By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Bryan Thrift might've eliminated the biggest weakness in his game en route to winning the Sam Rayburn Reservoir FLW Tour. That has to be a scary thought for the rest of the competitors on that circuit.
Thrift, the 2010 Angler of the Year, has always disdained flipping. He's never been able to keep his boat in one place long enough to thoroughly dissect a piece of visible cover. The urge to move on to the next location and throw moving baits has usually been just too strong to resist.
He overcame that temptation at Rayburn, though, and flipped his way to his third Tour triumph. He stayed near the top of the standings throughout the event and ascended to the pinnacle with a 17-pound stringer on the final day.
His 73-03 total topped runner-up Mark Rose by a little more than 3 pounds. The victory helped to make up for an uncharacteristically poor start to the season and put him back inside the cutoff to qualify for his eighth consecutive Forrest Wood Cup an event he's never missed since turning pro.
Here are some of the details.
There wasn't much that was significant about Thrift's 3 practice days. He caught a few decent fish on a ChatterBait the first day, and that was about it.
"I sampled some other stuff the rest of the time, but I never found anything that I was comfortable with," he said. "I caught fewer fish than I did the first day and they were lower quality."
He didn't develop the program that would carry him to victory until the tournament was under way.
> Day 1: 5, 18-12
> Day 2: 5, 20-14
> Day 3: 5, 16-09
> Day 4: 5, 17-00
> Total = 20, 73-03
Thrift opened the event in the upper portion of the lake where he'd gotten the ChatterBait bites, but that action had gone away.
"I couldn't get them to bite the moving baits," he said. "I knew something had changed."
Knowing the fish had to still be in the immediate vicinity, he opted to start flipping around some brush. As usual, though, he was impatient in that scenario and his efforts were unproductive at first.
"My co-angler caught two or three behind me and that told me that I had to slow down, and that's when I picked up the (Damiki) Knockout. The light bulb finally went off and I understood just how slow I had to fish to make that work. I was making pitches every 6 to 8 inches all the way around the bushes and the trees and everything.
"I'd just been fishing too fast, and I was fishing right past a lot of them."
He was on his way back to the launch late in the day when he came to a pocket he remembered from practice. It was extremely flat and contained only one bush.
"I trolled in there real quiet caught a 4 3/4-pounder that culled a 1 1/2-pounder."
That last upgrade put him in 6th place after the initial weigh-in. He moved up two places the following day with his best sack of the tournament.
"The big deal that day was I switched from flipping bushes to cypress trees. It was about 9:30 and I'd caught one on a buzzbait, but I couldn't get bit where I'd caught the 18 pounds. There were some cypress trees in the area and I tried them, and I missed two bites.
"That got me pretty mad, so I sat down and changed my hook and put a new Knockout on, and right after that I caught a 6-pounder, and then a 4 1/2. After that I got another one that was almost 4 and a couple of 3s.
"That's when I really got dialed in on the cypress trees. There were 10 or 12 key trees that I fished and I was getting a bite off almost every one. The depth of the trees didn't really matter some were so shallow that you could see the water boil when the fish came after (the bait). Those fish were in 12 to 14 inches."
The ChatterBait produced another early keeper on day 3, and he lost a 3 1/2 on the bladed offering. At 9:30 he again started flipping his trees, all of which were located within a 3/4-mile stretch. He expanded his area a bit and found some trees that would produce multiple bites.
Thrift flipped a Damiki Knockout around Rayburn's cypress trees.
He threw the ChatterBait for the first hour each day, and it paid off big-time on day 4 when it produced three fish that went 3 pounds or more. He later flipped up a couple of 4-pounders and, unbeknownst to him at the time, he'd caught all the weight he'd need by 12:30.
"I left at about 1 o'clock because I figured that was all the area was good for 15 to 17 pounds. I was sure I needed a 6- or 7-pound bite because so many big fish had been coming in, so I ran down the lake hoping to run into a big one. It never did happen."
Winning Gear Notes
> Flipping gear: 7' medium-heavy unnamed flipping rod, unnamed casting reel (7:1 ratio), 20-pound P-Line fluorocarbon line, 5/16-ounce tungsten weight, 5/0 Gamakatsu EWG SuperLine hook, Damiki Knockout (green-pumpkin with tail dyed chartreuse or junebug).
> ChatterBait gear: 6'9" medium-heavy unnamed rod, same reel and line, 1/2-ounce Z-Man Original ChatterBait (chartreuse/white or green-pumpkin), Damiki Anchovy Shad (baby bass or pearl white).
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success "Slowing down was the biggest thing that helped me win the tournament. I'd make 15 or 20 casts to every tree and let the bait sit, then shake it five or 10 times before I'd feel that thump."
> Performance edge "The Damiki Knockout was key because I don't think those fish had ever seen it. Also the P-Line and my Evinrude motor I was bumping stumps and blowing mud all over the place in that shallow water."
Much of the tackle referenced above is available at the BassFan Store. To browse the selection, click here..