New MLF pro Bryan Thrift has a winning percentage of nearly 10 percent in the past six seasons. Photo by Jody White

With one simple post on his social media, North Carolina pro Bryan Thrift summed up his thoughts about becoming a member of the MLF Bass Pro Tour roster in 2020: “I’m a little nervous and a little excited, but I’m ready to get started fishing the @majorleaguefishing #mlfbassprotour. It’s going to be fun fishing against friends I haven’t competed with in a long time.”

Thrift’s weekend post drew a quick response from MLF pro Ott Defoe: “Glad to be fishing against you again. In about 3 (sic) events I might regret those words big time.”

DeFoe’s “joking, but not really joking” response accurately sums up how most of the 80-angler MLF field feels about the amiable Thrift, who became a full-time tour-level pro the same year (2007) as DeFoe and fellow MLF pros/Carolinians Andy Montgomery and Casey Ashley.  

“I’ve spent countless hours with Bryan back in our team-tournament days, so I know exactly how good he is,” Montgomery said. “His attention to detail, tackle management and preparation are second to none. He’ll be a force in (the Bass Pro Tour) for many years to come.”

Thrift added the FLW Championship to his list of achievements in 2019, bringing his career winnings over the $3 million mark. Photo by Charles Waldorf

Thrift on a Career Roll

It’s hard to debate Montgomery’s assessment of his old local-jackpot partner.

Heading into his 15th season as a tour-level pro, Thrift has been one of the most successful – some would argue THE most successful – pros in the world in recent years. He’s racked up 12 tournament wins and 68 Top 10s in 171 events since he started fishing FLW Bass Fishing League tournaments in 2004 (the most Top 10s in FLW history). Even more impressively, 25 of those Top 10s have come since 2013, the most tour-level Top 10s among active bass pros in that seven-year period (MLF pro Jacob Wheeler is second with 21).

Seven of Thrift’s 12 wins have come since 2014, a winning percentage of just shy of 10 percent in that period of time (for comparison, Kevin VanDam’s career winning percentage is 8 percent).

Thrift finished sixth in FLW Tour Angler of the Year standings in 2019, marking the 11th time in 12 seasons that he’s finished the AOY race in the Top 10 (he was Top 5 in seven of those 12 years).

“Bryan is just from another planet,” joked David Dudley, who will join Thrift on the Bass Pro Tour in 2020. “I don’t even have the right words to describe how good he is.”

Thrift is coming off a 2019 season in which he racked up back-to-back wins just three weeks apart, winning the FLW Costa Series event on Lake Champlain in mid-July, and claiming the 2019 FLW Cup in on Lake Hamilton, Arkansas in August. His $399,900 in winnings in 2019 were the most in his career.

Thrift brings 12 wins and nearly 70 Top 10s to the Bass Pro Tour in 2020. Photo by Matt Pace

Some Familiar Faces, Some New Challenges

Thrift’s ascension to the Bass Pro Tour comes just over a year after he turned down a similar invitation to join the league for the 2019 campaign. That invitation in 2018 was just as appealing to Thrift as the one he recently accepted, but MLF’s recent acquisition of FLW and the creation of the FLW Pro Circuit changed the landscape for Thrift, clearing the way for him to join the Bass Pro Tour.

“I had already given FLW my word that I was going to fish with them when I got that initial invitation (from MLF) in 2018,” Thrift said. “It was important to me to keep my word to FLW. But, man, I’m excited now to get to fish with guys like Ott and Andy and Casey again. I get to get back in touch with and hang out with guys that I started my career with. I haven’t gotten to hang around and fish with a lot of them for a long time.”

Consensus among current MLF pros surveyed about Thrift’s chances in the MLF “catch, weigh, immediate-release” format is that the Evinrude pro won’t miss a beat.

He owns the FLW Tour record for consecutive tournament days catching a five-fish limit and is regarded as one of the best in the world at identifying patterns and deciphering changing conditions on the fly. He admits that he’s slightly nervous about unlocking the secret to managing the Bass Pro Tour’s two-day practice window, but is genuinely looking forward to the challenge.

“I don’t care too much what the format is: If it was ‘catch one and race around the lake three laps before you catch another one’, I wouldn’t really mind,” Thrift joked. “I’m just a little concerned about how long it’s going to take me to learn how to practice. Is it a one-year curve? Will it take me two or three days? Or will I just fall right into it?

“I kinda look at that like I look at going to a lake I’ve never been to before. I love figuring something out for the first time, and that’s how it’s going to be fishing the MLF format for the first time, basically learning things all over again. That aspect of gaining knowledge is exciting to me.”

NOTES: Thrift has had notable success on some of the fisheries on the 2020 Bass Pro Tour schedule: He’s earned four Top 10s and two wins on Lake Eufaula; five Top 10s and one win on Lake Okeechobee; two Top 10s and one win on Lake Champlain; and four Top 10s on four other fisheries he’ll compete on in the coming season.