DAYTON, Tenn. — Just five years ago Hunter Shryock didn't know how to launch a boat. The chance to fulfill that dream - or at least part of it - is just within his reach.
Shryock is 2nd at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open #2, which concludes Saturday on Lake Chickamauga.
The dream is qualifying for the Bassmaster Elite Series. In 2013, that quest began when Shryock, of Newcomerstown, Ohio, began fishing the Northern Opens.
Just one year earlier he learned to launch a boat and fished his first tournament. Fletcher, his older brother by two years, taught him how to do both. Total immersion laid the foundation for where he is today.
Hunter, 30, placed third at the Southern Open season opener held in January on the Harris Chain of Lakes in central Florida. That finish, and where he stands now, has Shryock in good shape for a 2018 Elite Series berth. The Top 5 anglers in the final Southern Open point standings receive invitations.
"When I left the ramp this morning the number one priority was catching five of the best fish I could for the points," he said.
Shryock's limit weighed 18 pounds, 14 ounces, and gives him a total of 44-5. With the limit aboard he switched priorities.
"Once I had the limit I thought about the possibility of winning and I went head hunting for bigger bass."
The day started with a text message from his brother. It read, "Do what you do and do it perfectly."
Translated, that meant fishing his own water, regardless of what anyone else was going to do, and fish it as best he could.
"I feel like when you fish that way then you are more focused. You can make adjustments needed to make the pattern work when it stops being productive."
Confidence matters, indeed.
Take your pick
Sight fishing for bedding bass. Casting topwaters during a shad spawn. Tracking down largemouth in transition between the spawn. Schooling bass? Yep, you can try that too.
This week at Lake Chickamauga all of the above patterns are in play and then some, at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open.
Brandon Lester summed up the scenario like this:
"The Tennessee River is the kind of place where there is so much habitat that you can do it all, especially when the bass are in all phases of the spawn. You don't have to run far to find different bites and habitat."
The layout of the lake is the key. Chickamauga fishes more like a river than a lake. That concentrates the bass habitat and makes patterning fish easier than on a sprawling lowland impoundment.
Day 1 was the perfect example. Lester gave up on the shad spawn and then moved offshore. Still nothing. At midmorning he moved back to the shoreline. The sun came out and then this.
"Males and big females were just laying everywhere on the beds," he said.
Lester went to work and filled his livewell with a limit weighing 19 pounds, 11 ounces.
Here, being at the right place, at the right time, can mean everything.
No.1 when it counts
Drawing boat number one when nearly 200 boats are behind you. Is it the lucky draw or not? The answer is sometimes yes and other times you run first on blind luck. Just ask Shaw Grigsby.
"It meant everything to where I finished in the standings," said the veteran Florida pro.
Grigsby drew the lucky number and sacked 25 pounds. Not surprisingly, getting out in front of everyone else gave him first dibs on the spawning beds he saved as GPS waypoints.
"It meant everything to be the first boat there, considering the quality of largemouth on those beds," he continued. "Otherwise they might have been picked off had I drawn a higher number."
On the flip side, sometimes being first out doesn't matter. Again, just ask Grigsby.
He drew boat 88 of 100 on the final day of a Bassmaster Elite Series event on the Harris Chain, in his home state of Florida. Grigsby was also in the lead and shared his area with other boats. At the end of the day none of it mattered. He claimed his 9th B.A.S.S. victory there in 2011.
The Bryan College fishing team stays busy enough with academic obligations and a full slate of tournaments. The entire 18-angler team took time to volunteer for weigh-in support duties at the Open.
The college is located adjacent to the weigh-in site at Dayton Boat Dock, with team members adjourning from afternoon classes, changing into tournament jerseys, and working behind the scenes.
Bryan College is a Christian liberal arts college in Dayton, the host city for the Open. The key lure for joining the team is the phenomenal fishing on nearby Chickamauga.
The college predicts the team is entering a measurable growth phase.
"We expect to have 30 members by the fall," said coach Mike Keen, who performed weighmaster duties with Senior Tournament Manager Chris Bowes.
Scholarships are another appealing recruiting tool. At Bryan the team members are eligible for stacked scholarships, or tuition funds from the academic and athletic areas of the school.
The team fishes all three sanctioned leagues in collegiate bass fishing. Those are The Carhartt Bassmaster College Series presented by Bass Pro Shops, and the FLW and Cabela's tours. In the latter league the college holds down the number one national ranking.