By Todd Ceisner
It’s understandable why Fletcher Shryock thinks his biggest flaw on the water is not knowing when to slow down.
As a former motocross racer, he spent most of his childhood and early adult years going fast – albeit on two wheels across hilly, knobby dirt trails.
Now that he’s trying to make a career with a rod and reel in his hand, he learned the significance of a measured approach this year as a rookie fishing the Bassmaster Elite Series. It was some pretty humbling on-the-job training for the native of eastern Ohio, who managed to cash checks in four of eight events and finished 62nd in points.
He suffered through the inconsistencies that many rookies experience, posting back-to-back money finishes just once, but he never felt out of place. Sure, he had a couple of bombs, but as writer Truman Capote once said, “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.”
He saved his best effort for last, scoring an 11th-place result at the Oneida Lake season finale, which he hopes to use as a springboard to future triumphs.
“Honestly, this year was harder than what I thought it was going to be because I didn’t feel at home anywhere we went,” he said. “I didn’t feel comfortable fishing anything we did just based on the schedule.
“I felt like I was in the right areas so many times, but there were just those little key things that I’d miss out on. I think once I get a little more experience and know how to approach certain lakes, I’ll be okay.”
All things considered, it was a decent start to a career that almost didn’t get off the ground.
Early in 2011, after finishing 161st at the Harris Chain Southern Open, Shryock was ready to pack it in, feeling he was overmatched at that level of competition. Two months later, he won the Lake Norman Southern Open and claimed a berth in the 2012 Bassmaster Classic by nearly 6 pounds over Elite Series stud Gerald Swindle.
From there, he fished the Northern Opens and fared just as well, finishing 5th in points, which earned him an invitation to the fish the Elites.
After committing to fish at the highest level, he did a fair amount of pre-fishing to familiarize himself with some of the fisheries on this year’s schedule. But the strategy backfired on him as the seasonal patterns shifted between his scouting trips and when competition got underway.
“Once the tournament came, I’d show up with a preconceived notion to try to duplicate or build on what I found the month prior,” he said. “That cost me so much valuable time. I’d show up and try to duplicate the pattern or however I caught them. You only have 2 1/2 days of practice and if you take a day or a day and a half out from having this preconceived notion instead of just going there with an open mind like I did to begin with, I wouldn’t have wasted all that time.”
Following a 32nd in his Classic debut, he cashed one check in Florida (Lake Okeechobee) before an 88th at Bull Shoals.
“In Florida, I fished all the same areas where guys jacked them out of,” he said. “I was fishing the same bait, the same everything. The key there was slowing down and I don’t like to slow down. That’s something that if I would’ve done that there, I think I would’ve caught them good.”
He finished in the 40s at Douglas Lake and Toledo Bend, then fell off with a 94th at the Mississippi River. A 56th-place finish at Lake Michigan preceded his Oneida flurry at the end.
“Every single tournament, I’d go out and have a good day and then I’d I have a bad day,” he said. “Looking back on it, I was fortunate enough being as inconsistent from day to day as I was that I got four checks out of eight tournaments. I caught them at the right times and enough to stay in it, but I just need to focus on little things that I did. There were little mistakes I made through the year that I need to keep from happening again.
"I feel like I’m in the ball park for sure. It’s just a matter of time before I start getting some good results. I just don’t know how soon it’s going to be. It doesn’t happen overnight. Overall, I’m not real happy about it.”
Shryock said he was the most comfortable at Oneida just because it was a northern fishery and he had a hunch how the bite would go. He didn’t pre-fish for the event – he just fished his instincts and the end result was his best outcome of the season. He finished day 3 in a tie for 7th, just a couple pounds out of 2nd, but had just two fish for 5-04 on day 4 and slipped to 11th.
Still, it was the boost of confidence he was looking for.
“It was awesome,” he said. “The biggest thing that I got out of that tournament was I think I approached it right for once. I accredit a lot of that to me knowing roughly how to fish it unlike all of the other places we went to. I just kind of knew what deals were going to work and what deals weren’t. I had a terrible practice and literally fished my way through the event. I ended up finding the fish that I ended up catching during the tournament because I had a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants attitude since it was the last event of the year.
“I didn’t go there and pre-practice. I just showed up. That taught me a lot about how to do things next year. I know not every single one is going to have an ending like that. It just taught me a lot about how to approach it and gave me the confidence that I can still catch them against those guys.”
Even during the high point of his season, he was able to glean yet another lesson from the experience.
“On the last day, I probably had 20 bites and only caught two of them because I was flipping with 20-pound line,” he noted. “I’d been fishing the first 3 days with 15, but I went up to 20 because I was afraid of breaking them off. I never thought twice about the thickness of my line making those fish drop my bait so fast. Whenever I read what Boyd did and talked to some guys, they had gone down to 10-pound test to get those smallmouth to actually eat it.
“Looking back on it, after you miss 10 fish in a row because they smoke it, but don’t hold on long enough for you to blast them real quick, I was missing something. Those are just the tiny, little things that make the difference between me catching two fish and who knows.”
> Don’t expect to see Shryock working over the brim of his hats to achieve the perfect arch anytime soon. “Everybody keeps telling me I need to put a bend in it, but it’s not happening. I’d have to throw my hat away if I did that. People ruin hats when they put a bend in it. It’s been me. From racing motocross, everyone wore a flat-bill hat. No one wore a curved bill. I actually started getting away from it after I quit racing and started fishing. I started wearing some curved-bill hats to fit in because I felt stupid wearing a flat bill.
“Right before the Norman Open last year, I bought some more flat bills and I was like, ‘Whatever, this is just me. I cannot wear a curved bill. I wear a flat bill and I don’t care how these guys view me.’ It’s just who I am. I went back to the flat bill about a month before that tournament and have stuck with it ever since.”