas' three keepers weighed 11 pounds, 3 ounces, giving him 33-9 for the tournament.
Although his weight decreased from 18-4 to 13-11, Scott Martin still rose from seventh to fifth place after day two. Unlike the pros above him on the leaderboard, Martin is fishing exclusively shallow.
"In practice I developed a pretty good shallow bite so I'm sticking with it," said the 2011 Forrest Wood Cup champion. "I've become a better deep-water fisherman, but my comfort zone is still shallow."
Martin said he has several shallow patterns going. He's throwing a swimbait some, flipping a Bruiser Baits Avenger with a Trokar TK130 hook, throwing bladed baits in the grass, working docks and checking a few clusters of spawning bluegills, which are attracting wolfpack bass.
"I'm only catching eight or nine keepers a day, but the potential for big fish is there. I still might try fishing deeper, but I just don't think they're really out there yet. But everyday more and more are going out there. So for now, I'm fishing the conditions, which is really fun."
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros on Lake Eufaula after day two:
6th: Andy Morgan of Dayton, Tenn., 31-13 (two-day total)
7th: Kelley Jaye of Dadeville, Ala., 31-7
8th: Joe Don Setina of Pittsburg, Texas, 31-4
9th: John Devere of Berea, Ky., 30-7
10th: Stetson Blaylock of Benton, Ark., 30-5
Johnson retains co-angler lead
Co-angler Jason Johnson is right back where he wants to be - leading a major tournament with one day of competition remaining. Last month at Beaver Lake, Johnson also led heading into the final day only to slip to fourth. On Lake Eufaula, he's caught limits weighing 15-3 and 9-10, which gives him a two-day total of 24 pounds, 13 ounces and a 6-ounce lead.
"Today was a lot tougher," said Johnson. "I'm probably prouder of that 9 pounds than I was of yesterday's 15. I was paired with (Gary) Yamamoto today and were fishing super shallow - less than 2 feet in most places."
Johnson stuck with his same two baits - a Gambler Southern Swim Jig tipped with a Gambler EZ Swimmer and a drop-shot with a Roboworm.
"I only caught five keepers today; four came on the drop-shot, but my big fish, a 3-pounder, came on the swim jig."
Johnson calls Lake Lanier home, which is part of the reason he's so deft with a drop-shot.
"I drop-shotted last tournament at Beaver the whole time too. I've just got so much confidence in it. When I'm fishing shallow, I just shorten up my leader."
Johnson will fish day three with Thrift, where he should have ample opportunity offshore.
"I got to seal the deal this time. My cut days are usually my worst days so I'm hoping to change that tomorrow."
New to second
Bryan New caught a 10-pound limit Friday and rose to second place with a two-day total of 24 pounds, 7 ounces. New fished with veteran pro Guido Hibdon and was given a lesson on finesse fishing.
"Guido had already culled one before I caught my first keeper," said New, who manages pro Brent Long's new shop, Lake Norman Bait and Tackle. "I don't want to say I'm happy with 10 pounds today, but I'll take it."
New started the day with a shaky head and a Charlie's Worms finesse worm. Watching Hibdon convinced him to switch to a Charlie's Worms Salt Bang-O. He ended up culling twice - each of his best five was identical in size.
Late in the day he lost a better fish as it wrapped around a dock pole and came off.
"I've got to shake that off and catch them tomorrow."
Randy Clark sits in third place among the co-anglers with a total weight of 21 pounds, 11 ounces. The Pascagoula, Miss., native serves as an advisor of sorts to the younger Martin. Tomorrow, he'll have the chance to win a title of his own.
Green, Peek round out top five
Ronnie Green of Tampa, Fla., caught four bass weighing 8 pounds, 7 ounces to bring his opening-round total to 18 pounds, 14 ounces, which puts him fourth heading into the final round.
Co-angler big stick Richard Peek, a former FLW Tour champion, rounds out the top five with 17 pounds, 14 ounces.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 co-anglers after day two:
6th: Jeff Sprague of Point, Texas, 17-11 (two-day total)
7th: Justin Jones of Apex, N.C., 15-10
8th: John Devries of Fishers, Ind., 15-4
9th: James Mignanelli of Harmony, Pa., 15-0
10th: Tony O'Neal of Thomaston, Ga., 14-14
Day three of the FLW Tour on Lake Eufaula will begin Saturday at 6:30 a.m. from Lakepoint Resort State Park located at 104 Lakepoint Drive in Eufaula.