“Everything worked out as planned.”
Those were the words of Bryan Thrift during the press conference following his 2023 REDCREST victory.
Nothing about gut feelings or getting lucky or crediting the victory to a higher power. No "I can’t believe it!" moments. Remember who we’re talking about here.
Bryan Thrift is on a different level, and he’s been that way for quite some time. Fans following close will remember Thrift being absent from the inaugural year of the BPT, making us all wonder why, and rejoicing as he joined the tour for the second season. Never letting off the gas after a campaign in which he won over a half-million dollars in a year, Thrift hammered out consecutive REDCREST appearances, culminating with a win we all knew was bound to happen.
The tournament was custom-made for a Thrift victory, many predicting such at the 2022 announcement of Lake Norman as the battleground. Thrift not only had the home-lake advantage, his style of methodical mid-depth structure fishing would compete for the best method to target Norman’s pre-spawn bass. Then, just as planned, a cold-front stalled over the Carolinas and kept those fish deep, where Thrift held a master’s class in isolated-target fishing.
I’d spent considerable time learning Thrift’s methods – including once spending several consecutive days in a boat with him while gathering content for a MLF magazine story. While he’s always moved quickly from spot to spot, Thrift has settled into a practice of deliberate structure work, often casting a half-dozen or more lures at small schools of bass holding on specific spots.
He credited forward-facing sonar for the victory, somewhat. Live broadcast viewers may have noted that Thrift doesn’t “pan around” looking for individual fish like other anglers, but instead uses his unit to get lined up and check the activity of a spot, relying more on his bread-and-butter Humminbird 360 for the bulk of the work.
“I don’t like chasing individual fish,” Thrift told the press. “It frustrates me.” In fact, I wonder if the forward-facing unit on Thrift’s boat may have been a little more for show than function.
It all went as planned.
Thrift knew upon the announcement; he appreciated the five-day event. “It determines a true winner,” Thrift said. Unlike a three-day tournament “there’s no luck, no one spot to win from. It makes a true champion.”
I couldn’t agree more. Just lasting five days is tough. And the final day was grueling; 35-degree temperatures and rain. In today’s age of tournaments quick to cancel, it was good to see the pros forced to deal with the same weather the rest of us are subject to on any given Saturday.
Early in the final rounds, it looked as though Thrift may have challengers. Edwin Evers was hitting his stride, utilizing a glidebait technique he admitted having little experience with. Yet, in the course of three days, Evers went from student to teacher. The weather wouldn’t beat him, we were assured, as Evers again reminded fans how incredibly hardcore and athletic his approach is. In the end, he’d run out of fish.
Little Alton was there, no surprise. Statistics prove A.J. Jr. as one of the five best pros on the BPT. Mature beyond his age, Alton never got flustered when a big bass tangled in the trolling motor; instead landing the fish and immediately catching another – even bigger – on his next cast.
Wheeler turned it on, as usual. This now makes three Top-5 finishes in a row at REDCREST for him. It’s only a matter of time before the chips fall the other way. Just how does he do it?
The events surrounding REDCREST were as notable as the tournament itself. The accompanying outdoor expo – bigger and better, yet again – has become one of the best in the country. Professionalism to a “T”.
The REDCREST broadcast, for my money, leads the category. Over 40 hours of commentary – all completely viewable at the conclusion of each day – by a team that has meshed well and now produces the best bass fishing show in the world. I geeked out in the evenings following the festivities, studying the footage in my hotel ’til the wee hours of the morning. Finally, someone listened and gave me the opportunity to enjoy my sport just like the others.
But out on the water, Thrift took it down. Deservedly. I love when the best man wins, and this was no exception. Asked what he looked toward next, Thrift was realistic: “You’re only as good as your last tournament. So, while I’d like to rest, I can’t.”
Of course not. Otherwise, you’d never be Bryan Thrift.
Only as good as your last. In this case, one of the two biggest victories in professional bass fishing. A victory that many predicted and every fan can appreciate. As Alton Jones Jr. said: “I didn’t lose. Thirft just beat us all.”
Just as he planned.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)