(Editor's note: The following is the latest installment in a series of fishing tips presented by The Bass University. Check back each Friday for a new tip.)
Reigning FLW Angler of the Year Bryan Thrift is a terror on tournament day, but he shared with Bass University subscribers that the secret of his success is knowing how to practice properly.
“Catching fish is one of the easiest things to do, but finding them is the hard part,” he explained. The purpose of practice, whether you have one day on the water or three, is to “get the ball rolling.” With little time to expand, you’re trying to develop clues that will allow you to find fish fast and then find more if and when those run out. He starts off with an open mind, and typically has 20 to 30 rods ready to go, rigged even with things he doesn’t expect to work, so he is ready to try something new if the appropriate situation presents itself.
No matter where they're fishing, he encourages anglers to do their research so that they understand the history, forage, best local baits and best areas, and then he says you should “do the exact opposite.”
“There’s always a group of fish that are doing stuff they’re not supposed to be doing,” he explained. He added that those “needle in a haystack fish … those are winning fish.” For example, he’s fond of a trout-colored swimbait in North Carolina while fishing for bass that have likely never seen a trout. While he may rely heavily on a shaky-head, dropshot and wacky worm during tournaments, he rarely uses them in practice. Instead, he’ll lean heavily on bigger lures like 7- to 9-inch swimbaits that tend to quickly attract the biggest fish in a school. That way, he believes he doesn’t have to weed through the smaller fish to find out if he has the right quality to win the tournament.
On practice days, he’s not hesitant to spend time behind the console of his boat, and noted that when he won the September 2016 FLW Tour event on Lake Norman, he didn’t make a single cast during practice. “If all else fails, idle!” has become his mantra.
Thrift employs three graphs on his console. The left one is strictly used for side-imaging, looking out 200 feet to the left. The right one is also used for that same purpose, scanning 200 feet to the right. Combined, they allow him to look at 400 feet of lake width on each pass at a high level of detail. The center graph is split between mapping and two-dimensional sonar.
Even if he’s on quality fish, Thrift works hard to stay focused and to avoid getting “stale” in practice. Sometimes “not getting bit is as important as getting bit” because it allows him to eliminate areas, presentations, depths and water colors from consideration. “If you start getting stale, get out of there, do something different.”
Perhaps most importantly, remember that practice doesn’t end once the tournament starts. Keep exploring and keep expanding, and you can change with the changing conditions to stay one step ahead of your competition.
If you want to learn some of Thrift’s other practice strategies, including some of the lesser-known swimbaits that he’s convinced give him an edge in the AOY race, check out his full video, available only by subscribing to The Bass University TV.