By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Bryan Thrift arrived at Lake Conroe last week in a fairly confused state of mind. He'd competed in the Toyota Texas Bass Classic at that venue three times before and had never gotten on anything good. He'd never even come close to making the Top 10.
Even if those previous cuts had been to the Top 30, he still never would've fished on a Sunday.
This time was different, though – much, much different. He got some big cranking bites and slid into the 10-cut with a pound and a half to spare, and then stunned everybody with a 25-pound stringer on the final day that catapulted him past eight anglers who'd had higher totals than he did when the day began.
His 53-04 aggregate gave him a 9-04 margin of victory over runner-up (and 2010 TTBC champion) Brian Snowden. Following are some of the particulars.
When the 3 days of official practice had concluded last Wednesday evening, Thrift figured he was in for yet another lackluster visit to Conroe. He'd been all over the 22,000-acre impoundment trying everything he could think of, but was unable to pinpoint anything that would consistently generate quality bites.
He uncovered one piece of rocky shoreline that gave him a glimmer of hope.
"It was the only place I found on the whole lake where you could keep your boat in 17 feet of water and still reach the bank (with a cast)," he said. "It was the only place I had that I thought might be good for a couple of fish.
"The other places I fished, the only thing they had in common was that if they looked good when I ran by them, I'd stop and fish on them."
> Day 1: 5, 16-12
> Day 2: 5, 11-08
> Day 3: 5, 25-00
> Total = 15, 53-04
Thrift said the fact that he never locked into one thing during practice likely helped him during the tournament. He was free to do whatever felt right at the moment, and he somehow kept ending up in the right places at the right times – particularly on the final day.
He caught a 6-pounder on day 1 that left him just a quarter-pound out of the lead. He then lost six places in the standings on day 2 when he failed to hook up with anything bigger than run-of-the-mill Conroe keepers.
"I caught a 3-pounder and I lost one in the 3 1/2 range," he said. "Those were the biggest bites I had on the second day."
Thrift's stunning final-day rally was accomplished via a 25-pound sack.
That would not be the case on day 3, though. He got one bite that was more than twice that size and another only about a pound smaller than that en route to compiling a stringer that was nearly 25 percent larger than any other caught in the derby.
He'd been catching a couple of solid buzzbait fish early in the morning from the bank with the steep drop, but he knew that offering wouldn't play with a 20-plus-mph wind blowing out of the north. He got one quality fish on a ChatterBait and one on a square-bill, and then went offshore for a bit.
He broke off a Carolina rig, and instead of re-tying, he opted to pick up a Rapala DT14 crankbait. His third cast produced a 7 1/2-pounder.
"That clued me in that maybe with all that wind, they weren't wanting something slow on the bottom. After that I just started cranking as fast as I could."
He employed several different plugs at numerous stops through the remainder of the day to put more useful fish in his box. His second-biggest, a 6 1/2, fell for a shaky-head.
"I think it took 3 years of not doing good for something like this to happen. I took a little bit from every year and put it all into one tournament.
"Every year I've found some new brushpiles, and maybe I've finally got enough accumulated after 4 years."
Winning Gear Notes
> Cranking gear: 7' medium-heavy Damiki Dark Angel rod, Abu Garcia Revo Winch casting reel, 17-, 15- or 12-pound Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon line, Rapala DT14 (chartreuse/blue back), Strike King 6XD (chartreuse sexy shad), Lucky Craft Fat CB BDS-3 (chartreuse shad) or Damiki DC 200 (real shad).
> Shaky-head gear: Unnamed 6'10" medium-light rod, Abu Garcia Revo Premier spinning reel, 10-pound Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon line, 1/8-ounce Evercast Lures shaky-head jig, Damiki Finesse Miki (watermelon candy) or Zoom Trick Worm (redbug).
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – "I guess just keeping an open mind because I never really got dialed in to any one pattern. I did a little of this and a little of that and I never found a group of fish where I thought I could spend all day and catch five."
> Performance edge – "That Damiki rod is the best cranking rod in the world. That 7 1/2-pounder was jumping all over the place – I had him in the net twice and he swam out and the whole thing was just a mess. I used that rod to finally get him under control."
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