Bryan "Smoke" Thrift showed out yet again on his home pond of Lake Norman.
Photo by Phoenix Moore.
BASS PRO TOUR
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – As soon as Lake Norman was announced as the site of Bass Pro Shops REDCREST Presented by Shore Lunch, all eyes looked towards North Carolina’s own Bryan Thrift. He was the preeminent favorite to win as soon as the location was announced in July, and today he showed why, after catching a leading limit weighing 17 pounds, 12 ounces.
That tally is the best of the tournament so far and it feels like Thrift is taking things up a notch as he took an early 2-8 lead over two-time Bally Bet Angler of the Year Jacob Wheeler.
Thrift quickly caught limits each morning the first two days of competition and appeared to be in cruise control for much of the day. He did just enough to advance to the Knockout Round by placing 19th in the Qualifying Round, possibly finishing that low only because he was aware that weights started at zero today.
There’s no reason to hold back anymore, as a cumulative three-day total will decide the 2023 REDCREST winner and Thrift is in the pole position in the home of NASCAR.
Thrift’s one-two punch paying off
Mixing it up with two largemouth and three spotted bass, Thrift showcased a consistent bite throughout the day. His largest fish was a 4-9 and smallest a 2-14, with the other three in the 3-pound class. To get there, he’s relying on his extensive knowledge of the lake and mixing it up with two patterns.
“Today was a good day and most came doing what I’ve been doing all week; the big ones just ate a little bit better today,” he said. “I’m starting by fishing a little drain with a Damiki underspin to get a quick limit each morning. That helps me calm down, and I can start fishing for bigger ones.”
While leaving out exactly what he’s doing for his bigger bites, he did share that it’s a shallow pattern.
“After I get my limit, I head to the back of pockets and start headhunting,” Thrift said. “That’s going to be the plan again tomorrow.”
The weather forecast shows similar conditions for tomorrow with an added bit of wind, which Thrift likes, even though he’s still not entirely confident – perhaps thanks in part to only catching 11-7 on Day 2.
“That weather should make them bite a little bit better,” he said. “But, you never know on Lake Norman. You can have a bad day any day here, just like I did yesterday.”
Wheeler’s last-minute catch boosts total
In the closing minutes of the day, Wheeler landed his biggest fish of the day. That 3-14 spotted bass bumped him up two spots on the leaderboard and put him much closer to Thrift. Although he’s behind, he feels good about his chances.
“The bar has been set,” he said. “I feel like I’m hunting the lead and in a good position. Sure, I’d like to be leading right now, but it’s also nice to be coming from behind with less pressure. Overall, I’m excited and pumped for another day out there.”
After the first day of competition, Wheeler bagged 15-3 and found himself in fourth place. That cushion allowed him to scout for more areas yesterday and he’s continually finding new ways to catch fish.
“I found something midday that really interests me,” he said. “I know how to generate bites out here right now, but this may be a way to catch some bigger ones. I understand more and more about what the fish are doing every day I’m out there.”
Today’s rain and cool temperatures starkly contrasted with the qualifying rounds, and it’s set to switch up again tomorrow. That forced a slightly different approach today, and Wheeler thinks it will be different again tomorrow.
“Without sunshine, the fish seemed to be roaming much more today,” he said. “Those isolated targets that were good the first two days were a lot harder to catch fish on today with the overcast conditions. But, it’s supposed to get sunny again tomorrow; so we’ll probably have to mix it up again.”
Junior buoyed by magnum spot
Spotted bass have been the prime target this week, making up an overwhelming bulk of what has been placed on SCORETRACKER®. They are prolific throughout the lake, but run on the smaller side. Texas pro Alton Jones Jr. found a grown one in the form of a massive 5-7 specimen he caught this morning. His five bass total was 14-9. Plus, his personal best spotted bass now belongs to Lake Norman.
“I’ve caught some close to 5 pounds, but that’s my new personal best,” he said. “I’m thrilled with my weight and would have taken it this morning, but I’m also a little bummed to have a fish of that caliber and have nothing better to go with it. I caught several 2-pounders, but I feel like I left a lot on the table today by not catching more quality fish.”
Jones disclosed that he’s primarily targeting docks with brushpiles nearby and plans to continue that plan, but he will explore some new areas.
“I’m going to run mostly new water tomorrow, as crazy as that sounds,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’m on the winning fish and I need to find some additional areas. Don’t get me wrong, I have some key docks that I’ll hit again, but it will take some more of them to have a shot to win this.”
This week’s secondary pattern for Jones is fishing for bass feeding on baitfish in drains. It’s primarily a morning deal and he’ll try it again tomorrow morning.
“I’ve weighed some keepers this week doing that and feel like I should keep that bite honest,” Jones said. “After that, it will be straight to the docks. The good thing about doing that is that it gives me the best shot at a kicker largemouth, too.”
By the numbers
As an example of how much the spotted bass outnumber the largemouth on Norman, 154 scorable spotted bass were caught compared to just 19 scorable largemouth. Spotted bass will be needed to win this event, but the threat of a kicker largemouth could turn things upside down or put the event out of reach for someone.
Five anglers were eliminated today, with the last man being Anthony Gagliardi with 10-15. Tomorrow, five more will be sent home. Right now, Dakota Ebare occupies 10th place with 11-15. With tight weights, that mark will be a moving target throughout tomorrow’s competition.
The tournament continues Saturday morning as the Top 15 anglers return to Lake Norman. Coverage begins at 7:15 a.m. ET at MajorLeagueFishing.com and lines go in at 7:30 a.m. ET. Behind Thrift is Wheeler, followed by Jones Jr., Adrian Avena, and Jonathon VanDam to round out the top five.
Top 15 pros
1. Bryan Thrift – 17-12 (5)
2. Jacob Wheeler – 15-4 (5)
3. Alton Jones Jr. – 14-9 (5)
4. Adrian Avena – 14-4 (5)
5. Jonathon VanDam – 14-2 (5)
6. Casey Ashley – 12-3 (5)
7. Edwin Evers – 12-3 (5)
8. Randy Howell – 12-3 (5)
9. Jesse Wiggins – 12-0 (5)
10. Dakota Ebare – 11-15 (5)
11. Dustin Connell – 11-11 (5)
12. Matt Lee – 11-9 (5)
13. Cody Meyer – 11-7 (5)
14. Ott DeFoe 11-1 (5)
15. Anthony Gagliardi 10-15 (5)
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