There's been quite a bit of discussion about Bryan Thrift the angler this past week after his ascension to the top slot in the BassFan World Rankings. Perhaps some would like to know more about Bryan Thrift the man.
Talk to anyone who knows him well, and the word "humble" will crop up before long. I can attest to him possessing that trait, having been acquainted with him since before he fished his first tour-level event as a pro a little more than 4 years ago.
At this point, anyway, the 31-year-old has no interest in being a celebrity, a business tycoon or a TV star. Like millions of hard-working Americans, his primary objective is to support his family. One difference between him and most is he gets to do it by doing the thing he loves most.
At 5-foot-7 and 155 pounds, he doesn't stand out in a crowd. Nor does he want to.
He earned nearly $200,000 on the water last year, and he wasn't about to blow a bunch of it on a mid-summer trip to Las Vegas. Here's how the conversation went when I bumped into him and his wife on the floor of the host casino on the first night of ICAST. He was dressed in a baggy white T-shirt and shorts.
"Hey Thrift, you making any money?" I asked.
"No, I'm 5 bucks down," he responded, holding up a voucher he'd just pulled out of one of the machines that showed he had $95 worth of credit. "When I came out here I gave myself $100 to gamble with and if I lose it, I'm done."
"Okay, man. Good luck."
Here's how our exchange went when I saw him the following day at the show.
"Hey Thrift, did you end up losing that hunsky?"
"Did you quit after that?"
Then there was last Monday, the day after he'd won the Walmart Open at Beaver Lake. I needed to get some info from him for the Winning Pattern story, so I called him at mid-morning.
Bryan Thrift's victory last week at Beaver was his second FLW Tour triumph in under a calendar year.
He sheepishly asked if I could hold off for 15 or 20 minutes while he gassed up and got everybody situated for the 900-plus-mile trip back home to Shelby, N.C. His traveling party includes a third member this year – 5-month-old son Wylie.
When I said no problem, that wasn't quite good enough for him.
"Are you sure that's not going to screw up your day?"
Uh, no, Bryan. I'll manage, I thought, while laughingly telling him to take all the time he needed.
Guys who go way back with him, like fellow tour pros Andy Montgomery and Matt Arey, have millions of stories like those about Thrift, and some that are a lot more revealing. They'll tell you he's always been the way he is now – unassuming, generous, courteous, caring, supportive and disciplined, along with a bunch of other things that most people look for in their friends. He brings them all to the table.
His buddies describe him as a tireless worker – a guy who, when he's not fishing, is thinking about fishing. While Montgomery and Arey are out guiding deer hunters in the fall or pursuing whitetails on their own, Thrift is buying the newest baits, testing them and tinkering with them. His desire to improve is unquenchable.
He admits his biggest fear is that this could all be taken away from him if he doesn't fare well in the tournaments and he'd have to go back to erecting gas-station canopies – a job he performed on quite a few days this past fall and winter when the company he used to work for got into a personnel bind and needed the help. He wouldn't complain much if that were to occur, but life wouldn't be nearly as good as it is now.
Of course, things aren't quite as good as they could've been. If cancer hadn't claimed the life of Tommy Thrift, his father and No. 1 supporter, in January 2010, they could've shared the glory of his first tour-level win. And then his FLW Angler-of-the-Year title. And then his second tour-level win. There's no question that his dad's absence during the time he's taken his career to this new level causes him a great deal of pain.
Is he the best angler in the world right now? In my own worthless opinion, no, but he's not far down the list. The BassFan Rankings are merely a statistical formula that crunches numbers over a 2-year period. There are unmeasurable qualities that must be considered in any discussion of "best" or "greatest," and those classifications are different than "top-ranked over a specific timeframe."
Right now, Thrift doesn't have sufficient experience to be the equal of a few other guys in regard to some of the intangibles that you can't put numbers on. He'll get there, though, and he'll do it on his own, just like he's done everything else to this point. The foundation he's built for his present and future success is remarkably solid.
I'll guarantee one thing: He doesn't think he's the best. Unlike some guys who come into this game all full of piss and vinegar and then bomb out within a year or so, there will never come a time when he thinks he's better than he actually is. Some say there's no real difference between confidence and ego, but those people don't know anyone like Thrift. He's got plenty of the former and very little – if any – of the latter.
Whether he's 1st or 191st in the World Rankings, he's exactly what his late father raised him to be. And no matter what happens from here on out, no one should expect him to change a whole lot.
His head will not grow along with his status in this sport. Of that, Tommy Thrift would surely be quite proud.