- Mike Suchan, Outdoors
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Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted ...
Driving home toward Newcomerstown, Ohio, Fletcher Shryock finally got real emotional.
"I started crying," he said. "I finally had a tear fall off my face. I was listening to Eminem 'Lose Yourself.' I listened to that song, dude, like word for word, and started busting out."
His girlfriend, Megan Sauser, was in the passenger seat and noticed when he had to dab his eye. He thought his sunglasses had him covered.
"She's like, 'What's wrong?' he said, then having to explain how the song was so fitting to his situation, how a fishing "nobody" like him finally made good on a big chance.
Shryock was returning home from North Carolina, where he had just stunned the bass fishing world by winning the Bass Pro Shops Southern Open 2, complete with qualifying spot in the Bassmaster Classic.
It appeared he might breeze to victory. However, the fear of choking reared on the water. He had found a magical spot in practice and took a lead with 17-12 on Friday, leaving big fish in the process. He launched on the final day thinking he could catch 20 pounds and be back at the dock by lunch waiting for his trophy presentation.
But things got hairy. He had plenty of sweating on Saturday, some frustration with himself, but he ended up not losing himself.
"I kept thinking -- you're only going to have one chance at this with your hero Gerald Swindle," he said. "Do not blow this. You only got one shot. Do not miss your chance."
Just like the song said.
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime yo
Shyrock said that "God made me earn this deal."
He led Tracy Adams by 2-2 and Swindle was fifth only 3-4 back when they launched on Day Three to loudspeakers appropriately blaring "Lose Yourself." He said he knew Swindle, despite being sick, would catch fish.
Shryock wanted to slam the door, but he also didn't want to be known as "that lucky kid who came to Lake Norman and found the magic hole."
"Saturday, it was time to dig deep, and I did," he said.
While he caught his monster 7-9 off his honey hole, he lost another there and only had two fish by 11 a.m. His tournament was coming apart, he felt. It was decision time.
"I cannot sit there and wait for yesterday to relive itself," he said. "You have to go with what the fish want you to do."
Through his obsessive viewing of Bassmaster TV, he recalled how he's seen anglers relying too much on history, on a spot that produced in the past. Staying with it too long. Dying there. Losing.
"I hit the panic button at 11 o'clock. I was like, 'Please Lord, give me one more bite,' " he said as he moved away from his river ledges and started flipping brush in coves. His first stop produced a 3 ¼-pounder for his co-angler, Brandon Williams.
"I was ready to throw up at that point," Shryock said. "I could feel my heart pounding in my throat. If I had that fish right there, it's game over."
He felt better around 1:45 when he landed his third fish, a 4-plus that gave him around 13 pounds. He credited his Trokar hook that was buried in the top of the fish's mouth, and the Berkley 20-pound fluorocarbon line. The fish had wrapped around a large branch.
"I drug the whole tree out of the beaver hut, and I knew it was going to get it in the boat," he said.
Yet he still had thoughts that someone could bring in the 16- or 17-pound bag to steal the title. In a harried state, he moved closer to the launch near Hicks Creek.
"I hammer the Ranger in this bay in a panic," he said before realizing it was not the one he had marked on his GPS and did a 180 almost at full speed. "I'm screaming to myself, 'Fletcher, the Classic is on the line and you're lost!' I ended up getting it together in my brain."
He lost his first fish flipping at his spot then "soaked a Chigger Craw and stuck a 2 ½. I yelled at that point, 'This is the winning fish!' We made sure and netted it," he said.
Since the Lowrance was lighting up, he stayed there and Williams caught his second fish. Another 1-15 and Williams would have won the co-angler title, something Shryock said would have topped the tournament.
With little time left, they moved within sight of Blythe Landing, where they had to report at the dock by 3 p.m. Shryock caught his fifth fish on a Shakey Head with five minutes to spare. It measured 14 and 1/16 inches -- the minimum on Lake Norman is 14 -- and was on his last cast.
Feet fail me not this may be the only opportunity that I got
Shryock went to the weigh-in at Bass Pro Shops at the Concord Mills Mall semi-confident but had no idea what anyone else had. He was interviewed when he arrived at the parking lot.
"Today was the roughest day of fishing that I've ever had to do," he said. "I was thinking it was going to be really easy like the last two days. I was talking about getting back to the dock at 11 and I'm thinking I was haunting myself.
"I don't even know what I have ... it's hard to tell. I feel pretty confident right now, but let's see what happens."
What happened was he knocked his hero out of the hotseat, winning by 5-10. With the trophy in Shryock's hands, Swindle exited stage left, stopping to congratulate the Open champ and latest Classic qualifier.
"That was probably the best part," Shryock said. "Him sitting there -- I know he was sick and miserable -- getting the trophy and getting that hug and him walking off and giving me the stage, that was like unreal.
"I'm so glad I didn't start crying. It would have been bad. I wouldn't have been able to talk."
That's probably never an issue with Shryock. The kid's a talker. And forthcoming. He admitted he was a nobody in the sport, said ... zero to hero ... rags to riches ... obscurity to legend.
So green in the sport, he didn't have a tournament jersey, but decided to paste a B.A.S.S. sticker on his T-shirts at weigh-ins. He was told he must favor Skeet Reese, but just likes yellow and black.
He celebrated big, right, throwing some wild party after winning a boat package, $10,000 for the Open with another $10,000 coming at the Classic?
"Saturday, I went back to the hotel and drank two beers and just sat in my room," he said. "Everyone went to sleep and I just sat there looking at Bassmaster.com."
It must have been surreal for him to see a picture of himself with the headline, "Classic Shryock." He wore out a video showing his moment of victory. But the reality, and the enormity, didn't hit him until he was almost an hour from home Sunday on I-77, listening to a song.
This world is mine for the taking
Make me king, as we move toward a new world order
Shryock wanted bad to tell all the weekend anglers to stick with it, to follow the dream. It can happen. He just proved it.
"I want to dedicate this win to all the guys that bass tournament fish and have a job and can't afford to go out and fish all the time," he said. "I hope this gives them hope that if they do their homework, you can still go out and compete with the pros. You just have to have a big heart and go after it."
As a former motocross racer, he's been on big stages before and doesn't want to fall flat in fishing. He wasn't referring to the 2012 Classic on the Red River out of Shreveport. No, he wants to back up this victory with a good showing at the third Southern Open, set June 2-4 on Douglas Lake in Tennessee.
He tanked in his first one, finishing 161st at Toho. He doesn't want that again.
"I'm worried about Douglas first," he said. "I do not want to go to Douglas and bomb. In racing, it was always the next lap, the next jump, the next turn. If you try to look at it in too big of picture, you miss.
"It would just take away so much from Norman. I might have to put the trophy in the closet."
He doesn't want people to think he's some one-hit wonder, a shooting star that burned out after one pass. Fletcher Shryock doesn't want to lose himself.
You can do anything you set your mind to, man
Scribes note: Oh my goodness, I'm becoming Don Barone.
4hAdam Rubin and Kieran Darcy