Stepping over to the Pro Division for the 2006 season, Thrift's win follows two wins he had in the Stren Series 2005 season as a co-angler, one on Santee Cooper and the other on Lake Eufaula. Thrift also finished 11th in 2005 at Lake Okeechobee in the Co-angler Division.
"This is my second time at Okeechobee," Thrift said. "I got here early Friday morning, and was catching a bunch of small fish during practice around hydrilla.
"On the first day, I got some good bites around reeds with hyrdilla, and I've been getting those good bites there each day." Thrift believes those larger bass were just pulling into the shallows to spawn.
To get his strikes, Thrift has been throwing a relatively new offering called a Chatterbait, made by the Rad lure company. "I just throw it out and swim it along like a spinnerbait," Thrift said.
Thrift opened the tournament in third place Wednesday with five bass weighing 19 pounds, 6 ounces. On Thursday he added another five bass weighing 11 pounds, 7 ounces to his catch to make the semifinal round cut in fourth place with a two-day total of 10 bass weighing, 30 pounds, 13 ounces. He then caught five bass weighing 14 pounds, 2 ounces Friday to make the final cut in third place. On Saturday he caught another five bass weighing 22 pounds, 7 ounces to secure his Stren Series win.
Rounding out the top five pros are Bobby Lane of Lakeland (10 bass, 36 pounds, 4 ounces, $10,000 plus $2,250 Ranger Cup and Powered by Yamaha awards); Arnie Lane of Lakeland (10 bass, 27 pounds, 15 ounces, $9,000); Jimmy McMillan of Belle Glade (nine bass, 25 pounds, 14 ounces, $8,000); and Carmen Patti of Davie (10 bass, 20 pounds, 14 ounces, $7,500).
Brian England of Lafayette, Ga., won the Co-angler Division thanks to a final-round total of eight bass weighing 21 pounds, 13 ounces. England earned $5,000 cash for his win.
"Every day has been different and I've had to adapt," England said. "I caught them on a Cordell Spot on the first day, a frog the second day, flipping the third day and throwing a Zoom Trick worm today with a 5/16-ounce Tungsten weight in a canal."
England fished with pro Rick Ankenbauer of Clearwater on the final day. Ankenbauer finished in seventh place and earned $5,500.
England advanced to the semifinal round in 10th place Thursday with a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 18 pounds. He then caught three bass weighing 7 pounds, 4 ounces Friday to make the final cut in ninth place. On Saturday he caught five bass weighing 13 pounds, 15 ounces to earn his first Stren Series victory.
Rounding out the top five co-anglers are Mike Goodman of Nebo, N.C. (10 bass, 20 pounds, 13 ounces, $4,000); Mark Linn of Sarasota (nine bass, 17 pounds, 12 ounces, $3,500); Fred Hill of Roxboro, N.C. (10 bass, 15 pounds, 14 ounces, $2,500); and Judy Israel of Clewiston (seven bass, 15 pounds, 5 ounces, $2,000).
Stren Series tournaments are four-day events consisting of three rounds. The entire field competes Wednesday and Thursday, and the top 20 pros and co-anglers - based on two-day accumulated weights - advance to day three. Anglers start at zero Thursday and compete for 10 spots in each division in the final round. Winners are determined by the heaviest accumulated weight from days three and four.
The next Stren Series Southeast Division event will be held Feb. 15-18 on West Point Lake in LaGrange, Ga. Boats will launch from Highland Marina Resort in LaGrange. The Tourism Division of LaGrange Troup County Chamber of Commerce will be hosting the event. Friday and Saturday's weigh-ins will be held at the Wal-Mart located at 803 New Franklin Road in LaGrange.
The top 40 pros and top 40 co-anglers from each of the Stren Series' five divisions - Central, Midwest, Northeast, Southeast and Western - following four tournaments in each division will advance to the $1 million Stren Series Championship on Wheeler Lake in Decatur, Ala., Nov. 1-4 where they will fish for top awards of $140,000 and $70,000, respectively. The highest-finishing pro from each division at the Stren Series Championship will also earn a spot in the new $2 million 2007 Forrest Wood Cup where they will compete against top pros from the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, Wal-Mart FLW Series, Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League and Ranger owners' tournaments for bass fishing's first $1 million top award.
Named after the legendary founder of Ranger Boats, Forrest L. Wood, FLW Outdoors administers the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, Wal-Mart FLW Series, Stren Series, Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League, Wal-Mart Texas Tournament Trail, Wal-Mart FLW Walleye Tour, Wal-Mart FLW Walleye League, Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Tour, Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Series and Wal-Mart FLW Redfish Series. These circuits offer combined purses exceeding $36.5 million through 235 events in 2006.
For more information about FLW Outdoors and its tournament programs, visit FLWOutdoors.com or call (270) 252-1000.
Wal-Mart and many of America's largest and most respected companies support FLW Outdoors and its tournament trails. Wal-Mart signed on as an FLW Outdoors sponsor in 1997 and today is the world's leading supporter of tournament fishing. For more information about Wal-Mart, visit Wal-Mart.com.