Open: Shryock sails ahead

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James Overstreet

DAYTON, Tenn. — Hunter Shryock did a lot of waiting on Thursday during the opening day of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open on Chickamauga Lake.

The Ohio pro was the 189th boat to take off this morning, which meant all but six fellow pros in this three-day tournament had a headstart on him. Then, after fishing all day, Shryock consequently was one of the final anglers to cross the stage for weigh-in.

Turns out all his waiting was worthwhile.

Shryock produced a five-bass limit that weighed 25 pounds, 7 ounces, giving him the first-round lead in the second Southern Open of the season. That haul was 6 ounces heavier than the one weighed by veteran Florida pro Shaw Grigsby Jr., who had a 25-1 total.

Perhaps ironically, Grigsby was the first boat to launch on Thursday morning from the Dayton Boat Dock, and the third to weigh in. He had the lead almost all day, until Shryock snatched it in the waning minutes of the weigh-in.

Following just behind are Minnesota’s Josh Douglas, who is in third place with 24-13; and Michael Neal, who lives in Dayton and knows Chickamauga as well as anyone in the field. He’s fourth with 23-0.

A total of seven anglers caught limits weighing 20 or more pounds. Others were John Cox (22-6) of Florida, Freddy Palmer (21-2) of Tennessee and Rick Morris (20-14) of Virginia.

In all, 106 limits were caught by the near-capacity field, but fishing was tougher than many expected it to be on Thursday. “The Chick,” as locals affectionately refer to this 38,000-acre impoundment of the Tennessee River, has been phenomenally productive recently, and bass weighing 8 or 9 pounds have been almost routine in recent weeks. There were several bass in that range caught on the first day of the Southern Open, and the anglers who boated them found themselves atop the leaderboard.

The anglers down the board had difficulty finding the bigger bass that are decidedly in transition from spawn into the postspawn phase.

Shryock didn’t have that problem, though he thought he might after having to wait for 188 boats to launch before him on Thursday. When he did blast off, he headed straight to a spot where he had spotted two large bedding females during practice. He was certain another boat would be on same bank when he arrived, but the place was empty, and Shryock took advantage.

His biggest bass weighed 8-10 and he bagged another in the 6-pound range.

“I knew I had those two,” he said. “Other than that, I just went fishing all day. I caught one here and one there … God willing there were no boats there. It worked out.”

With an 80 percent chance of rain predicted for Friday, Shryock said it was imperative to do well on Thursday.

“I had to get those two in the boat,” he said. “Who knows what we’re going to get tomorrow.”

Grigsby had his pick of spots after drawing the No. 1 boat on Thursday. The longtime Elite Series pro took advantage of the early start and ran straight to an area he pegged in practice. Once there, Grigsby did what he does best — he began sight fishing. He caught the big bass of the day, a hefty 9-12 that put him in the lead for the Phoenix Boats Big Bass Award.

Thursday’s conditions were near ideal for a sight-fishing specialist like Grigsby, with temperatures hovering in the mid-70s, mostly clear skies and slack winds. Still, Grigsby wasn’t one of the anglers who thought he would catch a 20-plus pound sack on Chickamauga.

“I wasn’t confident I’d do all that well,” he said. “I figured I’d catch 12, maybe 15 pounds a day, but I just happened to find some really good sight fish. I picked them off. Now, I don’t know if I have much left, maybe a couple. Getting 20 pounds again tomorrow is going to be tough, but I’ll definitely be sight fishing again.”

Douglas said he ran the length of Chickamauga Lake trying a variety of techniques. The strategy worked, as he boated a 9-9 monster and finds himself mere ounces behind Shryock and Grigsby.

The 9-9 bass was his final catch of the day, and allowed him to cull a 3-pounder from his livewell.

Given his knowledge of the fishery, Neal was optimistic about catching a big bag on Thursday, but realized that with the bass in transition, the lake could prove more difficult than expected.

“The fish are just in kind of a lull right now,” Neal said. “If we were here a week from now, everyone would be fishing offshore like I did today and killing them. I’m just picking off the first ones that are getting there. Hopefully I can find a few more with all the rain that’s expected tomorrow.”

Cox said Chickamauga Lake has confused him since he arrived for practice. Still, he was able scratch out a bag big enough to place him fifth after the first day of competition.

In the co-angler competition, Alabama’s Roy Hurst Jr. leads with a three-bass limit of 15-3. Tennessee’s David Gladden II is in second with 13-2 and Tennessee’s Tim Patterson is third with 13-2.

The Rhea County (Tenn.) Economic and Tourism Council is hosting the Bass Pro Shops Southern Open, and anglers from 27 different states and countries are entered. The field will be cut to 12 after Friday’s action, and the winner will receive a Triton/Mercury boat-motor package worth $40,000, as well as $8,000 cash and a berth in the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods.

Friday’s takeoff is scheduled for 6:45 a.m. ET, and weigh-in is set for 2:45 p.m. Both will take place at the Dayton (Tenn.) Boat Dock.

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