March 30, 2014 by Curtis Niedermier
LUFKIN, Texas - Fast, shallow and with moving baits - if you were to script the perfect scenario for a Bryan Thrift victory, those would be the key pieces. Today at the Sam Rayburn Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Chevy, however, Thrift proved that he can not only break his own stereotype, but he can win when he does it. Relying on ultra-slow flipping tactics with a Texas-rigged Damiki Knock Out, Thrift brought in a 17-pound limit - the day's heaviest - to come from 2 pounds, 14 ounces behind Walmart pro Mark Rose and lock up his third Tour victory. His four-day total was 73 pounds, 3 ounces, which earned the Chevy pro $125,000. "I had to pitch that bait up there, let it sink and shake it," Thrift said. "Then I'd feel the 'thunk.'" Thrift threw a Z-Man Original ChatterBait each morning, just to see if he could get a bite. On the first day, he didn't have a fish by 10:30 a.m. That was the first sign that he needed to slow down. Zero ChatterBait bites the next two days reinforced the need to stay slow and really soak his lure. Thrift's technique was to make a couple of pitches to each cypress tree, shake the Knock Out in place, then move on to the next target. Ironically, Thrift did get bit on the ChatterBait on the final day and caught four fish with it that contributed to an early limit. Yet, instead of motivating him to continue with the moving presentation, having five in the livewell gave the North Carolina pro the confidence he needed to reduce his pace to a painful crawl. "I settled down and put my Power-Poles down and flipped every piece of that tree, all the way around, and it paid off," Thrift said. "I caught a 4-pounder that way." Some trees required 10 to 15 casts and up to 20 minutes to fish. In addition to cypress trees, Thrift also weighed fish each day that he caught from shallow grass, though grass was more a target of opportunity than a pattern. His primary area was a shallow backwater stretch about five miles long upstream from the Cassels-Boykin County Park takeoff. It was a spot Thrift located in practice that he thought would consistently produce the 2 1/2- to 3-pound fish that he needed to simply make a good check and recover from a disappointing 107th-place finish at the previous Tour stop on Lake Hartwell. "Hartwell left a bad taste in my mouth," Thrift said. "It seemed like every decision I made was the exact opposite of what I should have been doing. To come here and turn it around and win the Tour and right the ship feels good." Thrift's winning area experienced a push of fish during the tournament that helped it replenish. He spent two and a half to three hours each day exploring new sections and expanding on his pattern. The spot was also isolated enough from the main lake that it didn't seem to be influenced as drastically by the weather swings that tormented fellow competitors this week. "They stayed pretty consistent every single day," Thrift added. "There's not a lot of depth where I was fishing, so the fish didn't have anywhere to go." For bass, being stuck in a backwater heaven with one of the best shallow-water anglers in the game is like having a guaranteed ticket for a boat ride in the black Chevy-wrapped Ranger, even if it means that the captain has to slow down the boarding process in order to take those fish for a ride. Check out Thrift's Winning Moment and the full gallery of photos from the final day of competition.