Bryan Thrift claims he was surprised to catch 15 pounds, 3 ounces to get the lead on day one of the 2019 FLW Cup at Lake Hamilton, but if he’s really surprised he’s the only one. Like usual, the Shelby, N.C., pro was the favorite coming into the tournament, and he’s way overdue to finally get a Cup win. Everyone expected this.
However, earning the win will take holding off Louisiana pro Nick LeBrun, who’s only 3 ounces behind the leader and is as dangerous as they come in a scorching hot summertime event with a tough bite.
Interestingly, Thrift and LeBrun are fishing some of the same types of areas, but their approaches are much different.
LeBrun is dialed on a specific shallow pattern. Thrift is running a little bit of everything. He says for him that’s typical of fishing in the South in August.
“Today went a lot better than I expected. I said I was going to be happy if I caught 10 pounds because I hadn’t caught a lot of 2-pounders in practice,” Thrift says. “We had a lot of cloud cover today, and I think that really improved the bite some. I started shallow and caught a limit on a buzzbait in a couple hours. The rest of the day I bounced around between deep and shallow and made a few good culls here and there. It was just kind of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants fishing. I’m not really dialed in on one specific pattern; just kind of sampling seven or eight different patterns.”
He’s not committed to an area, either. Thrift ran all over the lake today, not quite from dam to dam. It was a tad reminiscent of the early years of Thrift’s career when he barely sat in one spot long enough for his boat wake to settle.
“That’s just August fishing,” he says. “I caught fish off places I never got a bite in practice. I know every brush pile and every stretch of bank on this lake has got a fish on it. I think sometimes they bite and sometimes they don’t in August, so running behind people doesn’t really matter because they might have fished it when the fish weren’t ready to feed.”
LeBrun’s day was quite different. He caught about a dozen bass, and every fish came on one bait.
“I’m staying shallow. I’m running the bank. But I’m doing something a little bit different,” says LeBrun. “I think I’m making some casts that maybe a lot of guys aren’t making. I think that I’m able to kind of run water that’s already been picked over, but we’ll kind of find that out tomorrow.
“I’m not getting a ton of bites, but the pattern I’ve got, it will catch big ones. I had four big bites today – I mean 3 1/2 [pounds] or more – and got two of them in. So it’s kind of a high-risk, high-reward deal. I accomplished my goal of I wanted to find a pattern and try to swing for the fences and try to win this thing. Today was a confirmation that I may have done that. We’ve got one more day to go. You can’t win it unless you make the cut, so that’s what we’re going to focus on.”
LeBrun is targeting a particular bank composition, with a particular bait and leaning mostly on one presentation. He only ran about 25 percent of his water today and actually added a 3-pounder from a “do-nothing bank” on the way in using a similar tactic.
“I’d never fished there before, so that kind of showed me that if you see a bank that’s set up right, maybe you can get bit in some new water,” he says. “I feel confident I’m going to get the bites to hopefully make the cut. It’s just a matter of getting them in the net. You do lose some.”
In the last two years, LeBrun has proved that he’s one of the best at these tough late-season tournaments. He won the T-H Marine FLW Bass Fishing League All-American on Cross Lake last May during a stretch when the air temperature was regularly in the upper 90s. Then he made the top 10 at the 2018 Cup on Ouachita in August. Now he’s got a shot at another top 10 during the peak of summer.
“What I’ve been told is I excel at tough tournaments, when it’s a grind and you’re fishing for five bites, and a lot of times in the middle of August that’s what it is,” he says. “There’s not many place in August that it’s a crushfest. Having that mentality and being from Louisiana where it’s 110 degrees every day definitely helps.”
On a crowded lake with a lot of weekend traffic expected and 52 of the best pros on the continent duking it out all weekend, there’s no guarantee either of these pros will be hoisting the Cup trophy on Sunday. But each has figured out how to catch fish doing the kinds of things he’s confident doing. Tomorrow on FLW Live we’ll get to see if either one’s approach can outlast the other.
According to Kyle Walters, beating the likes of Thrift and LeBrun on the bank in August is a tall order, so he came into this tournament with no plans to even try. The Florida pro is fully committed to fishing brush piles with soft plastics, which is what he did today to catch 13 pounds, 13 ounces.
“I started off really good. I caught five in the first 30 minutes or so,” Walters says.
He found fish schooled up around a piece of brush in the morning and was able to catch several by repeating one cast. After that, Walters experienced a lull.
The 2018 Costa FLW Series Championship winner was able to catch one more 2 1/2-pounder before the real fireworks happened. A few minutes before 2 p.m., Walters landed a pair of bass in the 4- to 4 1/2-pound range. Those bites helped him recover from losing another big fish in the morning.
“I kept praying the sun would come out, and it just never did. I could not get the fish to position,” he adds. “For some reason on that one area I was fishing they did group up there for about an hour, and I was able to pick them off.”
Walters fished about 25 spots total today in an area that he thinks is home to better quality fish. He’s got more spots, too, but like everyone Walters is sharing brush piles with other pros, including fourth-place pro Jordan Osborne.
He doesn’t seem too concerned about the pressure though.
“I think it’s more of a timing thing. If you’re in that right spot when they want to eat, you’ll catch them. I had fished the spot where I caught the two 4-pounders at 9 o’clock in the morning. So I fished it at 9, went back at 2 and they were there.
“I worked on that in practice a little bit. I didn’t rule out a spot if I didn’t get a bite in practice. I would go back more than once to be sure to rule it out. I’d go in the morning; I’d go in the afternoon.”
Jordan Osborne caught a limit for about 5 or 6 pounds this morning then camped out down by the dam. He only burned a few gallons of gas all day en route to assembling a catch worth 13 pounds, 11 ounces.
In terms of efficiency, he had a great day, though Osborne wonders if he should have runned and gunned a little more.
“If I could go back and do today over, I would’ve hit more piles, more offshore stuff than I did,” he says. “I had some that I thought were pretty special in practice, so I kind of kept throwing and throwing at them and might have spent a little too much time on them. But I had times in practice when I made 12 casts on a pile, and on the 12th cast caught one. I think I’ll adjust and kind of bounce around a little more tomorrow.”
Osborne figures he has to move more tomorrow due to the pressure. Some of his brush piles were “ransacked” today. He counted 12 boats that stopped on one.
Tomorrow, increased recreational boat traffic will be another factor to account for.
“As much as we’re going to hate the boat traffic, I have a feeling the boat traffic will make that offshore bite a little bit better,” Osborne says. “I think it’ll make those fish want to go down and hide in that brush instead of coming up to feed. So I’m hoping that plays to my favor tomorrow because I’m sure it’s going to be busy because it’s Saturday.”
The only other pro to crack 13 pounds on day one was Austin Felix of Eden Prairie, Minn., who weighed 13-5. Felix seemed the least confident and least dialed of all the top pros on day one.
That’s because he didn’t have much of a game plan coming into today following a tough practice that never revealed a consistent method of getting bites. Today, he rigged as many rods as he could and just ran a little of everything.
“I pretty much finesse junk-fished,” Felix says. “I started by takeoff and fished some deep stuff but didn’t really get bit. I started throwing a buzzbait around and caught a few dinks. I caught a decent one skipping a wacky Senko, so I started working my way up the river, fishing docks, fishing brush when I ran up to it. At noon I probably had 9 or 10 pounds, mostly skipping a Senko.
“Later in the day they came up schooling in one area, and I caught two really nice ones on a swimmer.”
The schooling bite is inconsistent. Without a schooling flurry or a couple surprise big bites tomorrow, Felix isn’t sure he can crack double-digits. He’ll just plan to do more of the same from today and hope to creep his way into the cut.
Top 10 pros
1. Bryan Thrift – Shelby, N.C. – 15-3 (5)
2. Nick LeBrun – Bossier City, La. – 15-0 (5)
3. Kyle Walters – Grant Valkaria, Fla. – 13-13 (5)
4. Jordan Osborne – Longview, Texas – 13-11 (5)
5. Austin Felix – Eden Prairie, Minn. – 13-5 (5)
6. Bryan Schmitt – Deal, Md. – 12-15 (5)
7. Joel Willert – Prior Lake, Minn. – 12-13 (5)
8. Billy McCaghren – Mayflower, Ark. – 12-4 (5)
9. Jeremy Lawyer – Sarcoxie, Mo. – 12-1 (5)
10. J Todd Tucker – Moultrie, Ga. – 11-14 (5)