When Bryan Thrift came to the scale on day 1 of the Walmart Open at Arkansas' Beaver Lake last week with a bag containing just three fish, emcee Chris Hoover commented that it was somewhat of an inauspicious start to the defense of his 2010 Angler of the Year (AOY) title.
"Yeah, I need to do better than this," Thrift responded.
He did a lot better than that over the next 3 days. In fact, on one of those days, he did better than any angler has ever done before in an FLW Tour event at Beaver.
When it was over, he had his second Tour victory in as many years and as many points as he could possibly garner to start the new AOY chase. His 54-08 total for 4 days topped runner-up Stacey King by about 2 pounds.
Here's how he did it.
There isn't a lot to be said about Thrift's practice like most in the field, he struggled to get bites as the Rogers, Ark. area was gripped by the tail end of a severe cold snap.
He caught just a single keeper in 3 days.
"It was pretty awful," he said. "I tried everything I don't have a practice day when I don't have 20 rods on my deck. I did everything from jerking a spoon in 60 feet of water to throwing a (Damiki) DC 100 in 2 feet.
"I ended up going to one place where I can always get a couple of bites and I caught a 4-pounder. I wasn't very confident at all."
> Day 1: 3, 8-11
> Day 2: 5, 11-06
> Day 3: 5, 20-08
> Day 4: 5, 13-15
> Total = 18, 54-08
A tactical error on day 1 was the cause of Thrift's short bag. With three decent keepers in the boat, he left his reliable area with 6 hours to fish and ran up the river in search of a couple of big largemouths.
He caught a bunch of fish up there, but none that were eligible for the scale (the minimum-length requirement for largemouths and smallmouths at Beaver is 15 inches). So the next day he stayed in the mid-lake region and caught the type of bag he should've had on day 1, and he moved up from 38th place to 16th four spots inside the cut line.
He followed that up with the kind of day that many predicted someone would have at Beaver this year due to its earlier-than-usual spot on the calender, but hadn't materialized over the first 2 days. His sack eclipsed the one-day tournament record, set by Cliff Pirch in 1995, by exactly a pound.
"That was crazy," he said. "It was windy and cloudy, and I think that helped a lot. I had four of the five fish I weighed in by 9:30."
The much-calmer final day wasn't nearly so easy. He had a 4-pounder and a pair of 12-inch spots in his well with just an hour left to fish.
"I kind of went into panic mode. I went to one little tree and caught a 4-pounder and another 12-inch spot, and right there I was happy. I was thinking that was pretty good probably not enough to win, but it would be close."
He made his final stop about a half-mile from the launch at Prairie Creek Marina and connected with his third 4-pounder of the day with just 5 minutes of fishing time left. It replaced a barely legal spot and made about a 3-pound difference in his final weight enough to push him to the top.
Thrift focused on pea-gravel points and isolated trees some in pockets or creeks and some on the main lake. He had about a half-dozen places spread over a 15-mile stretch between Prairie Creek and the dam.
On the day he caught the 20-pound stringer, most of the fish came from about 4 feet of water. On the other days, they were suspended in the 8- to 10-foot range.
The Megabass Vision 110 in the pro blue II color was one of two baits that produced Thrift's fish.
"I think those fish were on the move and starting to get close to the spawning areas," he said. "It was definitely a late-winter to real early pre-spawn deal."
He used two baits a Megabass Vision 110 jerkbait (which was thrown at one time or another by nearly ever angler in the field who cashed a check) and a Damiki DC 200 crankbait.
Winning Gear Notes
> He swapped out the stock hooks on the jerkbait for No. 5 Gamakatsu trebles. "Those bigger hooks made it sink real slow," he said. "I'd jerk it to the side of a tree and then let it sink until (a fish) bit it."
> Cranking gear: 7' medium-action Damiki rod, Abu Garcia Revo Winch casting reel (5.4:1 ratio), same line, Damiki DC 200 (bluegill).
The Bottom Line
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