HARRISON TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Look on the console of Fletcher Shryock’s boat and you’ll see what looks like mathematical equations. Even the steering wheel is covered in writing.
The sum of the numbers is the most important part of Shryock’s strategy at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open presented by Allstate. The numbers represent the miles it takes him to reach certain landmarks. Those help calculate the speed he and his boat must travel to arrive at his fishing area.
It’s a long way. To be exact, it’s 100 miles one way.
“I’m running so far the weather where I’m fishing is different than Detroit.”
The weather, and specifically the wind, is the reason for the numbers. Shryock hopes they run in his favor for tomorrow’s final round of the tournament on Lake St. Clair. For him though, it’s a tournament on Lake Erie, the final stop on the zigzag route that takes Shryock to his fishing spot.
Shryock is fifth place, about five pounds behind two-day leader Joe Balog. The win is in reach if the wind blows in the right direction. If not, he can’t get to his fish and the plan is a bust.
The numbers and abbreviations tell the story of just how long he’s traveling. His dashboard doubles as a travel log. It’s a crude approach that works given the circumstances. Paper gets wet and the pages can blow out of the boat. Any clear spot on the dash or steering wheel gets marked with abbreviations of the landmarks and the mileage.
Here are a few examples.
The picture shows he traveled 18 miles through Lake St. Clair, plus another 27 miles through the Detroit River for a total of 45 miles. Add another 35 miles across a bay and the sum is 80 miles. The “WW” represents his fishing spot at another 30 miles. Sum up the total and you get 110 miles.
At each landmark Shryock must determine whether or not there’s enough time to fish. If not, it meant turning back around. So far so good.
Buy-in from his co-anglers is a given. It must be.
“The day before I’ve asked them if they are physically in shape to handle this boat ride,” he said. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt.”
The run isn’t unsafe. Shryock’s boat is made to handle it. He’s also highly skilled in navigating the likes of an inland sea like Lake Erie. Listen to him describe the ride and you’d think he’s licensed to run a sea-going freighter.
“I can run six footers if I’m running with them, because I can run the trough at 40 miles-an-hour.”
For Shryock, handling the boat through those troughs and traversing rolling waves is like running a dirt bike course. In fact, that’s what he did professionally before joining the bass tour. The biggest difference is the terrain is constantly moving.
“If I take a six-footer head on, then I’m not going to go but 10 miles-an-hour.”
That’s what concerns him most about Saturday’s final round. So far the wind has blown from the southwest. A significant cold front is due tonight, and the wind direction is expected to shift to the northeast. If so, then Shryock can get to his fish.
The time on site is brief but worth it, he says.
“I’m going for 25 pound limits and nothing less.”
Still, time is not on his side, depending on which way the wind blows. And he’s ever so aware of what time means. Here’s another entry from today’s travel log.
Written on a spoke of the steering wheel: “Left 1:10.”
That’s the time this afternoon he departed the fishing area.
Scribbled on another spoke of the wheel: “Chk In 3:15.”
Translated, it meant that check-in time was 3:15 p.m.
Shryock needed all of it to get back to avoid risking late penalties that would cost him the day’s weight. Tomorrow he’ll go for broke. But even with 25 pounds in the boat he’ll still need to get back on time.
Checking his tackle for the final day Shryock made sure of one important detail. It wasn’t a lure.
It was a fresh supply of Sharpie pens.