By Todd Ceisner
Bryan Thrift has been on hot streaks before.
BassFans need to look no further than his 2010 season. That’s when he bagged five Top-10s in just seven events, including a victory at the Lake Norman FLW Tour Major, and claimed Angler of the Year (AOY) honors.
He continued his run into the following year when he won another Tour Major at Beaver Lake and ascended to the No. 1 spot in the BassFan World Rankings, a position he held for 10 weeks in the spring of 2011.
It’s hard to decipher whether the unassuming North Carolinian is still riding that wave of momentum from a couple years ago or if he’s getting started on another. There was a stretch of seven events in 2011 where he failed to make a Top-10 cut, so we’ll err on the side of the latter.
Last year, he compiled another impressive set of finishes – nine of 10 cuts made in FLW Tour events, a 3rd-place finish at the Forrest Wood Cup and a memorable victory at the Toyota Texas Bass Classic. That win and subsequent 21st at the Sam Rayburn Tour Open pushed him to 3rd in the World Rankings, less than a point out of 2nd and less than 10 points back of reigning No. 1 David Dudley.
As he enters his 7th season as a tour pro, it doesn’t seem to matter what the schedule throws at him, he always seems to come up with an answer for what the fish are doing.
“I’m always learning,” he said. “That’s what makes a successful pro angler. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing it. You have to keep learning. If you ever get comfortable and feel like you know everything you can know, that’s when you’re going to fall on your face. Everything changes. There are new techniques out every year, just little things that other anglers may not think of and if you can think of it first then you’ll have an advantage over them."
Done With Pre-Practice
While Thrift has yet to uncover one of those new techniques to employ during the coming season, he did come to one conclusion based on his experience in 2012. He’s pretty much finished with advance scouting trips.
He got hung up last March at the Lake Hartwell FLW Tour Major, thanks to a trip he took there prior to the off-limits period. Some may ask why he would feel it necessary to bother pre-practicing at a place he finished 5th at in 2011, but he went looking for the winning strategy. Instead, he got tripped up on what the fish were doing weeks before the tournament and wasted precious time trying to duplicate it once the event rolled around.
“I was really expecting to do well there,” he said, “but it actually put me in my place because I had gone and pre-practiced and absolutely smashed them. I went into the (official) practice for the tournament kind of half-heartedly because I knew what I was going to do. That preconceived notion bit me in the butt and that’s never going to happen again, I know that.”
He wound up 65th at Hartwell, his only missed paycheck of the year.
“I think I’m done pre-practicing,” he said. “When you get 3 days of practice for a tournament, you can pretty much cover the whole lake. Three days is a long time. You’re spending 36 to 48 hours out on the water. After last year, I’m done with pre-practicing. I go pre-practicing and I end up wasting a day and a half checking stuff I thought they’d be on from pre-practice instead of trying to figure out what the fish are doing right then.”
Conroe Win Was Unexpected
Thrift has been around long enough and had enough success at the highest level of the sport to understand what it takes mentally to succeed. Earlier in his career, he’d get wrapped up in how practice went and that seemed to dictate his mood and strategy during competition.
Now, he’s learned to not put so much stock in his practice results. His recent tournament outcomes provide a strong case for that.
“I used to let that bother me a lot. I used to dwell on how my practice went,” he said. “It seems like now, especially over the last 3 years, I think I’m the worst in the world when it comes to practice. It seems like I always have a terrible practice. It seems like I never really get on anything I’m comfortable with and then it kind of materializes in the tournament. It’s weird. Everybody makes fun of me because I always say I’m not on anything in practice. I say, ‘Come practice with me, you’ll see.’”
At the most recent Toyota Texas Bass Classic at Lake Conroe, where he’d finished 42nd in the same event in 2010, he just let things happen and didn’t attempt to force the issue at a lake where adapting to seemingly non-stop changes in weather was part of the strategy. He junk-fished on the final day, catching his five keepers on five different baits to rise from 9th place after day 2 to the victory behind a massive 25-pound sack.
“The one at Conroe, it just kind of happened,” he said. “It seems the tournaments where you just relax and go fishing are the ones you do the best in. If you try to force it to happen, it seems like it’s 10 times harder than if you just let things fall into place and take advantage of the opportunities that are in front of you.
“Confidence-wise, it definitely built up my confidence. Last year was a great year with a couple Top-10s. It was a good year by any means, but I had a lot of close calls and near-misses. It seemed like a lot of things that I usually could get to fall in my favor weren’t falling in my favor. To get that win and get back in the swing of things, it just makes your mind work a little harder. It seems the better I do, the more my mind works to think of ways to continue that success.”
Recalling that final day at Conroe, he got a sense something special was brewing once he put his first big fish in the livewell late in the morning.
“I definitely did, especially when I caught that first big 7 1/2-pounder at 10:30,” he said. “When I caught him, it settled me down a lot. It made me fish slower and more thorough and I fished some of my other spots a lot better. You just get a calming sense – you’re not nervous, you’re not thinking. Instead of fishing one place thinking you need to go over here, you’re fishing that one place thinking there’s a big one there and you’re going to catch it.”
> Thrift wasn’t thrilled when FLW eliminated the Opens from the 2013 schedule, but he’s juiced to check some new water this season. "The one I’m looking the most forward to is Grand Lake because it’s a new lake to me,” he said. “I’ve never been there and I love going places I’ve never been. That’s the reason you get into fishing – that drive to figure out a new lake you’ve never been to. I’d love for them to go to one lake a year that we’ve never been to or haven’t been to in 6 or 7 years. That’s a lot of what we have going on this year. We haven’t been to Eufaula in a long time. It’s been 3 or 4 years for Smith Lake and Chickamauga’s going to be new. I’ve only fished there twice, so going back there will be fun.”