Failure is not an option, and Fletcher Shryock is feeling the pressure going into the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open on Lake Erie out of Sandusky, Ohio, Sept. 12-14. The stress is self-imposed, but the young pro from Newcomerstown, Ohio, can’t alleviate it — not with a Bassmaster Classic berth at stake.
“I have to win,” Shryock said. “I’ve got this hero-or-zero mentality. I’ve been carrying it for a while, and it’s not fun. It makes you feel like you have to swing for the fences or try something oddball to make it work instead of just letting things happen the way they should sometimes.”
Shryock said he’s ready to compete on Lake Erie — which sits at No. 5 on Bassmaster Magazine’s list of “100 Best Bass Lakes” for 2013 — and he’s as prepared as he can be for constantly changing conditions. He is concerned about the fickle nature of the fishery’s smallmouth bass.
“I had the best day of smallmouth fishing of my life the other day, weight-wise,” Shryock said. “I stopped back on the same area later that day and never caught another bass. It had been one 4 1/2-pounder after another, but when I got back, it was drum and walleye. Timing will be key. I’m going to keep running the stuff where they are likely to show up. With so much wind blowing, the fish move around a lot.”
Shryock has given his game plan considerable thought, deciding that he will focus on making a small number of bites count.
“I think to win up there right now, you might only get six or seven bites in a day,” he said. “At the St. Clair event, I only had a handful of bites and didn’t execute. You have to execute to win.”
Shryock made the long run to Erie from Lake St. Clair in Detroit, Mich., during the Bassmaster Elite Series Plano Championship Chase in late August. He finished 89th but is more optimistic about his chances in the Erie Open next week.
“I think it was the bait I was using. And things just didn’t go my way,” Shryock said. “I’ve spent eight days now, counting the St. Clair tournament, fishing (Erie). I’m ready.”
Another Bassmaster Elite Series pro, Michael Simonton of nearby Fremont, Ohio, predicts that weather will play a role in the Northern Open.
“In September and October, there’s a good chance we’ll have a day canceled,” he said. “If the wind blows out of the northeast, it will be rough. The waves have all the way from Buffalo to build until they get down to the western basin.”
A former special education teacher at a local school, Simonton has plenty of experience on Erie, derived from four or five outings a week each summer during his teaching career. Since becoming an Elite Series pro, he has had less time on his home lake, but still manages to fish it two or three times a week.
As one of the pros who ran 70 or more miles a day from Lake St. Clair to Lake Erie to find larger smallmouth during the Elite tournament, Simonton said launching from Sandusky will give the locals a strong advantage.
“We’ll go from launching and running 70 miles to running just 25 or 30 miles,” he explained. “I only had three or four hours to fish (at the Elite event), and it was super rough. With waves that big, sometimes casting can be ineffective because you get a big loop in the line. That makes it hard to pick up the bite.
“At this tournament, I’ll have almost double the time to fish. That is a humongous difference.”
Simonton predicts anglers will catch bass from 3 feet to 30 feet deep, though he expects the winning smallies to be hooked in the 20- to 30-foot range.
Simonton says largemouth fishing can be productive, but he’s confident it’s going to take bronzebacks to win the three-day tournament with more than 61 or 62 pounds total.
Other Elite Series pros competing include: Kurt Dove of Del Rio, Texas; Boyd Duckett of Demopolis, Ala.; Matt Greenblatt of Port St. Lucie, Fla.; Charlie Hartley of Grove City, Ohio; Kevin Hawk of Guntersville, Ala.; Timmy Horton of Muscle Shoals, Ala.; Randy Howell of Springville, Ala.; Michael Iaconelli of Pitts Grove, N.J.; Chad Pipkens of Holt, Mich.; Chip Porche of Bixby, Okla.; Derek Remitz of Grant, Ala.; Jonathon VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich.; and Chris Zaldain of San Jose, Calif.
When competition begins Sept. 12, anglers will launch daily at 7 a.m. ET from Shelby Street Boat Launch at 101 Shelby St., Sandusky, OH, 44870. Weigh-ins on Day 1 and Day 2 will be held at the Shelby Street Boat Launch at 3 p.m. ET. On Day 3, the final weigh-in will be held at 4:15 p.m. ET at Bass Pro Shops, 10000 Bass Pro Blvd., Rossford, OH 43460.
Image courtesy Bassmaster