FLW is looking forward to getting back on the water once it’s safe to come together and fish tournaments again. In the meantime, we’ll be offering a little retrospective on some of the all-time greats who’ve fished with FLW through the years.
In this case, we’re visiting the top 10 highlights in the career of Bryan Thrift. Before switching over to the Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour, Thrift had a superlative career while climbing the ranks in FLW and competing on the FLW Tour. With more than $3 million in earnings in basically 15 years, Thrift has been on the leading edge of the technical side of fishing and an overpowering competitor since the start.
About Bryan Thrift:
Hometown: Shelby, N.C
Career earnings with FLW: $3,008,675
Career FLW wins: 12
Career FLW top 10s: 68
FLW Cup appearances: 13
Here are 10 highlights from Thrift’s career in more-or-less chronological order:
1. Turning pro
Fishing as a boater in the South Carolina Division of the Phoenix Bass Fishing League presented by T-H Marine, Thrift competed in his first FLW tournaments in 2004. He didn’t weigh any bass to start the year at Santee Cooper, but he finished fourth in May on Santee and then second in September on Lake Wylie.
The next year, fishing as a co-angler, Thrift won two of the four Toyota Series Southeastern Division events. Winning on Santee Cooper and Lake Eufaula, Thrift finished second in the season-long points race, ahead of now-familiar names such as John Cox and Brad Knight. Back then, anglers like Wesley Strader, Anthony Gagliardi, JT Kenney and Steve Kennedy were tops in the points on the boater side.
After switching to the boater side of the FLW Series in 2006, Thrift immediately won the season opener on Okeechobee, beating local stick and current BPT pro Bobby Lane by ounces in the finals, but by more than 7 pounds of total weight.
There, Thrift helped to introduce a new lure to the fishing world – one that would go on to become a staple in everyone’s tackle box:
For four days, Thrift fished a 3/8-ounce Chatterbait (made by Rad Lures in South Carolina) in various colors in the Moonshine Bay area of Okeechobee. He fished the bait on 30-pound-test braided line.
Thrift targeted a mix of hydrilla and reeds with the unique swimming jig that features a bill-like blade in the front, which produces an erratic action.
"The best places were where the reed line and hydrilla created a seam," Thrift explained. "There were holes and gaps in the hydrilla where it met the reeds, and that's where all my big bites came from. I'd swim the Chatterbait over the holes, kind of slow-rolling it, ripping it and pausing it over each hole – that's when the big ones would crush it."
On the Tour as a co-angler, Thrift did pretty well in 2006, earning a top-10 finish in two of the three events and handily leading the points race through those tournaments. Unfortunately, he couldn’t fish the rest of the season because of demand, so we all missed out on a chance at witnessing an early stealth COY title for the North Carolinian.
He turned pro on the FLW Tour for the 2007 season.
After joining the Tour, Thrift wasted no time in making his mark. He finished second in the first event of the season on Lake Travis before going on to post a 28th-place AOY finish, which was the lowest he ever had on Tour. Naturally, he was the Rookie of the Year. He also finished fifth in the FLW Cup, which was a nice way to get his run of Cup success going.
Thrift finished fifth in points in 2008 and 2009, and in 2010, he took another step forward. After losing his father in January, Thrift put together a truly remarkable season, with four top-10 finishes and a dominating win on Lake Norman. Besting Andy Morgan by 51 points, Thrift also picked up his first Tour AOY title before finishing in the top 10 in the Cup.
2010 was the start of what turned into a truly remarkable decade in which Thrift consistently dominated. Between hoisting that first AOY trophy and now, Thrift would go on to finish in the top 10 on Tour 21 more times, make the top 10 in the Cup eight more times and finish outside of the top eight in the AOY standings just once.
3. Beaver in 2011
Newly a father in 2011, Thrift won the FLW Tour season opener on Beaver Lake to get 2011 off to a rollicking start. He threw a jerkbait because Matt Arey tipped him off to it and caught a 20-pound bag on the third day of the event, which vaulted him into contention and was the largest single-day bag ever caught in FLW Tour competition on Beaver Lake at that point in time.
Despite it being his second win, and coming on the heels of an AOY, Thrift tabbed the Beaver Lake victory as his most meaningful to that point.
"I don't want to slow down," said Thrift, who has posted seven top-10 finishes and two wins in the last eight events dating back to the 2009 Forrest Wood Cup. "I want to catch them everywhere I go. That's my goal."
He said this win might mean more to him than last year's triumph at Norman, his first Tour win.
"I'd have to say it is, even though this one wasn't at home with a bunch of friends and family around. But it's my first win with my new son, Wylie. It was his first tournament, and he got to see me win."
As it happened, it wouldn’t be the last tournament Wylie would watch his dad win.
4. The Rayburn win
Thrift took a bit of a break the next few years, though he did notch a pair of second-place finishes on Tour in 2012 and finished third in the Cup in 2012 and 2013. In 2014, coming off a rare triple-digit finish at Lake Hartwell, Thrift bested Mark Rose and Greg Hackney at the FLW Tour event on Sam Rayburn by running up the river and fishing cypress trees for bass that were staging to spawn.
5. Gunning at Eufaula
After finishing second in 2013 at Eufaula, Thrift got a measure of revenge on the lake in 2015 to notch his fourth Tour win in six years. There, Thrift targeted hundreds of brush piles during the event, perfectly blending his old-school dock-running skills from the Carolinas with his mastery of technology. On the final day, when his offshore brush program seemed to be faltering, Thrift even picked up a frog to pull a keeper off a dock.
6. Two wins in 2016
Thrift added another two FLW wins to his resume in 2016, and he put them together in two strikingly different ways.
The first came in an FLW Series event on Santee Cooper in the spring. The event was a smashfest from the start. Scott Canterbury started it off with a 32-1 limit to take the lead, and though Canterbury faltered, the fishing certainly didn’t. On the final day, Thrift hammered out his own “dirty thirty” to go from fourth to first for the win. Thrift also notably placed his hat over the POV camera mounted on his boat at one of his stops, so you know he was really on the juice.
The next win came at Norman in the FLW Tour Invitational. Thrift actually didn’t win by much – just a few ounces separated him and Scott Beattie – but he started the final day in fifth place and seemed virtually fated to win from the start. It was Thrift’s second win at Norman, and yet another impressive defense of his home waters.
7. The second AOY
Down the stretch in 2017, three-time Angler of the Year Andy Morgan threatened to unseat Bryan Thrift. Key word: “threatened.” In the end, Thrift’s incredible start to the season was enough to carry him to his second AOY title.
On the year, which was the first Tour season with seven events, 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.
For Thrift and fans, the second title almost seemed overdue.
“It’s nice to finally win it again. I think I blew Angler of the Year three or four times since . 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.”
8. Winning on Cumberland
Though Thrift was slow to develop a reputation for Northern excellence, he’s virtually always had a handle on Southern smallmouths. In the spring of 2018, often fishing in pouring rain or frigid cold, Thrift put more than 70 pounds of brown bass on the scale to win the FLW Tour event at Cumberland. Though Clent Davis focused solely on smallmouths and finished third in the event, basically everyone else in the top 10 mixed smallmouths and largemouths or went all green.
9. The stats
During Thrift’s incredible run of success, he’s piled up some pretty unbelievable stats. While nobody has earned more with FLW than David Dudley, who has amassed $3,804,409 in winnings in 25 years, Thrift has earned $3,008,675 in just 16 years and is the only other pro over the $3 million mark. Impressively, of the three pros with more than $2.9 million in earnings (Scott Martin is the other one), Thrift is the only one who has never won $500,000 or more in one shot, and he’s been fishing professionally for fewer years than both Dudley and Martin.
Thrift also has a fairly secure grasp on the FLW Tour/Pro Circuit record for consecutive limits. He rattled off 71 in a row from day two of the 2016 FLW Tour event on Pickwick through day one of the 2019 Tour event on Seminole. In second is Cody Meyer’s streak, which ended at 50 limits, and there isn’t currently an angler on the Pro Circuit with an active streak of more than 21 limits.
Additionally, Thrift left the Tour with a solid grip on a handful of top 10-related stats. In spring 2017, Thrift established a new record for consecutive FLW Tour top 10s at five after making the cut on Saturday at the Harris Chain before finishing “only” 12th at Lake Cumberland in the next event. Had Ron Nelson not finished 11th at the Harris Chain this year we might be a little worried about it, but you can rest assured there’s still a long road ahead for anyone hoping to snap that particular streak.
It should come as no surprise that Thrift has more FLW Tour top-10 finishes than anyone else. He snuck ahead of Andy Morgan, who has 39, during the 2019 season and wound up with 43. Had Brent Ehrler stuck with the FLW Tour and maintained the pace he started on, it might be a slightly different conversation, but as Ehrler didn’t fish with FLW long enough to really pad his numbers, the difference between Thrift and the others at the top is quite startling. Andy Morgan, Clark Wendlandt, Scott Martin and David Dudley have all banked 33 or more top 10s on Tour, but they also all fished much longer careers with FLW. Thrift has done it in a virtual sprint from 2007 to 2019.
10. Finally winning the Cup
Having done basically everything you can do at FLW’s pro level, Thrift was still lacking an FLW Cup victory coming into 2019, even after amassing an incredible eight top-10 finishes in the biggest tournament FLW had to offer. Finally, in what many suspected would be the last FLW Cup, Thrift got it done, winning in dominating fashion in another summertime scorcher on Lake Hamilton in Arkansas. Catching fish on everything from a topwater to a worm and a crankbait, Thrift put together a truly masterful event to finally lock down his place in FLW Cup history.
Now, with a slew of history behind him, Thrift is already looking quite at home on the BPT, as everyone knew he would. The frightening thing is that he may not yet be in his prime. Though it’s hard to imagine his 40s being better than his 30s, anyone who has watched him over the years has learned to never doubt the possibilities.