Seven members of the Chevy team, Jimmy Houston, Bryan Thrift, Luke Clausen, Anthony Gagliardi, Dion Hibdon, Larry Nixon and Jay Yelas, were on hand at Don Ledford Automotive for Chevy Pro Night, which consisted of jambalaya and meeting with fans.
“We always enjoy the Chevy Pro Nights. It’s really just a fun night to get to meet with people,” said the ever-popular Jimmy Houston. “One of my very best friends in fishing tournaments for years and years was from Cleveland, John McLain, who passed away from cancer. Every time I hear about Cleveland I think about John.”
For Bryan Thrift, getting to meet and talk with the fans is the highlight of Chevy Pro Nights.
“This is one of the parts I look forward to. You get to go out and meet people from different areas and make new friends,” Thrift said.
The fishing tournament on Lake Chickamauga, which kicked off today, marks the sixth and final tournament before the Forrest Wood Cup championship, so the pressure was mounting for those anglers trying to secure their spot in the top 35.
Thrift made the four-hour commute from Shelby, N.C., and was ready to get the tournament started.
“I’m feeling good. This isn’t a long drive since I’m just from the other side of the mountain in North Carolina so it’s nice to be semi-close. I’m just ready to go fishing,” Thrift commented. “This is the last tournament for the year, excluding the championship, and there’s a lot on the table for this one.”
Thrift, who is currently ranked second in the race for FLW Tour Angler of the Year behind Dayton native Andy Morgan, hopes this tournament can set him up for a top finish. The FLW name is taken from Forrest L. Wood, founder of Ranger Boats.
“I would like to win angler of the year, that’s always the No. 1 goal,” Thrift stated.
Lake Chickamauga has an infamous reputation among the pros, and is known as a lake where plenty of big fish reside, but seem to be difficult to catch.
“The way this lake sets up to fish it’s just different. I think a lot of people will get beat mentally because this is such a good lake and there’s so many big fish in it. If you feel like you can’t get on your best places and catch a good bag, you sort of start to spin out of control,” Thrift explained.
Houston, who has been competing in tournaments since 1966 and has been on the FLW tour for the past 10 years, also acknowledged the challenges Chickamauga might present.
“It seems to be fishing very difficult now. It’s probably as hard as it’s been all year right now,” Houston admitted. “It’s a tremendous lake; it’s got a lot of really big fish in it. Huge stringers of fish come out of this lake. There will probably be some five-fish limits that weigh 25-30 pounds. Still, it’s very difficult to catch them out there. I did well in the last tournament; I don’t know about this one.”
Currently in 18th place, Houston hopes shallow fishing can help him finish strong.
“Everybody is trying to concentrate deep, but there’s a lot of keeper fish in the shallow areas. There will be a mixture of fishing, deep and shallow,” Houston explained. “I’ve concentrated deep and haven’t done very well. I probably will fish shallower just to stay up in the point standings. I’m in 18th place and I need to stay in the top 35.”
Thrift’s strategy for the next few days of competition is to stay relaxed and find his very own fishing honey hole.
“I’m going to go out there, run around and try to find something that no one is sitting on. There’s a lot of big fish in that lake,” Thrift said. “I try to go out and have a good time and enjoy it. You can’t change the way things happen, you either catch them or you don’t. You can’t make the fish bite.”
While Houston feels intuition plays a huge role in bass fishing, he advises that fishing skills are the most important factor.
“Intuition plays a big part of the game, but it’s about skill. When you get to the top level of FLW all of the guys are good. One of the main things is to learn as much as you possibly can. Study the game — it’s a decision-making game,” the veteran fisherman stated. “The more knowledge and skills you have with your equipment the better you’re going to be. Learn all you can about the fish, the weather and the type of water you’re fishing. You need to make thousands of casts and present yourself with a lot of opportunities on the water. Even then, sometimes its impossible.”
Thrift’s advice to aspiring competitive anglers is to not solely focus on the fishing, but also invest time in building relationships.
“The biggest advice I could give for someone wanting to be a professional angler is to not concentrate all your efforts on the actual fishing side of it. That was one thing that took me a while to figure out. Yes, you have to catch fish and perform well, but the sponsor side is where you have to make that relationship,” Thrift commented.
The tournament at Lake Chickamauga began this morning at 6:30 in Dayton and will end Sunday.
Weigh-ins begin and take place at the Dayton Boat Dock at 3 p.m. today and Friday, and begin at 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, taking place at the Dayton Walmart.
The FLW tour includes 175 anglers, with up to a $125,000 award for the top Chickamauga finisher.