RALEIGH, N.C. (April 10, 2021) – Pro Bryan Thrift of Shelby, North Carolina, boated 13 scorable bass totaling 44 pounds, 7 ounces to lead after day 1 for Qualifying Group B at the General Tire Heavy Hitters Presented by Bass Pro Shops. Thrift will bring a 6-pound, 12-ounce, lead over second-place pro Stephen Browning of Hot Springs, Arkansas, into Monday’s second day of competition in the Qualifying Round for Group B. Browning landed 11 scorable bass totaling 37-11, while pro Cliff Pace of Petal, Mississippi, rounds out the top three, catching 11 bass totaling 36-10 to end the day in third place.
Sunday will be the third day of competition in the six-day all-star tournament that showcases 40 anglers that qualified from the 2020 Bass Pro Tour season competing for more than $535,000, including a top prize of $100,000, and Big Bass Bonuses with payouts of $25,000, $50,000 and $100,000 being awarded for the single biggest fish in the Qualifying, Knockout and Championship rounds.
The 20 anglers in Group B will now have a day off on Sunday, while the 20 anglers from Group A will wrap up their two-day Qualifying Round. Group B will finish their Qualifying Round on Monday.
“Today was a pretty good day, but I’m glad it’s over because I am tired and starting to cramp up,” said Thrift in the post-game interview. “Every bass that I caught today came from the same vicinity. I left for a couple of hours and tried to get bit elsewhere, but I never could put anything else together. I came back in here about midway through the third period and that was the end of it.”
Thrift credited two baits as being the key to his day.
“I caught all of my fish today on two baits – a white frog and a 5-inch black-and-red flake-colored Damiki Stinger,” Thrift said. “I threw the frog on my Signature Series 7-foot, 2-inch, medium-heavy Fitzgerald Frog rod, paired with an Abu Garcia Revo STX reel and spooled with 50-pound P-Line TCBX braid.
“For the Stinger, I fished it Texas-rigged and weightless,” Thrift continued. “I like throwing the weightless Stinger on a baitcaster, rather than a spinning rod. It flies through the air very streamlined, and you can use a little bigger line and can get a better hookset. This allows me to get it into tighter places and a little thicker cover and not worry about breaking fish off.”
Stephen Browning was enthusiastic about his day on the water Saturday, excitedly talking about how he went “old-school” to catch his 11 fish.
“I got to fish in my wheelhouse today, the way I like fishing – kicking up the mud with the trolling motor and getting way back in the super-skinny water,” Browning said. “It was just my day, today. There was a timeframe right near the beginning of the second period where I struggled a little bit, but for the most part I made good moves all day.
“The fish were sitting in about 18 inches of water, and I went old-school on them,” Browning continued. “My equipment wasn’t old-school – I used a 7-foot, 4-inch St. Croix Legend heavy rod with a Lew’s Tournament Pro reel and 20-pound Gamma line, but just threw an old-school tube. I used a 5/0 Owner hook, and green-pumpkin and black and red flake were good in the morning, while green-pumpkin was better in the afternoon. It had to be a real subtle presentation.”
Third-place angler Cliff Pace credited his decisions on the water for his strong performance as well.
“Today is the best day that I’ve had since I’ve been here, so anytime that you can say that you have to be happy,” the Mississippi pro said. “I just had one of those days where pretty much everything I did worked. Every decision I made paid off in some way or another. I just kind of rolled with the flow today and was fortunate enough to continually just catch some throughout the day. I can’t complain, at all.”
The standings for the 20 pros from Qualifying Group B after Day 1 on Falls Lake are:
1st: Bryan Thrift, Shelby, N.C., 13 bass, 44-7
2nd: Stephen Browning, Hot Springs, Ark., 11 bass, 37-11
3rd: Cliff Pace, Petal, Miss., 11 bass, 36-10
4th: Brent Ehrler, Redlands, Calif., 10 bass, 29-5
5th: Mark Davis, Mount Ida, Ark., eight bass, 26-13
6th: Justin Lucas, Guntersville, Ala., seven bass, 22-9
7th: Dave Lefebre, Erie, Pa., six bass, 21-9
8th: Kevin VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich., five bass, 19-4
9th: Jacob Wheeler, Harrison, Tenn., five bass, 18-15
10th: Alton Jones, Woodway, Texas, six bass, 18-4
11th: Cody Meyer, Star, Idaho, five bass, 13-15
12th: Bradley Roy, Lancaster, Ky., five bass, 10-9
13th: Jordan Lee, Cullman, Ala., three bass, 10-2
14th: Mark Daniels Jr., Tuskegee, Ala., four bass, 9-10
15th: Dustin Connell, Clanton, Ala., three bass, 8-10
16th: Ott DeFoe, Blaine, Tenn., three bass, 7-4
17th: Brandon Coulter, Knoxville, Tenn., one bass, 6-14
18th: Takahiro Omori, Tokyo, Japan, two bass, 5-6
19th: Josh Bertrand, Queen Creek, Ariz., one bass, 4-8
20th: James Elam, Tulsa, Okla., two bass, 4-3
A complete list of results can be found at MajorLeagueFishing.com.
Overall, there were 111 bass weighing 356 pounds, 8 ounces caught by the 20 pros on Saturday, which included six 6-pounders, nine 5-pounders and twelve 4-pounders caught from Falls Lake.
Coulter weighed in the biggest bass of the day, a 6-pound, 14-ounce largemouth that he caught flipping a jig during Period 3. If Coulter’s fish remains the largest bass weighed by Group B after the conclusion of their Qualifying Round on Monday, he will take home a $25,000 Big Bass Bonus. Big Bass Bonuses are awarded throughout the competition, with payouts of $25,000, $50,000 and $100,000 being awarded for the single biggest fish in the Qualifying, Knockout and Championship rounds
The MLF General Tire Heavy Hitters Presented by Bass Pro Shops is hosted by the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance.
The 20 Anglers in Group A compete in their two-day qualifying round on Jordan Lake on Friday and Sunday – the 20 anglers in Group B on Falls Lake on Saturday and Monday. After each two-day qualifying round is complete, the anglers that finish in 2nd through 10th place from both groups advance to Tuesday’s Knockout Round on Shearon Harris, while the winner of each group advances directly to Wednesday’s Championship Round on Shearon Harris. In the Knockout Round, weights are zeroed and the remaining 18 anglers compete to finish in the top 8 to advance to the Championship Round. In the final day Championship Round, weights are zeroed and the highest one-day total wins.