By Pete Robbins
Heading into the Elite Series event on the Potomac River, the eighth of nine regular season full-field events, Fletcher Shryock sat in 70th place in the Angler of the Year standings. For the first time in his nearly five full years on the senior circuit, he stood in genuine danger of not requalifying for the tour, but at the same time still felt that he had a legitimate chance to make the 2017 Bassmaster Classic.
“I didn’t want to be one of the guys they were going to let go and I also knew that my main goal of the year was still in reach and that was to qualify for the Classic” he said. “It felt like I was literally fishing for my career throughout the entire event."
His precarious position in the standings left him teetering on an emotional precipice so he reverted to his comfort zone, short line flipping with the Yamamoto PsychoDad, a stubby sub-4-inch craw that is playing an increasingly large role in his tournament successes. The result was a hard-fought 20th place finish, his best of the season, moving him up 15 places in the standings. Now not only is he extremely likely to requalify, but he’s also in position to make a run at the Angler of the Year Championship tournament on Mille Lacs (the top 50 in the points standings will get a slot) and perhaps even a berth in the 2017 Bassmaster Classic.
“The PsychoDad is a huge confidence bait for me,” he said. He experimented with it extensively over the winter in Florida, where finicky bass are often best pursued with small do-nothing craws. On one 40 degree day, with howling winds, he picked it up and proceeded to get more bites than with any other bait. “That made me a believer.”
He admitted that the bait’s construction may be a double-edged sword. It’s soft, so when flipping it in heavy vegetation it may take some occasional adjustment to prevent the hook from getting out of line, but that same softness translates into hooked fish.
“When I’m fishing for my career and I set the hook, I want to know that that sucker’s getting in the boat,” he explained. “It has the best hook up ratio of any flipping bait out there.” He wasn’t getting many bites on the Potomac – six the first day, four the second day and six on Saturday – but they all ended up in his grasp. If he’d failed to hook or land any of those bites on Day One or Two, there might not have been a Day Three, its corresponding $10,000 check, and the much needed points that go along with it.
He concentrated on distinct patches of milfoil, often just short patches in miles-long stretches of grass, the rest of it choked out with hydrilla or eelgrass. “I caught four or five fish out of one 3 foot by 3 foot clump,” he said. “It was a place where in practice I got one bite, but it had good clean flipping grass.”
His tackle played a key role in grinding every possible bite out of a surprisingly tough fishery. Every element of his system plays a role, from the 4/0 straight shank Lazer Trokar TK130 flipping hook that he snells, to the combination of a 40 lb. Spiderwire braid main line with a 2 foot 20lb test fluorocarbon leader.
“You could probably get by with straight braid,” he said. “But I felt like the fluorocarbon leader might get me one or two more bites, and that could be the difference in making the cut. It’s not a visibility thing. It’s more about the noise in the grass. Where you’re yo-yoing or hopping the lure in a foot and a half of water under a thick clump of milfoil, that noise might be just enough to spook them.”
He found a ¾ ounce tungsten weight to be the optimal combination of penetration and stealth, allowing a quick fall but relatively little commotion on entry. He’d tested 3/8 and ½ ounce versions, but they would get held up on the stalks of grass. A one or one and a half ounce version would “rocket past them and move the grass” in an unnatural fashion. An additional advantage of the PsychoDad is that its streamlined profile works its way downward cleanly, with few appendages to hang up. He kept his color choice simple: Black and blue. “Any time they’re under that matted milfoil, it’s dark down there so I want to create a shadow. It’s probably a confidence thing more than anything.” He said that if there’d been a little bit more light penetration, he might’ve switched to green pumpkin or Okeechobee Craw, but the thick canopies of grass allowed him to keep it simple.
Shryock pitched the PsychoDad on a 7’6” heavy-action Abu-Garcia Villain 2.0 rod paired with a Revo MGX reel. The reel’s light weight allowed him to flip all day without fatigue, and the 7.9:1 gear ratio prevents him from wasting time in dead water.
“When I’m flipping clumps of grass, I try to fish the closest clumps to me first,” he said, explaining that he doesn’t like to disturb likely ambush spots by having the lure plowing through the water on the way back to the boat. By the time he makes his longer pitches, he’s “already fished for the fish between the targets and the boat.” He also endeavored to stay on the trolling motor as little as possible, and then running it constantly at a low speed rather than starting and stopping it. “I don’t like to bump the button all the time. I’ll put my Power Poles down, fish around, and then pick them up, ease down the grass line, and drop them down again.”
Next up is the Upper Mississippi River out of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, another grass-choked fishery where Shryock has experienced some success. Thanks to his reliance on the PsychoDad at the Potomac, he’s back in position to make something happen, rather than guarding against bad outcomes.
“I’m having more fun right now than I have all year,” he said. “I like chasing down the competition, not feel like I'm being chased. I'm looking forward to the last few events."