Down the stretch, three-time Angler of the Year Andy Morgan threatened to unseat Bryan Thrift. Key word, “threatened.” In the end, the Shelby, N.C., pro did just enough over the final two events to wrap up a truly spectacular season and earn his second Angler of the Year title and the $100,000 prize that goes with it.
On the year, Thrift finished second at Guntersville and Travis to start the season, then sixth at the Harris Chain, 12th at Lake Cumberland and third at Beaver Lake. He wrapped up the season with two unspectacular-but-sufficient showings on a pair of river systems – 59th on the Mississippi and 48th on the Potomac.
Thrift is perennially in the top 10 of the FLW Tour standings, but up until today, he had only a lone Angler of the Year title to his resume from 2010.
“It’s a huge difference, like a $100,000 difference,” says Thrift. “It’s nice to finally win it again. I think I blew Angler of the Year three or four times since then. To be able to do it the first season we’ve had seven events, to me that’s a huge accomplishment.
“The Angler of the Year is the greatest accomplishment you can have in professional fishing. You were the best fisherman all year long. Not one tournament, not the championship, but all year long.”
The final event
The FLW Tour presented by Costa Sunglasses on the Potomac River wrapped up the season, but winning the title was no sure thing. After all, Morgan had finished second the last time the Tour fished on the Potomac, and Thrift’s dislike of rivers is well-publicized.
“My vibe was ‘don’t screw this up,’” says Thrift. “I think going into the Mississippi I had an 80-point lead (it was 84 points over Scott Canterbury), and I knew as long as I finished 40th or better in both of [river events] I would win. I finished 59th at the Mississippi, and I still had a 77-point lead. Coming here I knew as long as I finished 77th or better I was good.”
On day one, Thrift caught 14 pounds, 9 ounces and was doing just a little better than he needed to do. On day two, he improved with 15 pounds, 3 ounces to clinch the title.
“Today, I started in a different place, and it was the right move,” says Thrift. “I caught a 3-pounder on a frog on my second or third cast, and pretty much caught what I caught by 8 or 9 o’clock. So, I was fishing with a clear mind the rest of the day knowing I was just looking for one more bite. I caught some 2-pounders that didn’t help me, but I fished happy instead of mad like I did Thursday.”
At Guntersville to start the season, Thrift fished docks and a hard spot in a bed of eelgrass to finish second to Mark Rose. In all, he weighed nearly 80 pounds and had a legitimate shot at the win until Rose landed a kicker on his last cast of the tournament.
At stop two down at Lake Travis, Thrift finished runner-up to Mark Rose again. The Carolina pro started the tournament with a giant 24-pound bag for the lead, but his weights tailed off hard after that. There, Thrift caught his fish on a Ned rig, a shaky head and a jig skipped under docks.
Thrift booked his third top-10 finish of the season at the Harris Chain in Florida, stretching his streak of FLW Tour top 10s to five in a row. At Harris, Thrift made the run into Lake Griffin each day and primarily fished offshore grass with a lipless bait, adding a few key fish along the way flipping and frogging up shallow.
The top-10 streak snapped at Lake Cumberland, where he finished 12th after a subpar effort on day three. Again, Thrift showcased his versatility, catching largemouths cranking and flipping, and smallmouths on a swimbait.
Thrift always excels at Beaver Lake, and he really locked up the Angler of the Year title at the Ozark reservoir. While some stalwarts struggled to adapt to the incredibly fast-rising water, Thrift stayed steady with a Ned rig and a swimbait to finish third. Weighing one of only two limits on the final day, he rocketed ahead of Clark Wendlandt, leaving only Scott Canterbury and Andy Morgan in any kind of striking distance.
Big lead in hand, Thrift faltered at the Mississippi River. Known for his dislike of rivers, Thrift put up two small limits and finished 59th, missing a check for the first time since April, 2016. On the Big Muddy, Thrift flipped some and tossed a swimbait a little, but he says a Damiki Stinger was his primary bait.
The season finale at the Potomac posed the greatest challenge of the season for Thrift. With a bad history in June on the tidal fishery, the memory of coughing up the AOY title to Scott Martin in 2015 was fresh on his mind. After putting up 14-9 on day one, Thrift basically needed to hold serve on day two. Fishing a frog and a baby bass-colored Damiki Stinger, he sewed up the title with 15-3 to improve to 48th place.