UPCOMING EVENT: HIGH SCHOOL FISHING - 2019 - Pickwick Lake

FISHING LEAGUE WORLDWIDE

How Bryan Thrift Got to be so Good

How Bryan Thrift Got to be so Good
Hoist 'em high Bryan.

Most folks simply call him Thrift. Others refer to him as “smoke on the water.” And just about every season it seems that we get to call him a tournament champion.

However you refer to him, Bryan Thrift is undoubtedly one of the best bass fishermen on the planet.

Which begs the question: How did he get to be so good?

 

1. Starting Early

Like many anglers on the Walmart FLW Tour, Thrift fell in love with fishing at a young age.

“My interest started, shoot, when I was very young, with just my dad [Tommy] taking me catfishing and just fishing in general,” says the 36-year-old. “We did a little more saltwater fishing, as far as fishing in a boat, than we did freshwater fishing. But we were always down at a creek or river catfishing or at a lake crappie fishing off a dock.”

Thrift says the saltwater experience didn’t exactly hone his bass fishing skills, though it certainly fueled the fire and possibly played a role in him developing the tendency to want to fish quickly.

“We were mostly just bottom fishing and stuff like that, pretty much for whatever would bite,” he adds. “When we fished saltwater we were pretty much sitting in one spot. I think that’s why I like to move around so much now.”

 

2. Discovering bass

From catfish, crappie and “whatever would bite,” Thrift eventually shifted his focus to bass fishing during his pre-teen years. Bass in a local pond helped educate him.

“Mom and dad would drop me off at the pond and come back and pick me up four or five hours later,” Thrift recalls. “Back in the day, I’d say the No. 1 technique was a floating worm – a weightless soft-plastic worm with a hook, just twitching it on the surface of the water. I didn’t realize pond fish were so stupid back then. “

During his senior year in high school, Thrift’s pond-bass obsession nearly began to interfere with his other responsibilities, such as his commitment to the baseball team.

“There was an 8- or 9-pounder on a bed in that local pond,” he recalls. “I had a baseball game that night at 7 or 7:30 or something like that. I had to be at the field a couple hours before it started. I would run home and go to the pond and fish for a couple hours before the game. I was pulling between that and wanting to go to the baseball game. I ended up going to the game and not catching it. It was probably the right choice.”

 

3. Entering the tournament scene

Bryan Thrift of Shelby, N.C. leads the Co-angler Division of the EverStart Series Eastern on Lake Eufaula with a two-day total of 35 27 pounds, 5 ounces.

Thrift found his way into the local tournament scene around age 18 or 19, beginning with a local bass club where he fished as a non-boater. A couple years later he bought his first bass boat.

“Back then I was learning. I didn’t really know anything about bass fishing,” he says. “I was just glad to be out there. I didn’t care who it was with or what kind of boat it was. I just wanted to be on the water. That was the beauty and purity of it back then: You don’t care how, you just want to catch a fish.”

 

4. Meeting Louie

Thrift won a couple of events as a co-angler and made a couple of regionals in his early club days, but his interest in tournament fishing – and his skills – really took off when he met Louie Hull, the man behind Shooter Lures and the Shooter Jig, a staple of dock-skipping Carolina anglers.

“He kind of took me under his wing, I guess you’d call it, and showed me the ropes,” Thrift recalls. “One of the reasons I’m so good of a caster is learning from him. He always made the jigs we used and sold them. We started being team tournament partners and ended up being pretty good.

“He’d been at it for awhile – a lot longer than I had,” Thrift continues. “He got me started, and when I’d dabble with a new technique he’d help me along. I kind of look at myself like a prodigy of Louie Hull.”

It wasn’t just Hull who showed Thrift the way. Elite Series pro Andy Montgomery grew up on the same lakes as Thrift. Montgomery and his father often fished as partners in the same events, but they sometimes they traded up and the two young guns were paired together.

“It was always two of the four of us fishing together,” Thrift recalls. “We didn’t take in many outsiders.”

 

5. Feeling the Carolina influence

Growing up in Shelby, N.C., influenced Thrift’s bass fishing style tremendously. More specifically, the dock-lined reservoirs of the region, such as Lake Norman, influenced Thrift’s signature style of fishing, which is an extremely fast-paced approach to applying a fishing pattern.

“I was probably a little more run-and-gun then than I am now,” he says. “I was a little more wide open. That’s just kind of the way we taught ourselves to excel in tournaments around this area. After a couple years fishing certain lakes you learn which docks consistently hold bigger fish, and you just pull up and fish them and then go to the next one. It’s not a good scenario for a four-day tournament, but in a one-day team tournament you have to catch all you can that day.”

 

6. Climbing the FLW ranks

Check out these Okeechobee giants! These two bass enabled Bryan Thrift of Shelby, N.C., to win the Southeastern Stren Series on Lake Okeechobee.

When he reached his early 20s, Thrift had decided that he wanted to become a professional angler and soon began a rapid ascension up the FLW ladder in pursuit of his goal. His first FLW tournament was a Bass Fishing League event that he fished as a boater in 2004. In 2005, he finished second in the Costa FLW Series Southeastern Division Co-angler of the Year standings on the strength of two co-angler wins, then made two jumps at once in 2006, when he entered the Walmart FLW Tour as a co-angler and the FLW Series Southeastern Division as a boater.

Quickly, he realized that a successful professional career was possible.

“In ’06, the first year that I fished as a boater in the Series, I won my first tournament [Lake Okeechobee] and put a chunk of money in the bank. That’s when I knew it would be a possibility,” he says. “I fished the Tour that same year as a co-angler. I think I fished three events and was leading the Co-angler of the Year standings and didn’t get in the last three tournaments [because the field was full].”

Thrift didn’t spend any more time in the back of the boat. Thanks to a sponsorship opportunity that stemmed from his 2006 win and the confidence he gleaned from his recent success, Thrift went pro in 2007.

“It just went from there,” he says. “It helped that in the first Tour tournament I fished I finished second [at Lake Travis].”

 

7. Having faith

Talent certainly counts in fishing. So does a solid financial portfolio. But in some cases, success can only be attributed to the One.

Case in point: Thrift’s 2010 Walmart FLW Tour Angler of the Year season in just his fourth year as a pro.

“That 2010 season was kind of a bittersweet year,” he recalls. “My father died in January of that year. Kind of the only thing I can say is the good Lord was looking after me that year. Everything just went right.”

 

8. Slowing his pace

Bryan Thrift of Shelby, N.C., proudly displays his first-place trophy after winning the FLW Tour event on Lake Norman.

Thrift’s public coming-out party took place in 2010, when he won at home on Lake Norman and ran away with the AOY race, besting runner-up Andy Morgan by 51 points.

For many in the industry, however, Thrift was “on the radar” much sooner, going back to his fifth-place finish at the 2007 Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Ouachita. It seemed that every time an FLW photographer caught up to Thrift on Ouachita, he was in the process of changing spots. The photographer would follow, and by the time the camera was out at the next stop, Thrift was ready to move again. Thus the world was introduced to his extreme run-and-gun style, and Thrift became known as “smoke on the water” for his habit of disappearing in a cloud of exhaust.

Nowadays, Thrift still prefers to fish that way. That’s how he won at Lake Eufaula in 2015, actually. Now he knows when to slow down, however.

“At that first championship I fished in ’07, that was my favorite thing to do in the world of bass fishing – when I can get dialed in on something and I can run it all over the lake and I can pull up and make four or five casts. It’s similar to the Eufaula tournament,” he says. “It happens very rarely. You have to have such an intimate knowledge of the lake and be able to find it in practice, but there’s not a lot of time to figure it out.

“If you look at my rookie year on Tour in ’07, I had three top 10s [including the Cup] and, like, four bombs. It was either all or nothing. It took me a couple years to kind of figure out that sometimes you have to lay up and just do what the fish are doing instead of just trying to make them do what you want them to do.

“Now I find myself slowing up a lot. I don’t know how to explain it, but I try to be more thorough. It seems like when I start going super fast is when I hit ‘panic mode’ the harder I try to put it together.”

 

9. Continuing his education

As bass fishing evolves, so too must the best pros. No one is immune to change, not even legends like Larry Nixon and Jimmy Houston. Not Thrift, either.

Once a predominantly shallow-water angler, Thrift has proven in recent years that he can catch ’em anywhere he goes, with any technique. He’s one of only a handful of anglers who can be considered a tournament favorite at any lake in the country.

“Like I said, I’m so into fishing. I don’t hunt at all. I pretty much study fishing all year,” he notes. “All year-long my mind is thinking about ways I can do things more efficiently and be a better angler. That’s what you have to do to be a professional angler. I don’t feel like I possess the raw natural talent of an Andy Morgan and people like that. I can’t just show up and catch them. I have to work really hard at it.”

Thrift also has a very personal approach to developing new techniques. He doesn’t reach out to the supposed experts for advice. Instead, when he hears of something new, he breaks it down on his own terms.

“If you try to learn and do what other people do, that’s as good as you’ll be,” he explains. “If you figure it out yourself, I feel like you’ll be a better angler because you’ll figure out what works for you.”

 

10. Doing whatever it takes

Yep, that'll do. Bryan Thrift smiles at the fruits of his second FLW Tour win in two years.

Now that he’s established at the professional level, the questions surrounding Thrift have changed. How does he rate compared to the all-time greats?  When will he win the Cup? Can he win another AOY?

Maybe Thrift is asking himself some of those same questions. But maybe he’s still just looking for that next bite.

“Whatever it takes to get bit – that’s kind of where I’m at in my career,” he says. “My No. 1 focus out here is to support my family and make a living. Whatever I have to do to make that happen, I’m going to make a valiant effort.”

Tags: bryan-thrift  curtis-niedermier  article 

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