Story by FLW, Justin Onslow
Brent Butler weighed in a bag he’ll never forget on day two of the Costa FLW Series Southeastern Division event on Lake Chickamauga. Not only was the 37-pound, 5-ounce stringer his best ever, it also sent him to day three of the tournament with a large enough lead to finish the job with another 16-11.
With a total of 68-8, Butler edged out FLW Tour pro Bryan Thrift by 5-8, thanks to a 6-pounder he caught as time was winding down on day three.
Butler’s victory is far from devoid of great storylines. The high school teacher and humble family man hammered on Chickamauga giants all week, yes, but the results are only part of the story. His passion for fishing is where it all starts.
“God first, family, fishing, outdoors,” he says, still wrangling back the emotion of the final weigh-in. “All I ever wanted to do was compete. I may never be able to do it for a living and that’s okay. I’m content.”
That desire to compete began early in Butler’s life, ever since he saw a Bassmaster tournament on TV for the first time.
“I used to walk the banks with my dad,” he recalls. “He would take me to the local Thursday night tournament whenever I was 13 or 14 years, and I would stand there with two rods in my hand just wanting to compete … I got turned down so much, but I didn’t quit. I said, ‘someday you’ll know who I am.’”
If that day didn’t come before his win on Chick, it certainly has now. Sacking up a 37-plus-pound bag is an incredible feat. To back it up with two more quality bags and to beat out some incredible anglers (including FLW Tour hammers Bryan Thrift and Buddy Gross) on the final day more than validates it.
As impressive as winning an FLW Series event is, what really stands out about Butler’s win is the way he did it. As he explained on the weigh-in stage in front of an FLW Live camera, each day presented different challenges, and each day he changed his approach to deliver what he needed to win.
“I ended up having to scratch yesterday’s pattern, because the fish changed on me, and I just went with my gut,” he explains. “I scrapped it all at 12 o’clock and took off and went wide open and got what I got.
“Day one it was [throwing lipless crankbaits in shallow water]. Day two was Alabama rigging and jerkbaits. Today was a trap, four jerkbaits, an [umbrella] rig and a swimbait.”
Everything Butler found in practice was gone by day one of the tournament. Changing weather conditions, water levels and current wiped out what was working for him leading up to the event. From that point on, he decided to “just fish,” adjusting to the conditions and changing his tactics in whatever way he had to.
And that’s probably to be expected from someone who coaches a high school fishing team. In fact, his team was competing on Watts Bar at the same time he was waiting at the tanks at Bass Pro Shops on day three. Even on the cusp of a victory, his mind was on how his team might be doing.
That’s just the vibe Butler gives off. Humility. Giving back. Doing it all for the right reasons.
“You look at this guy right here (Bryan Thrift), a straight up hammer,” he says of the final-day competition. “You look back behind you and you see nine of them behind you coming to get you.”
Knowing who he was up against was part of the reason he was able to land 37-plus-pounds on day two. After he landed two double-digit fish in a row, Butler’s co-angler Michael Campbell raised the possibility of laying off his fish to save them for the following day.
“’You got a decision to make,’” says Butler, quoting Campbell. “‘You going to pull off of them or what are you going to do?’” I said, man, you do not understand what caliber of fishermen we’re up against.”
Butler had the right mentality. He had the right skills. And above all, he had the right perspective, which allowed him to trust his instincts.
“At 12 o’clock –12:30, 1 o’clock – I had one fish, [my co-angler] had three or four and we took off,” he says. “I was fortunate enough to just go with my gut and put something together today.”
That “something” proved to be a Costa FLW Series win, and another opportunity to prove what he’s capable of and who Butler is.
Top 10 pros
1. Brent Butler – Vonore, Tenn. – 68-8 (15) – $45,800
2. Bryan Thrift – Shelby, N.C. – 63-0 (15) – $17,200
3. Derek Hicks – Rocky Face, Ga. – 61-0 (15) – $12,850
4. Cody Nichols – Fayette, Ala. – 57-11 (15) – $10,750
5. David Gaston – Sylacauga, Ala. – 53-13 (15) – $9,750
6. Rusty White – Harrison, Tenn. – 52-10 (10) – $8,675
7. Dustin Evans – Eads, Tenn. – 49-8 (15) – $7,300
8. Brandon Stanley – Johnson City, Tenn. – 48-12 (12) – $6,300
9. Buddy Gross – Chickamauga, Ga. – 48-3 (14) – $5,300
10. Steve Stanfill – Dawsonville, Ga. – 38-14 (10) – $4,200