Belmont, N.C., pro Bryan New is no stranger to big tournaments. His ascent through the ranks of FLW’s grassroots levels has been nothing short of extraordinary, and that path has included top finishes in some of the biggest tournaments in the sport (including four FLW Cups), albeit mostly as a co-angler.
But since the 29-year-old has taken over the front of the boat in earnest, fishing his last FLW event as a co-angler in 2017, New has steadily been making a case to be considered one of the brightest rising stars of the sport. Five top 10s in T-H Marine Bass Fishing League (BFL) and Costa FLW Series events this year proves it, as does his inclusion in the Costa FLW Series Championship field.
As the rest of the 193-angler field readies for the final day of practice on Lake Cumberland, New meets me at Conley Bottom in Cumberland’s midsection for an inside look at how he’s been tackling the puzzle that is the FLW Series Championship on what might prove to be an unusually stingy fishery.
New decided to launch from Conley Bottom on his final day of practice to allow for a more thorough search of the surrounding waters. Despite Cumberland’s enormous size, New has managed to cover a massive portion of it through three days.
Today, it’s all about establishing a pattern – any pattern – that he can rely on to catch a limit early each tournament day so he can turn his attention to chasing some bigger fish.
As New idles out of Conley Bottom and waits for the clock to strike 8 a.m. (when anglers are officially allowed to begin practicing), he floats up to FLW pro Jeremy Lawyer, who has had his own share of success in 2019. The two exchange some friendly comments and a joke before it’s time to head out.
New doesn’t run far. He’s at his first practice spot by 8:02. It’s a rocky bank across from the ramp. Rocky banks are more than abundant on Cumberland – that’s basically every mile of shoreline on the fishery – but New knows each one can be a little bit different, and he’s looking for a stretch that might be holding some quality fish.
He tosses a swimbait and a wake bait around some standing timber that would otherwise be submerged were the lake not down several dozen feet from normal pool while working his way back into a small cut with a drain in the back.
“You’d think I’d have given up on these by now,” New says, referring to the numerous areas at which runoff water typically meets up with Cumberland.
Still, there are signs of life. New misses what appears to be a very small bass that swiped at his wake bait in the back of the drain.
While several patterns could be big players this week, New suspects that beating the bank is ultimately going to be what wins the tournament.
“Burning the bank; this is what I love,” he says. “I love covering water.”
So far this week, that’s about the only thing that has produced for the young pro.
After a short run farther up the bank, New finally hooks into his first fish of the day – a small spot that offered at his crankbait. New has caught plenty of spots in practice this week and only a handful of largemouths and smallmouths. He laments about the fact that he hasn’t figured out where the big green fish are yet, though he has other thoughts about their brown brethren.
“I think I know where the smallmouth are,” he explains. “I just don’t think I can catch them – at least not right now.”
New has found that the smallmouth bite has typically been better very late in the day, but that’s not going to help during the tournament. The bite needs to turn on much sooner than that.
Like clockwork, New hooks into a smallmouth, but it’s not quite the right quality.
“Now we’re on ’em,” he quips.
While he continues burning the bank and searching for more bites, the conversation turns to the tournament as a whole, and that New thinks conditions are going to be tough enough that it’s unlikely anyone will truly be dialed in on anything ultra-productive. In his estimation, someone who excels at junk-fishing is going to have the best chance of earning the victory.
At this point, New is practically begging Cumberland’s bass population to give him some information. He’s had some rough practices before – something he admits doesn’t always make for a bad tournament – but he’s just not comfortable with the fact that he isn’t learning as much as he’d like to be.
“Come on, bass. Teach me something,” he says out loud. “Problem is, I’m a slow learner.”
New stops to graph a point and then proceeds on his bank-beating mission with a buzzbait rod in hand. At 8:55, he finally hooks into his first keeper of the day.
New, who’s seen his share of tough tournaments, is pretty open about what he thinks will constitute good weights come tournament time. He says 14 pounds may well be good enough for a top-40 finish and something just south of 40 pounds for the win. He expects weights to be significantly dampened by what are forecasted to be much colder conditions on Friday.
“Give me four 2.5s and a 4-pounder and I’ll be very happy,” he says of his aspirations for day one.
New picks up an umbrella rig and makes a few casts before picking up the trolling motor for another short run. On his way to the next spot, he passes FLW pro Bryan Thrift (whom New is rooming with this week, along with Barron Adams) and gives a big wave.
New and Thrift are good friends, and they’ve already spent some time on the phone with each other at this point. They’ll exchange several more calls throughout the day to discuss everything from what they’re catching to what they’re cooking for dinner that night. Thrift is on a solid striper bite, and New asks him to keep a couple to clean for the frying pan.
In passing, New discusses his newfound love for striper fishing, which has really taken hold in the last four or five years. But, when it comes to the business at hand, it’s a few different species of bass that are the priority, and business is a little slow.
New continues running various banks, including stretches that run back into some of Cumberland’s many creeks. He’s seeing a ton of bait on his graphs, but he just can’t seem to figure out why the bass aren’t in there gorging on the baitfish. This time of year, locating bass is usually as simple as finding the bait.
At 9:30, New gets a strike on his buzzbait, which he’s winding over a shallow point. It comes unbuttoned, but that’s rarely a bad thing in practice. It also gives him more information to work with.
Back in the creek, New sees more bait and still can’t get over the fact that he’s not seeing as many bass as he would expect.
“It blows my mind, man,” he says. “Blows my mind.”
After several casts with a crankbait and a small swimbait, New decides to head back to a small rock pile he graphed on the way into the back of the creek. He starts dragging a finesse bait over the pile and gets bit immediately. It comes off, but New is encouraged.
“That was the coolest thing that’s happened since I’ve been here,” he says.
It all adds up to more information at New’s disposal. He talks a lot about the fish teaching him things, and so far, it’s been a pretty boring class for the pro, who’s looking for something closer to a graduate-level curriculum.
New says he visually spotted some bass in the same creek earlier in practice, but that was also right after some heavy rains that washed a lot of water into the back of the pocket. He suspects that incoming flow might have had something to do with their presence. Right now, there’s nothing at all flowing into any creek he’s been fishing.
At 10:40, New is about as far back in the creek as his Ranger will allow him to go. It’s less than two feet deep, though he does see a small keeper swimming around just below the surface. After making a quick cast in its direction with a flipping bait (to no avail), he begins to head back out toward the main lake, stopping briefly to flip some small standing timber with abundant branches.
The sun begins to poke through after a fairly foggy start to the day, and it’s time for New to find some unfamiliar water. He heads back out to the main lake and stops on a long point that’s only about 30 feet deep – almost dirt-shallow by Lake Cumberland standards – to toss around a small swimbait and a jig. He sees fish on his graph, but they aren’t especially interested in what he’s offering.
“I wish I had a limit hole where I could go catch 8 pounds and then go fishing,” he says.
This might be the kind of spot where that could happen, but so far, he’s found little evidence to suggest it will.
New continues tossing around his swimbait, as well as an umbrella rig. He puts in a lot more time on this spot than any other so far, simply because it’s a pattern he hasn’t explored much, and he thinks it could be good.
“This is like finding a needle in a haystack,” he admits. “But this is the only thing I haven’t done yet, and I think it could work.”
He points at more fish he’s seeing on his graph.
“That’s something. That has to be something.”
At 11:35, New is still probing the main-lake point as Robbie Crosnoe cruises by. New pretends to lean into one with an exaggerated hookset just to give his buddy something to think about before turning to wave.
He tries the rig again, just to give the fish on his graph something new to look at.
“We’ll see how this goes; probably not very well,” he jokes. “But at least it should have some calling power.”
With no additional luck around noon, it’s time for New to make more runs down the lake, and time for the gracious pro to drop off his reporter. He picks up the trolling motor and makes the short run back to Conley Bottom. Idling back toward the ramp, he leaves me with one more thought.
“Know what the good thing is?” he asks rhetorically. “A bad practice doesn’t mean you’re going to have a bad tournament.
“I may not find anything, but I know I’m going to work as hard or harder than everybody else.”