JASPER, Ala. – Hunter Shryock doesn’t hide his emotion when he discusses the Bassmaster Elite Series.
He talks passionately about the tour with his brother Fletcher, who already is an Elite Series angler. His eyes light up when he thinks of it, and he can’t contain his smile at the mention of it.
The Elite Series is a longtime goal for Hunter Shryock. It’s his dream.
And after his performance Thursday in Bassmaster Southern Open No. 3 presented by Bass Pro Shops, the dream is close enough to taste.
Shryock caught a five-bass limit that weighed 11 pounds, 12 ounces on Day 1 of the open here on Smith Lake in north-central Alabama. That was good enough to put him in 10th place overall and exactly 3 1/2 pounds out of the lead held by Shin Fukae of Texas (via Japan).
Though nothing can be certain until the third and final day of this competition is complete, it’s safe to say that Shryock may have (for all practical purposes) earned his invite to 2018 Elite Series on Thursday.
He already led the circuit’s points race heading into the final Southern Open of the season, and he did nothing to hurt that position on Day 1 of this Open. The top five in the those standings when the tournament here is complete will get the chance to fish with the world’s best bass anglers in the Elite Series next year.
Shryock is taking nothing for granted, but he’s well aware he’s close to his lifelong goal of making the Elites. He added that the self-inflicted pressure to do well on Smith has been tremendous. This after living on the lake for the past month and fishing it every day to get to know the best methods to boat the heaviest bass possible.
“This lake is big (at 21,000 acres,) but it’s so small to me right now,” Shryock said. “I only have to go to a couple places. I’ve simplified it.”
He got that chance with a helping hand from fellow pro David Kilgore, who lives on Smith Lake. When the two talked at the recent ICAST Convention, Kilgore told Shryock he could stay in his house to prep for the third Southern Open of the season.
“I told David ‘You can’t take that back, because I’m taking you up on the offer,’” Shryock said. “I got here a month ago…I knew how tough this event was going to be, and I knew how much that local advantage would help. If you gave someone this opportunity, they’d take it.”
Shryock was right about the home-water edge on Smith, as five of the 10 anglers atop the leaderboard live within a short drive from Jasper. Knowing a lot of local sticks would compete on Smith, Shryock fished relentlessly on Day 1 of the tournament. He also knew to limit his aim to several schools of bass he was certain could produce a double-digit weight total on a lake that didn’t produce many of them on Thursday.
“I had to give it everything I have,” Shryock said. “I don’t know how many times I was running down the lake and I just wanted to start crying, to be honest. The emotional stress of this event has been tremendous. So every single day, sun-up to sundown, I’ve been out there. It’s the only thing I can think about.”
So how does the Newcomerstown, Ohio, resident continue his quest to be a newcomer on the Elite Series?
“I’ll probably go back to an area I caught three quick fish in and then I left,” he said. "Hopefully I can get in there again and catch more of them. I’m isolated, so it’s not as popular as what everyone else has been doing.”
Shryock would love to win the Southern Open on Saturday, but a top five finish in the series standings might make him the happiest man in the field. After all, that wouldn’t just advance the dream – it would cement it.
“This is my Bassmaster Classic right now,” he said. “(And if I don’t win the tournament) a top 40 (finish) here is like a championship win for me.”