April 10, 2014 by Curtis Niedermier
ROGERS, Ark. - Confidence is effective medicine in professional bass fishing, and right now Chevy pro Bryan Thrift is benefitting from a heavy dose. The FLW millionaire took the early lead at the Beaver Lake Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Rayovac and hosted by Visit Rogers with a 16-pound, 2-ounce limit. Thrift's success today comes on the heels of his final-day come-from-behind victory at the Sam Rayburn Tour event just two weeks ago, where Thrift broke out of an early season slump that began with finishes of 59th and 107th place at the first two events.
It wasn't a pattern or a place that boosted Thrift into the lead today on a blustery Beaver Lake. It wasn't even anything in the lake. It was all between the ears.
"After winning at Rayburn, that kind of lifted a weight off me," said Thrift, who rotated through 40 or 50 spots today. "I can relax. I don't have to worry about paying the bills. I can just have fun and take what the good Lord gives me.
"I think confidence definitely plays a key role in tournament finishes," he continued. "I just went fishing with an open mind. Today was a great day. I don't think I've ever caught this many fish on Beaver."
The confidence effect was evident in Thrift's catch today. He weighed a Beaver medley that included one largemouth, one spotted bass and three smallmouths. The latter three were the first smallmouths Thrift has caught all week - one of those nice unexplainable surprises that tend to occur when you're making good decisions.
Thrift's key decision at the last two tournaments has been to shelve the fast-moving lures he's known for using and to rely on slow-fishing techniques. At Sam Rayburn, he won by soaking a Texas-rigged Damiki Knock Out. Today, Thrift opted for a 1/8-ounce shaky head, a 6.5-inch Damiki Finesse Miki and 6-pound-test line.
Don't expect Thrift to permanently transform himself into a full-blown finesse fisherman, but it's a fact that he's starting to feel more relaxed when he doesn't have the trolling motor on full blast. He's definitely reaping the benefits that thorough techniques can offer.
"At one place this afternoon I got one bite," Thrift said. "Instead of leaving, I sat there for 30 minutes and ended up catching a few more fish."
Thrift doesn't know what to expect tomorrow, which is a common sentiment among the top anglers in the field. Beaver lake is warming up. The bass are starting to make a shallow push, and the wind is supposed to let up.
To stay on the bite, pros must react to every change and stay loose, relaxed and confident. In other words, they'll have to start fishing like Bryan Thrift.
2nd place - Spencer Shuffield - 15 pounds, 5 ounces
It's another strong opening-day Beaver Lake limit for Arkansas pro Spencer Shuffield, who started the 2013 event at Beaver with a 14-pound, 14-ounce limit and brought in 15-5 today. Last year, however, he failed to crack the 10-pound mark on day two and slipped just out of the top 20 - a performance he's hoping he doesn't repeat this week.
Shuffield admitted that Beaver's bass are always a little unpredictable, especially amid changing levels of wind, sunshine and water clarity, which is what pros are dealing with this year. However, he loves fishing this lake and says he's on a solid prespawn staging pattern that should hold up for the next few days.
"They're coming hard to what I'm doing," he said. "Two days ago I think these fish were 40 to 60 feet deep. I can tell because they're very white, which happens when they're in deep water. I caught more of those white fish as the day went on."
Shuffield has eight to 10 spots where he can run his primary pattern, but once he locks down 10 to 12 pounds, he lays off those spots to avoid burning through his fish.
"I caught four of my five keepers on one spot in the morning," Shuffield said. "I went practicing the rest of the day. My best chance to win a tournament this year is at this one. I could fall flat on my face - it's Beaver - but I'm going to be around them."
His primary tactic was "covering water with a slow-fishing bait," but Shuffield believes he might need to make a major adjustment by the end of the week, as more of the action could move to the banks.
"These fish are two weeks behind and wanting to go to the back [of the creeks]," he said. "They want to spawn so bad, but Mother Nature won't let them. I honestly think by Sunday these fish will be on beds. The water is 51 to 52 degrees where I'm fishing, but that's up from 46 to 47 a couple days ago."
3rd place - Steve Kennedy - 14 pounds, 15 ounces
Alabama pro Steve Kennedy comes into Beaver Lake on the heels of a disappointing 36th-place finish at last week's Table Rock Lake Bassmaster Elite Series event in which he failed to adjust during the tournament and lost track of his fish. What he gained from that tournament, however, was solid preparation for this week.
"Fishing last week down at Table Rock has helped me loosen up," Kennedy said. "Spending two weeks in a row on an Ozark lake has helped me learn how the fish move day to day."
Kennedy brought in four largemouths and one spotted bass on day one. Unlike many anglers near the top who are relying on wind to activate their fish, Kennedy is trying to stay away from the gusts.
A big key to his success today was recognizing that the bass in Beaver might be a little farther along than what most pros think. As a result, the pattern he's found is receiving very little pressure. He had four primary areas all to himself.
"They may come in [to the bank], they may not," Kennedy said of the lake's prespawn fish. "Warm weather would be good. Bring them up. I don't want them staying out."
4th place - Eric Olliverson - 14 pounds, 12 ounce
Keep an eye out this week for Missourian Eric Olliverson. The Tour rookie was struggling to keep the smile from touching his ears today at weigh-in thanks to a unique pattern that produced a five-fish limit anchored by four keeper smallmouths. Olliverson was understandably tightlipped about the specifics of his technique but says he's confident that he's the only one doing it, and that it should last through the weekend.
"When the schedule first came out and I saw Beaver Lake, I had goose bumps that lasted seven months," said Olliverson, who guides on nearby Table Rock Lake. "Every time my wife would talk about Beaver Lake, I'd get goose bumps again. I told my wife before I left that this could be a special week."
Olliverson said he prayed for a long hard winter that would allow his deep, clear-water school of smallmouths to set up just right - and he obviously got it. His fish are just arriving, which might spell bad news for the rest of the field. Olliverson caught 15 keepers today and actually quite 90 minutes early to preserve the school.
Most of Olliverson's Beaver Lake experience has actually been spent walleye fishing in spring, but one thing he's noticed this week is that the spotted and smallmouth bass are a little bigger than usual thanks to the easy-to-eat forage base that a cold-winter shad die-off has created.
"I love to fish clear water; I love to fish light line," Olliverson added. "Most people don't realize the abundance of smallmouths we have here. It's a great smallmouth fishery. What I'm doing is a little niche deal. A lot of people are right on the bank, and I'm fishing for fish that haven't moved. When I see one, I see 20 coming up."
5th place (tie) - Casey Ashley - 14 pounds, 10 ounces
Casey Ashley is proving that he's one of the Tour's best spotted bass and clear-water anglers this season. He won the second event on Tour at Lake Hartwell last month with limits of spots, and today he brought in a strong 14-pound, 10-ounce limit at Beaver Lake.
"I came here and practiced for three days from daylight to dark," said Ashley, who's fishing in his first tournament on Beaver this week. "I wanted to see everything. I found one good area where I caught three good ones. It's just hard to get good bites."
His best success has come by covering water in the clearer parts of the lake and "fishing the wind."
"The wind makes them bite here," he said. "I caught more fish today in the wind than all three practice days combined. The clear water is more stable this time of year. But if it gets slick tomorrow, it's going to get tough."
Like Thrift, Ashley caught his three best fish with a shaky head - he actually has three shaky heads rigged and ready on his deck.
His plan for Friday is to start in the same places that produced today, but to have his boat gassed up and ready to roll to new areas the instant the conditions suggest that a change is necessary.
5th place (tie) - Adrian Avena - 14 pounds, 10 ounces
New Jersey pro Adrian Avena topped the 14-pound mark with a five-bass limit that included three largemouths and two spotted bass. His strategy is old-hat for Beaver Lake.
"The whole goal here is to try and catch a limit, then go for a kicker smallmouth or largemouth," he said. "I had a limit quick today - probably 11 pounds by 9 a.m."
Avena fished from the takeoff to the dam. He's chucking and winding a swimbait, jerkbait and crankbait, covering water and reacting to the wind.
"In practice we had a lot of north wind, so the southerly banks were better," he said. "Then the first day of the tournament we ended up with a south wind, so I fished the north banks. I'm not really fishing a spot, but a pattern."
7th place - Gary Yamamoto - 14 pounds, 9 ounces
8th place (tie) - Jason Christie - 14 pounds, 7 ounces
8th place (tie) - Jonathan Newton - 14 pounds, 7 ounces
10th - John Voyles - 14 pounds, 4 ounces
What's at stake this week
Pros are competing for a top award of up to $125,000 this week plus valuable points in the hope of qualifying for the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup presented by Walmart, the world championship of bass fishing. The top 35 anglers in the point standings from the six events on the 2014 Walmart FLW Tour will qualify. The 2014 Forrest Wood Cup will be in Columbia, S.C., Aug. 14-17 on Lake Murray and is hosted by Capital City Lake Murray Country. Anglers could win as much as $500,000 - professional bass-fishing's richest prize.
Melton jumps into co-angler lead
Co-angler Shane Melton of Kokomo, Ind., took the day-one lead at Beaver Lake with a four-bass bag that weighed 12 pounds, 5 ounces. He leads Alabama's Braxton Setzer by just 3 ounces.
Fishing with Andy Morgan today, Melton opened up the tournament with a quick early morning kicker that weighed 4 pounds, 9 ounces.
"I tried to do the exact opposite of what he was doing," Melton said of fishing behind Morgan. "Because of the wind, he was fishing really fast, so even though I couldn't really fish slow, I tried to slow down as much as I could."
Melton hasn't had much success in a couple of previous trips to Beaver, but when he drew Morgan as a partner today, his confidence shot way up, and he decided to try a unique tactic.
"What I'm doing is not what you'd expect me to be doing. No one else is stupid enough to try it," he joked.
Big Bass Award
Pro: Scott Wiley - 6 pounds, 15 ounces
Co-angler: Theron Asbery - 6 pounds, 5 ounces
For the full results, click here.
Walmart FLW Tour event information
Location: Prairie Creek Park, 9300 North Park Road, Rogers, Ark.
Time: 7 a.m.
Thursday and Friday location: Prairie Creek Park, 9300 North Park Road, Rogers, Ark.
Time: 3 p.m. Thursday and Friday
Saturday and Sunday location: John Q. Hammons Center, 3303 Pinnacle Hills Parkway, Rogers, Ark.
Time: 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Date: Saturday and Sunday, April 12-13
Location: John Q. Hammons Center, 3303 Pinnacle Hills Parkway, Rogers, Ark.
Time: noon to 4 p.m.
Free Concert: See country star Rodney Atkins live in concert Sunday at 3 p.m. Admission is free.
Activities: Fans are welcome to join FLW for the FLW Expo at the John Q. Hammons Center in Rogers. Come meet Walmart FLW Tour pros, who'll be on hand signing autographs. Families can enjoy interactive games, explore the Walmart Kids Zone, receive free samples, drive a Ranger Boat simulator and have a chance to win a $500 Walmart gift card.