A part of Fletcher Shryock wants to be at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open this Thursday-Saturday on Lake Norman, out of Charlotte, N.C.
After all, the same event in 2011 changed his life. He won the tournament, earned a Bassmaster Classic berth for 2012, and racked up points that helped him qualify for the Bassmaster Elite Series. A return to Lake Norman is tempting.
But another part of Fletcher Shryock told him not to go. He’s only 26, and an Elite rookie, but years of pro motocross racing taught him many things about competition.
“I wanted to focus on fishing the Elites,” he said. “I decided that if I tried to worry about Opens and the Elites, I wouldn’t be rested for the next Elite, and would start to feel burned out.”
So Shryock is home this week in Newcomerstown, Ohio. But if he were at Lake Norman, here’s how he’d crack the big fishery. The 2012 prizes are similar to Shryock’s: $50,000 in cash and prizes, a 2013 Classic entry and points toward qualifying for the Elite Series.
His first piece of advice: lightning isn’t likely to strike twice in the same place. Even if the lake fished the same, his winning spot hasn’t been a secret for a year and many, many events since March 2011.
“Everyone knows now where I was,” he said. “A lot of people will be headed upriver to try to duplicate what I did, but if I thought I could duplicate what I did, I’d be fishing it again. I fished the moment, and it happened to be working at that time. I’d be highly surprised if anyone does exactly what I did and won.”
Shryock caught 49 pounds, 9 ounces, of largemouth bass in the lake’s northern, riverine section. It’s where he found prespawn largemouth, he said, much bigger fish than what the main lake was producing at the time.
“You can’t get caught up in catching a bunch of 2-pound spotted bass. That’s easy to do in practice, and be optimistic about what’s going to happen. But they aren’t going to grow too much. Catching the bigger largemouth is key,” he said.
While his upriver sweet spot is probably gone by now, the clues he took from there could translate to a winning pattern this week. One: he had the water to himself. Two: the water temperature there was 5 to 7 degrees lower than in the main lake, so every one of the bass he hooked were still in prespawn mode, feeding heavily. Even his biggest fish — a 7-pound, 9-ounce largemouth — was a prespawner in the river current.
Down in the warmer water of the lake, the fish were thinking only about spawning, he said, thus the bigger bite was all about bed fishing, an unreliable pattern subject to weather and wind.
The bass spawn is further advanced than during the 2011 Open on Norman, but sight fishing will be a factor in a 2012 win, he predicted.
“And the full moon is on Friday,” he said. “That will affect the bite.”
Fishing pressure and the weather can wreck a sight bite, so a backup plan is essential, he said.
He never looked in the main lake for bedding bass, he said, because he had the upriver pattern. That decision could have turned on him, and he’d probably make a slightly different call if he had it to do over.
“If I would have had a sight fishing pattern to go along with what I found up there, I would have had a couple fish to go to in the morning before I ran upriver. I think I could have upgraded my fish,” he said.
When your vision is already 20/20, sharp hindsight isn’t necessary: Shryock won by a margin of 5 1/2 pounds. Thus, a virtual unknown from Ohio bested seasoned pros like Gerald Swindle (2nd place) and Bobby Lane (7th place) and local sticks like Tracy Adams (3rd).
Shryock’s final take on the 2012 Lake Norman event: Don’t forget “the X factor.” In this case, that’s The Alabama Rig, he said, allowed in the Opens, and given credit for recent wins on the lake.
“It’ll be interesting to see how that pans out. The Alabama Rig might be a big player,” he said.
Fans (and Fletcher) can watch the Southern Open on Bassmaster.com. Live streaming of the weigh-ins is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. ET Thursday and Friday and at 4 p.m. Saturday. The site will also provide a real-time leaderboard as well as daily results and standings.
Free and open to the public, the 7 a.m. launches and Thursday and Friday weigh-ins at 3 p.m. will be at Blythe Landing, 15901 NC Highway 73, Cornelius, NC 28031. Fans also are invited to the Saturday weigh-in at 4 pm at Bass Pro Shops, 8181 Concord Mills Blvd., Concord, NC 28027.