CORNELIUS, N.C. — Fletcher Shryock got off of a dirt bike and into a bass boat four years ago, and couldn't be happier.
The Newcomersville, Ohio, pro has only recently become serious about competitive bass fishing, but is on his way to the 2012 Bassmaster Classic with his vctory at the Bass Pro Shops Southern Open 2 on Lake Norman.
"This is incredible, I don't know what to say. What do you say?" he asked while holding his trophy. "I don't think I'll sleep for a year. I zigged when I needed to zig, and I zagged when I needed to zag."
Friday, Shryock said the area that he was fishing could produce 20 pounds. He came close to proving it by bringing in 17 pounds, 5 ounces to the scales Saturday. He left his fish biting on the first two days, setting a relaxing tone to his tournament. But, the weather turned ugly on Day Three, and his easy-going pace turned frantic early.
"They weren't there today like they were the first two days," he said. "First thing this morning, I didn't go to my best area. That way, no one else would know exactly where it was."
Shryock's main spot was roughly 25 miles north of Blythe Landing. It was in front of a rocky bar along the main river that blocked access to a backwater.
He relied on four baits to catch his three-day total of 49-9: a Strike King Red Eye Shad (both rattling and not), a 1/4-ounce Strike King shaky head with a Berkley finesse worm, and a 1-ounce Strike King Tungsten weight anchoring either a Berkley Chigger Craw or a Strike King Rodent that he flipped into thick grass. He keyed on wood in the main river.
"It was just like fishing at home," he said.
Shryock also credits a "guardian angel" named Tony who shadowed him all day.
"He was the reason that I kept my cool today, because he told me that he'd be around all day so if I broke down or something, he'd be there to take me back to the ramp," Shryock said. "I knew in the back of my mind that I could catch 'em up to the last minute. He really helped me fish up there longer. Thanks to him."
Though he realizes the gravity of his win, Shryock isn't worried about planning for his Classic debut.
"This win hasn't even come close to sinking in," he said. "I'll worry about it next week — maybe next month! I just want to go home this summer and work on every fundamental technique that I can work on and do more of everything that I've been doing."
Finishing in second place was Elite Series pro Gerald Swindle, who has a firm lead on the Southern Open points. Swindle fought food poisoning during all three days of the contest.
"I don't know what's in Domino's Kickers, but there's something that just doesn't agree with me," he said.
Swindle caught 14-15 Saturday for a total of 43-15, 5-10 behind Shryock. But like Shryock, he's already sewn up a 2012 Classic berth through his win — his first B.A.S.S. victory – in the first Southern Open on Florida's Lake Toho in January.
In third place was Tracy Adams of Wilkesboro, N.C., with a total of 40-4. Brandon Card of Caryville, Ky., also with 40-4, was fourth and in fifth was Bradley Roy of Lancaster, Ky., with 39-8.
On the co-angler side, Kevin Clark of Leesburg. Fla., earned a new Triton/Mercury rig for his winning catch of 18-9. Clark showed his versatility from the back of the boat for all three days.
"I caught 'em on a spinnerbait, crankbait and a shaky head; I did just about everything," he said. "But the big ones ate the crankbait."
Clark wanted to fish the Southern Opens as a pro this year, but didn't have a boat. However, his new Triton will put him in the pro division for the 2012 Opens.
George Hirapetian of Charlotte, N.C., who was a mere two ounces away from a home-lake win, took second. He caught 6-5 Saturday, giving him a three-day total of 18-7. In third was Brandon Williams with 16-11, in Dan Jolly of Houston was fourth with 16-7. Robert Jeffrey was fifth with 15-14.
The next and final Bass Pro Shops Southern Open for 2011 is set to be held June 2-4 on Douglas Lake in Jefferson County, Tenn. There the final Bass Pro Shops Southern Open berth will be awarded, and the top five pros in the points will be offered a spot in the 2012 Bassmaster Elite Series.
Each winner has to fish all three Open within the division to maintain their Classic status.