Everyone knew it was only a matter of time, and that time is finally now. Bryan Thrift is an FLW Cup champion.
The Shelby, N.C., pro won the 2019 FLW Cup at Lake Hamilton with a three-day total weight of 38 pounds, 7 ounces.
Winning the Cup is not something Thrift needed to do to prove his greatness. That he’s one of the best ever was already an agreed-upon fact by just about everyone. Winning the Cup just added more separation between him and so many others. At 40 years old, in addition to being a world champion, Thrift is a two-time FLW Tour Angler of the Year, a seven-time Tour-level winner, holds a slew of FLW records and has now earned more than $3 million in his FLW career.
Coming into this week, Thrift was the favorite to win. It just felt like a Bryan Thrift kind of tournament, and it turns out it was.
August in the South is an incredibly difficult time to fish a multi-day bass tournament. Bass are stingy, and bites are tough to get. It’s rare to find a school of bass that can hold up for more than a day. Thrift’s style is the perfect tool to attack that type of scenario. He’s mastered the craft of “precision junk-fishing,” whereby he fishes specific targets (usually dozens of them) but chooses from 10 to 15 baits to make the perfect presentation for each target.
For the most part, that’s how Thrift fished at Hamilton. However, each day, he eventually settled down in Hot Springs Creek and grinded out key bites that pushed his weight ahead of everyone else. Slowing down at the end of the day was a veteran move that Thrift might not have made early on in his career, when he never fished a spot long enough for a cameraman to focus his lens.
And it obviously worked to perfection. Thrift led from wire to wire, starting with 15-3 on day one and 12-7 on day two. He led Kyle Walters, who roomed with Thrift this week, by 1 pound, 8 ounces coming into the final day, when Thrift wound up as the only angler to catch a double-digit limit. Weighing in 10-13 gave Thrift a 5-pound, 1-ounce winning margin over Walters.
As easy as Thrift can make it look sometimes, this was a grueling tournament.
“I’m wore slam out,” says Thrift. “I really am. I fished as hard as I ever have in my life today. I’m tired, but I’m feeling good.”
The only time that Thrift really stuck a lot of fish in a hurry was the final morning when he pulled up to his first spot and fish were busting the surface over a 200-yard span.
“Today started out actually pretty good,” he says. “I ran to a place that I knew [Bryan] Schmitt was catching them schooling, and I knew he didn’t make the cut. So I went in there, and sure enough they were schooling like crazy. I caught a limit fairly quickly at probably about 8 or 8:30. It didn’t weigh much; maybe 7 or 7 1/2 pounds. And I’m thinking, ‘Shoot, I’ve got all day to upgrade. This is good. We’re good to go.’
“So that helped slow me down and give me confidence. But at about 12:30 I hadn’t had another bite. I had one area that I’d caught most of my weight in in the last hour and a half each day in Hot Springs Creek. So I ran in there at 12:30. I said, ‘If I’m gonna win it, I’m gonna win it back here.’ I didn’t crank the boat until 3:30 and ended up culling three.”
The schooling spot was a small dead-end pocket with deep water running all the way to the back. The bass were pushing bait up not quite to the bank, but close. In fact, Thrift had a crowd of spectators in bass boats watching behind him, as well as a crowd on a large road causeway watching in front of him.
He caught those fish on a small walking topwater first thing (at other points in the tournament he caught some schoolers on a Damiki Rig Underspin Head with a Damiki Armor Shad swimbait). After that flurry, when he switched to a crankbait, he landed about seven hybrid stripers in a row. That was his sign that the black bass were gone or at least done cooperating.
Once he left that spot, Thrift ran up and down the lake throwing topwaters around docks and fishing about 15 main-lake brush piles, but he never caught another keeper until returning to his key spot in Hot Springs Creek.
“It’s just a shallow flat,” he says of that final spot. “It’s got a lot of shad back there. There were three little brush piles. They weren’t big. They were maybe the size of the hood of a truck; just three small, little brush piles. I’d just rotate between them. One of them, they were kind of schooling around a little bit, and I caught a couple around it while they were up schooling.”
His critical move wasn’t just to run to the flat in Hot Springs Creek, but to exercise the patience to slow down and grind it out there.
“The first day, I caught three 3 1/2-pounders out of there in the last 30 minutes. Then, the second day, I ran back there and culled everything I had in the last hour. And then today I ran back there and culled three.”
In the mornings and midday this week, Thrift ran main-lake brush with a crankbait, a drop-shot and a topwater bait if they were schooling. That pattern was solid on days one and two, but it fizzled out today in hot, post-frontal conditions. He also caught some shallow on day one using a variety of baits, including a buzzbait.
At weigh-in, in front of a packed Bank OZK Arena crowd, all those patterns, all the preparation behind them, all the hours of hard work to get to Hot Springs, finally came to a head, with Thrift standing on stage amid the confetti and the pyrotechnics, hoisting the FLW Cup trophy that he’d come so close to winning several times before. It's the title that everyone knew was coming. That doesn't make it any less sweet for the champ.
“I can’t believe I won,” Thrift told the crowd. “I still can’t believe it’s actually happened.”
Top 10 pros
1. Bryan Thrift – Shelby, N.C. – 38-7 (15) – $300,200
2. Kyle Walters – Grant Valkaria, Fla. – 33-6 (15) – $60,100
3. Dakota Ebare – Denham Springs, La. – 32-2 (14) – $50,000
4. Jeremy Lawyer – Sarcoxie, Mo. – 31-6 (15) – $37,500
5. Scott Martin – Clewiston, Fla. – 31-2 (15) – $30,000
6. Austin Felix – Eden Prairie, Minn. – 30-6 (15) – $24,000
7. Joseph Webster – Winfield, Ala. – 28-2 (15) – $23,000
8. Ryan Salzman – Huntsville, Ala. – 26-12 (15) – $22,000
9. Josh Douglas – Isle, Minn. – 26-3 (14) – $21,000
10. Jordan Osborne – Longview, Texas – 22-6 (10) – $20,000