CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Professional anglers will tell whoever will listen that confidence is everything when it comes to winning a tournament. It’s hard to be as calm, cool, collected and confident as Bryan Thrift is on Lake Norman as he takes a 1-pound, 9-ounce lead into the final day of Bass Pro Shops REDCREST 2023 Presented by Shore Lunch.
After an impressive 17-12 total on Friday, Thrift followed it up on Saturday with 15-6, pushing his two-day total to 33-2. While his lead shrunk a tad, he’s still in prime position to claim his first REDCREST trophy if he’s able to hold on for one more day.
Despite leading for most of the day, Alton Jones Jr. will have the tall task of tracking down Thrift. Jones had the best day on Norman by far on Saturday with a limit worth 17 pounds – no other angler cracked the 16-pound mark. While spotted bass continue to be the predominant species on SCORETRACKER®, it was a couple of 4-pound largemouth that propelled Jones past Jacob Wheeler and Matt Lee into sole possession of second place.
Lee saw the biggest jump of the day from 12th all the way up to third, putting himself in contention. Lee can thank the second-largest catch of the week on Norman for his rise, a 5-10 largemouth in the afternoon, plus a 4-pound spot at the buzzer. Lee’s two-day total is 29-0 and he’ll begin Sunday 4-2 off the lead.
Thrift began his morning with a 2-8 lead over Wheeler and knew that he was going to continue his formula – fill his limit with a Damiki underspin early and then move to the back of pockets in search of bigger bites. While he was able to fill his limit as planned, it took him a while to find those bigger bites to upgrade his best five.
“Today was a lot tougher,” Thrift admitted. “I got one big bite, a 4-10, at the end there and that was the difference maker. I had to pull out a lot of my tricks today to catch ‘em. I’m going to have to get three or four big bites tomorrow to win this thing.”
Along with his underspin, Thrift utilized a football jig, vibrating jig and swimbait to catch his 15 total fish on the day – the swimbait was to thank for that 4-10. With a cold front and rain in the forecast for Sunday, Thrift has no plans to change his strategy.
“I’m going to run the same pattern I’ve been running all week,” Thrift said. “I’ll start on those ditch fish and hopefully get a couple to fill my limit early. I won’t stay in there quite as long as I did today, I’ll just hit it pretty quick.”
With a $300,000 payday awaiting him Sunday afternoon if he can hold his lead, you would think Thrift is filled with nerves.
“Not really,” Thrift shrugged. “I mean, this is Lake Norman, it is what it is. You never know what can happen.”
Jones felt like it was going to take a miracle to make the cut on Friday. His prayers were answered with a 5-7 spotted bass He still feels like he needs another giant … but what’s one more?
The Texas pro is bouncing from dock to dock on Lake Norman using his Garmin LiveScope to quickly decipher which ones are worth his time. That speed has allowed Jones to attack Norman in a whole new way.
“I fished all new water today,” Jones said. “I don’t feel super confident, but I know what I’m looking for – main lake pockets, but not far back into them. I feel like I have a chance at a big spot or a big largemouth doing what I’m doing.”
Jones had two 4-pound largemouth and one 3-pound spot, so his quality seems to be there. He ended with the second-best day on SCORETRACKER®, with 17 pounds he was just 7 ounces behind the surging Matt Lee. Jones will continue with the same strategy tomorrow, but he knows the looming weather may be the deciding factor in who walks away with a $300,000 check.
“I felt like I was five big bites away from winning this thing on Friday,” Jones said. “Now, I feel like I’m two big bites away. I don’t expect the weights to continue on the track they’ve been on with this weather change. Guys will probably stumble a bit tomorrow.”
Five anglers were eliminated Saturday afternoon – Cody Meyer, Jesse Wiggins, Dakota Ebare, Jonathon VanDam and Anthony Gagliardi. Meyer, the first man below the cut finished just 3 ounces behind Ott DeFoe for the final spot in the Top 10. First-place Thrift and 10th-place DeFoe are separated by 9 pounds.
There were 151 scorable bass caught on Saturday – 128 spots and 23 largemouth. Once again, spotted bass were by far the majority of the catches, but it’s the largemouth that are making the biggest difference when found.
REDCREST 2023 comes to an epic conclusion on Sunday with the Championship Round. The 10 remaining anglers will carry over their weight from the previous two days and the angler with the highest three-day weight total will be named the REDCREST 2023 Champion. Coverage begins at 8:15 a.m. ET at MajorLeagueFishing.com and lines go in at 8:30 a.m. ET.
1. Bryan Thrift – 33-2 (10)
2. Alton Jones Jr. – 31-9 (10)
3. Matt Lee – 29-0 (10)
4. Jacob Wheeler – 28-14 (10)
5. Edwin Evers – 27-2 (10)
6. Randy Howell – 25-9 (10)
7. Dustin Connell – 25-7 (10)
8. Adrian Avena – 25-1 (10)
9. Casey Ashley – 24-9 (10)
10. Ott DeFoe – 24-2 (10)