Bryan Thrift of Shelby had no idea that 2010 was going to be so special. A 31-year-old bass pro, Thrift had, in just three years, built a very successful career fishing around the country on the FLW Tournament Trail. He'd banked an average of around $60,000 a year in 2008 and 2009 and had started to attract the kind of industry sponsors that could make bass fishing a good living.

Last year, he made a huge jump up the ladder, winning $125,000 in one tournament, then dominating the circuit and winning Angler of the Year honors by more than 50 points – a feat roughly equal to a baseball player winning the homerun crown by 10 round-trippers. He won more than $220,000 in cash in six pro tournaments, then won a fully-rigged boat worth better than $50,000 for winning Angler of the Year.   

For his incredible year, Thrift has been named Sportsman of the Year by North Carolina Sportsman.   

"My goal every year is to make a living," said Thrift, who holds a degree in biology from UNC-Charlotte. "Unlike other jobs, we don't get paid just to show up. Catching fish is the easy part; preparing, putting your time in and finding fish – those are the hard parts."   

Thrift started out fishing farm ponds with his father, bought his first bass boat in 2001, and fished local tournaments for several years. He burst into the national spotlight by winning a Stren Series tournament on Florida's Lake Okeechobee in 2006, which set him up to turn pro full time in 2007, leaving a job with Phillips Aluminum in Shelby, helping build canopies for gas stations.   

"I had fished the BFLs (Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League), and I qualified for the Stren Series, then my first year on the Stren Series, I qualified for the (FLW) Tour, and I got some sponsors," he said. "When I won the Stren in 2006, that paid my way for the next year. I knew that was what I wanted to do, and I was young enough that if it didn't work out, I could start over."   

So far, it's working out, in spades.   

In 2010, Thrift got things rolling by winning an FLW Tour event on Lake Norman in early March, banking $125,000. He had a fourth-place finish on Missouri's Table Rock Lake later that month, then took third on Tennessee's Fort Loudon/Tellico lakes in April. He was 21st at Arkansas' Lake Ouchita in May and ninth on Alabama's Lake Guntersville in June. He capped the season with a 10th-place finish in the FLW Cup on Georgia's Lake Lanier in August.

"You definitely have to be versatile, because there are so many options out there," Thrift said. "You've got to be comfortable doing everything. I caught 'em on a jig at Table Rock, on a crankbait and jig at Norman, bed-fishing at Fort Loudon, on a Spook and a Damiki Stinger at Ouchita, and on a crankbait and spoon at Guntersville."

Thrift now fishes out of a Ranger boat rigged with a Yamaha outboard, fully wrapped in a decal by Damiki, the lure company that is one of his major sponsors. He'll be heading to Florida this month for the FLW Tour's opener on Lake Okeechobee, then working the Mid-Atlantic Boat Show in Charlotte and an instore show at The Great Outdoors, a hunting/fishing store in Cherryville, the second weekend in March.