Going into Stage Two of the 2020 Bass Pro Tour season, Fletcher Shryock –like most of the MLF pros – had his sights set on qualifying for the first-ever Heavy Hitters event. Winning was the ultimate goal of course, but Shryock had a contingency plan if he started to fall down SCORETRACKER® near the Elimination Line: to go hunting for big bites in order to qualify for Heavy Hitters.
That plan is exactly what helped Shryock edge out Stephen Browning for the final spot in the Top 8 during the Knockout Round by just 1 pound, 5 ounces.
Shryock got to the Knockout Round by barely making it through his Qualifying Rounds. After making the Top 20 in his group by just 1-12, the Abu Garcia pro needed to come up with a new game plan heading into his third day of competition on the Big O.
“I spent a lot of time on Lake Okeechobee over the years, so I knew I wanted to fish a lot of different spots,” Shryock recalled. “In Period 1 of the Knockout Round, I started on a place that I felt really good about going into it and I just never got a bite. After that, I really didn’t think I had a chance to make it to the Championship Round, so I went looking for big bites so I could qualify for Heavy Hitters.”
Sitting on the outside of the Top 8 and looking in with a big fat zero next to his name, the Ohio native started to work his way through spots he’d marked in practice. All the while, convincing himself all he was looking for was one big bite for Heavy Hitters and not focusing on his position on SCORETRACKER® heading into Period 2.
“I rolled up to a place where I knew I could catch one big one,” Shryock said. “I got bit more than a few times in that area and by the end of the second period, it turned out that I had caught four for 20-15. That one spot made my thinking go from, ‘Well, guess it’s time to focus on Heavy Hitters’ to, ‘Holy crap, I can actually do this thing and make the Championship Round.’”
His work wasn’t quite done, however. Shryock was still outside of the Top 8 and needed a few more fish to secure his spot in the Championship Round.
“I was working in areas with shallow and clean water for all of my bites,” Shryock detailed. “I was back behind the hardline and there were all these clean pockets of water from the shoal up to the north. The water was maybe just a 1 1/2 feet deep and all of the areas looked the same. You never knew which area was going to fire at what time. It’s all about timing in Florida.”
Luckily for Shryock, he was able to find the right area with about an hour left in the day. While he was unable to connect with sizable bass, he was able to find a few scorable fish. Three largemouth for 6-12 pushed Shryock’s total weight to 27-11 for the day, just 1-5 ahead of Browning for the final spot in the Top 8.
When the day was finished and he got word that he had advanced, Shryock felt more than relieved that not only he made it, but that the round was over.
“This format is not only physically exhausting, but 10 times greater than that, it’s the mental exhaustion that gets you,” Shryock explained. “When you’re on the bubble like I was, it seems like every minute lasts an hour. It takes a lot out of you, but once you know you’re moving on, it’s a great feeling.”