From Beginners to Champions: A Look at the World of Bass Fishing

By Heather Madsen

If you’re active in the bass fishing community, you’ve probably heard of Bryan Thrift. He joined the Sportsman’s Warehouse team as one of our sponsored athletes back in 2015, and has continually proven that he is a force to be reckoned with. Since he went pro in 2007, he has qualified for every Major League Fishing championship (formerly known as Fishing League Worldwide), currently holds the record for the most top 10’s, and won the last ever Forest Wood Cup.

Bryan Thrift reeling in a catch at the 2021 MLF REDCREST competitionThrift may be one of the sport’s top competitors, but his favorite aspect of the sport is actually how accessible and available it is to all ages and skill levels. Thrift himself started fishing as a child with his family, and sort of fell into bass fishing as it was the most accessible fish in his area. That’s actually one of the things Thrift appreciates most about the MLF business model; it helps support beginners and children, as they have competitions for ages 12 and up. There are very few restrictions for those who want to participate. As Thrift put it, “You don't have to be 7 feet tall or 200 pounds in order to fish.” Anyone can join the sport.

That philosophy and accessibility has always helped grow the sport of fishing, but it’s been especially successful over the past year. With the pandemic and resulting restrictions, there’s been an increase in outdoor activities, and one of those activities has been fishing. In fact, the fishing industry has adapted to the new restrictions and done very well for itself. According to Thrift, competitions have been able to welcome new fishers and competitors, and since it’s an outdoor sport, it has been easy to adhere to the recommended health and safety guidelines.

With fishing trends on the rise, and a lot of new faces out on the water, I asked Thrift if he had any advice for beginners in the sport. His advice is to “fish with an open mind.” Essentially, it’s easy for beginners to get stuck in a rut. People will have a certain idea of what they think the fish should be doing, or how they should be acting, and that’s how they prepare their fishing techniques. However, if three or four hours go by and you’re not getting a bite, then obviously you and the fish aren’t on the same page. As Thrift put it, “If something is not working, you have to try something else.” If the fish aren’t biting, the best thing you can do is to get out of your comfort zone and try something new. Throw a bait you aren’t familiar with; try everything until something works.

Another aspect of the sport that can be difficult is travel. Thrift loves travelling, in fact he said that his favorite place to fish is somewhere he’s never been. But of course, when your full time job is fishing, that can add up to a lot of time spent away from home. He said it’s always hard to drive away from his wife and sons, but getting paid to be a professional bass fisherman is a dream come true. The way he sees it, “I absolutely love bass fishing, and as I can support my family and love it, I’m tickled to death. That's the American Dream.”

Bryan Thrift baiting his line at the 2021 MLF REDCREST competitionIf you’re interested in becoming a pro fisherman like Thrift, or even if you just want to get started in the sport, Thrift’s best advice is to use your time to its fullest advantage. Thrift spends at least some part of every day organizing tackle or making sure that his boat is in tip top shape, because he doesn’t want to encounter any surprises he hasn’t prepared for. Organizing your gear and making sure you’re prepared for a fishing trip will help you be less likely to run into trouble and make your own expeditions run smoother. This will especially help if you’re fishing against the clock or in a competition.

Thrift prepares for his own competitions at least a week or two in advance. Since he never knows what he’s going to be confronted with, preparation is extremely important. A lot of time before the competition is spent just researching the location and its water temperatures, water levels, and types of habitats. He also has to take into account the season and expected weather, and how that is going to affect the tackle he uses. He then spends a few days setting up fresh lines. All this prep may seem like a lot of time and effort, but it’s an essential part of how Thrift has managed to be so successful.

With a new season already underway, expect to see Thrift hooking fish and taking trophies soon. If you’d like to get more involved in the world of bass fishing, visit your local Sportsman's Warehouse or enter in your local fishing tournaments. Remember, it’s an extremely inclusive and available outdoor activity and beginners are always welcome. Like Thrift said, “That's the beauty of this kind of sport--it’s one of the few that anyone can participate in… The harder you work, the better you can become.”