FISHING LEAGUE WORLDWIDE
I knew I was going to fish the Forrest Wood Cup on March 8, 2014, when my University of Minnesota teammate Austin Felix and I won the FLW College Fishing National Championship and earned a spot in the biggest tournament of the year. The Cup is a tournament every angler dreams of fishing, but I had no idea what the implications of a berth in this legendary tournament would bring.
Many miles up the Saluda River arm of Lake Murray, where the channel narrows and the shorelines are lined with thickets of shady willow trees, Steve Kennedy nearly made history on the final day of the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup.
Bass fishing: the sport that we all love so much. It has been a huge part of my life for many years. In fact, it’s been a huge part of my life for almost all of my years.
This past week, Bryan fished his eighth Forrest Wood Cup. Wylie and I joined him in Lexington for the entire week, practice included. We normally just come the Wednesday before a tournament starts, but this one was close to home, and with so much to do in nearby Columbia, we thought it would be a great idea to go early.
I understood Anthony Gagliardi’s strategy as I watched him on the final morning of the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup, but it still was odd to watch. He wasn’t casting at all. Just standing, watching and waiting. He was waiting to cast to largemouths when they busted blueback herring on the surface. Fish feeding on herring during the summer only come up for an instant, and the only way to catch them is to cast immediately to the spot where they break. Gagliardi didn’t want his bait a cast’s distance away to the left when he really needed to make a cast to the right. And so he waited. “That’s the best way to do it when they’re schooling,” Gagliardi said during the press conference right after he won the championship. “When one breaks you have about three seconds to put the bait there.”
Few will disagree that qualifying for the Forrest Wood Cup by way of the Walmart Bass Fishing League is among the most difficult challenges in competitive bass fishing. The journey to the Cup through the BFLs is one requiring immense skill and flawless execution over the course of five regular-season circuit events, a 160-boat regional and a three-day championship against the best weekend warriors on the planet.
Time really flies in professional fishing. It seems like yesterday that all of us were launching our boats on Okeechobee, with dreams of competing in the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup that begins this week on Lake Murray near Columbia, S.C.
Summer is in full bloom. I just got home after a short family vacation in the Florida Keys where we enjoyed some saltwater fishing. I also spent a few hot days on Lake Murray doing some scouting for the upcoming Forrest Wood Cup, which is just a week away. I’m excited about this event and can’t wait to compete as I try to win a second Forrest Wood Cup, which would be really awesome.
As I sit here in Detroit taking time out from a family visit, I look back on the past season and try to find any positives. The things that could’ve gone wrong did go wrong, and I think that a lot of times, I wasn’t experienced enough or good enough to adjust to the circumstances. Bottom line: I didn’t make the Forrest Wood Cup.
So there I was, near the Blood River, leading the Walmart FLW Tour event on Kentucky Lake after days two and three, trying to concentrate and bring home the trophy and $100,000 top prize. Standing in my hip pocket was a cameraman, to my left were a dozen spectator boats, in front of me were 3-foot waves that periodically crashed over the front of the boat, and above me were clouds that intermittently threw rain and wind gusts my way. Oh yeah, and behind me, and I mean right behind me, were nine top pros who were all within a few pounds of my lead. Brutal conditions, a slow bite and a rapidly ticking clock … not exactly the meditative environment Plato or Aristotle would have chosen for contemplating the mysteries of life.
As I noted previously, Bryan and I were able to find a free weekend between tournaments to actually have a wedding. It was a miracle, I tell you. After our wedding on July 21, 2007, we headed to Edisto Island in South Carolina for our honeymoon. We had a great time, but it was a very rushed trip. After all, Bryan had to be back quickly so he could head to Hot Springs, Ark., to practice for the Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Ouachita. It was his first ever and he was psyched.
Well, it actually happened. For the first time in eight years, I’ll be sitting on the sidelines at the Forrest Wood Cup. As I sit here and drink in the intoxicatingly sour flavor that this revelation has left in my mouth, somehow I find myself savoring the flavor. Perhaps that’s because it’s the flavor of something that I will never taste again. At least that’s how I feel, anyway; that’s how I’m taking it. Never again.
My recap of the Walmart FLW Tour event on Kentucky Lake has less to do with this particular event than it does a feat I consider to be one of the most amazing in modern-day tournament fishing – but I’ll get to that later.
Lots of story lines will be going down this coming week as the Walmart FLW Tour closes out its regular season with the 2014 finale on Kentucky Lake. In addition to the 35 Forrest Wood Cup qualifiers to be determined, also on the line are the $10,000 checks awarded to each of the top 60 anglers.
Following a fairly successful career as a college angler, I decided to keep progressing up the tournament ladder. The year after graduating from the University of Florida, I fished what was then the Rayovac FLW Series as a professional angler. While I enjoyed some success in my first two tournaments, I quickly realized I had a lot to learn as I got farther away from my home waters.
Poor Lake Barkley. It’s as spectacular as the Grand Tetons and nearly as vast and full of wildlife in and around it. With its 58,000 acres of ledges and shoreline cover packed with bass, Barkley would be the top tournament destination in most any other state.
If you had told me I’d end up tied with Mark Rose in the Pickwick Lake Walmart FLW Tour event, I would have guessed there would also be a sudden-death fish-off on Monday morning. Pickwick in Florence, Ala., is a perfect place for a big tournament and coincidently one of my favorite lakes in the country. This time around, however, it didn’t treat me so well. I finished 58th. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always happy to finish in the big money, but this entire season has been way too stressful, as I’ve been on both sides of the bubble numerous times.
Of the approximately 170 anglers who’ll be competing, a relative few of them will be vying for one of the 35 Forrest Wood Cup slots available for the August championship. A few weeks later, the last Tour event of the season, at Kentucky Lake, will settle matters for good.
This week is the beginning of what I call the initial leg of the FLW ledge-fishing expert benefit swing. The Rayovac FLW Series event on Kentucky Lake, currently taking place, is the first in a trio of FLW events to be held on Tennessee River lakes, the latter two being the Walmart FLW Tour on Pickwick Lake and the Walmart FLW Tour grand finale on Kentucky lake. Each tournament promises to be a postspawn, offshore shootout, and like some other anglers, I’m not particularly thrilled with this part of the season, for a couple of reasons.
May has been a busy month. I’ve been doing a lot of work on the water, in particular guiding on Lake Guntersville. Last November I traveled to Panama City, Fla., to get my U.S. Coast Guard captain license. I then started a guide service that sees me on Lake Guntersville in the spring and fall and on Lake St. Clair in Michigan during the summer.
Scott Martin talks to us from the water of Kentucky Lake about his practice for the final two events of the season.
We live in a unique time in human history. Social media has brought people together like nothing else – ever. Can you imagine 50 years ago being able to trade hunting stories with Fred Bear? How about asking Ernest Hemingway about writing “The Old Man and the Sea,” and what his inspiration for it was? It would have been pretty cool, huh?
“Defense wins championships.” How many times have you heard that and seen it proven true? There’s no denying that in the truest sense of most sports, a smothering defense in football and basketball, or a dominating pitching performance in baseball, is nearly unbeatable.
My name is Allison Thrift, and I’m the wife of Walmart FLW Tour pro Bryan Thrift. I’m excited to be writing this blog for FLW, and going forward I hope you enjoy our stories from the road – and of life off the road as well. For now, I wanted to share with you the story of how Bryan and I got together, and my first reaction to all the craziness that is the world of professional fishing.