Recently crowned Bass Pro Shops REDCREST Presented by Shore Lunch Champion Bryan Thrift is widely regarded as one the best professional bass anglers of all time. The Mercury Pro Team angler proved that label is accurate as he claimed the REDCREST trophy and $300,000 payday on Lake Norman, his home lake.
Thrift carried the weight of the North Carolina fans on his shoulders and certainly came through, which isn’t always the case when a local angler fishes a major event. But, with decades of knowledge on Lake Norman, Thrift leaned on a combination of encyclopedic knowledge of the lake, a handful of proven baits, and something a little different than many anglers wouldn’t normally think of when it comes to Bryan Thrift.
“To me, the most important thing I did was use my electronics to be efficient and find my fish,” Thrift said. “I used Humminbird MEGA Live and Humminbird MEGA 360 in conjunction with each other. Together, I believe they’re the ultimate tool that helped me catch more fish.”
Even though forward-facing sonar gets the lion’s share of attention regarding electronics in pro tournaments nowadays, Thrift is quick to point out the value of the MEGA 360 imaging to boost his efficiency when big money is on the line.
“Forward-facing gets all the hype, but MEGA 360 shows everything around the boat all of the time,” Thrift said. “I don’t have to keep moving to locate what I need to see. With the 360, I can see the unique structures like single stumps and rockpiles on channel swings, or even a ball of baitfish. I can see the cover I want, then use the MEGA Live to zero in on it.”
When Thrift would locate the cover he wanted to check out, he would then focus on his MEGA Live unit to bring him real-time information.
“Basically, MEGA Live allowed me to see what kind of activity was in the areas I wanted to fish,” Thrift said. “I needed to see the presence of baitfish and see how much activity there was in the area. How the bass were relating to the bait and the structure. My electronics really helped me decide how to fish.”
Of course, it wasn’t only Thrift’s use of electronics that propelled him to victory, it was a combination of proficiency at using his Humminbirds, decades of knowledge of Lake Norman and where to search for bass, and how to effectively present his baits to maximize his ability to catch them.
“On Days 1, 2, and 3, I started fishing in a ditch,” Thrift said. “I’d caught them there before. In practice, bait was everywhere in that area. Once I saw the bait, I knew the bass would be there. Then, I paid attention to my 360 to find stumps, rockpiles, anything they’d hold on. My plan was to start in the ditch, get a limit of spotted in the first period anywhere between 10 and 12 pounds, then go look for a bigger largemouth bite.”
For the first three days of the event, Thrift used a combination of a Damiki Underspin, a Fitzgerald football jig, and a 5-inch swimbait.
He fished deeper water to start, then eventually moved shallow. Retrieve speed was the key to his success catching his limits early the first three days.
“Retrieve speed with the underspin and football jig was very important,” Thrift said. “The ditch fish I was catching were in 20 to 30 feet of water. I believe there are essentially two types of fish there; the smaller ones chase bait higher in the water column, but the bigger fish stay closer to bottom and are opportunistic, taking whatever is easy to catch as it moves by, like a shad.
“I’d make long casts with the underspin and let it hit bottom. Then, retrieve it back about 2 to 3 feet off bottom all the way back. The football head was on bottom the entire retrieve, but I’d keep it moving. Kind of like deep water Biffle Head fishing.”
Thrift’s bigger largemouth were caught in shallow pockets using the swimbait. On the final two days of fishing, using the same Humminbird electronic approach, Thrift moved up relatively shallow and changed his baits to catch his winning limits.
“On the final two days, I caught eight of 10 scorable bass on the JackHammer bladed jig in the Spot Remover color with a Damiki Armor Shad trailer,” he said. “I also caught all the fish in about 6 to 10 feet of water. I tried to approach this tournament with an open mind. I still can’t believe my plan worked out as flawlessly as it did. It’s what you have to have happen to win a major championship. It rarely happens that your approach works 100%, but it did.”