- Mike Suchan, Outdoors
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CONCORD, N.C. -- Just who is Fletcher Shryock?
Well, besides being the sixth qualifier for the 2012 Classic, which he secured this weekend by winning the Bass Pro Shops Southern Open 2, the 25-year-old is a student of the sport. A serious student. An obsessed student of bass fishing and everything B.A.S.S.
"You have no idea," said his mother, Kathy Anderson, who made the 7-hour drive down I-77 from Newcomerstown, Ohio -- an appropriate hometown name for Shryock -- on Saturday to surprise her son at the weigh-in. "He eats, sleeps, breathes, dreams, talks, everything fishing -- that's all he does."
Except for a couple years competing in motocross, fishing has dominated his life. It started early, when Fletcher held tournaments at the creek running behind their home. Maybe not so odd, but Fletcher went all Rainman, writing down all sorts of results when he was 8 or 9.
"He had a notebook with all his catches," said his mom, who still has it stashed away. "Weights, lengths. He had weather conditions -- cloudy ... I'm like, 'Would you stop!' "
His girlfriend, Megan Sauser, was at the weigh-in among the Shryock fanbase that included his dad, Roger, stepdad, stepbrother and best friend. She was smiling wide for him, knowing his efforts and time paid off. She was asked if his fishing fixation ever became an annoyance.
"Oh my god, that's all that kid does," she said. "He's obsessed. He likes it more than anything. He talks about it nonstop."
Sauser said Shryock constantly pitches a little jig at random targets around the house filled wall to wall with tackle, reads Bassmaster Magazine cover to cover and falls asleep to reruns of Classics long past. She's heard all his fishing stories again and again and can pin down what might be the root of his fishing Jones.
His father agrees that Fletcher might have gone overboard when he bought a bass boat to take his sons out on South Fork Lake near their home.
"Fletcher told me his dad used to take him and his brother Hunter out on that lake and they used to spend the night on the boat," Sauser said. "They would tie the fishing line on their teeth so they'd know if they got a bite … and they would stay out all night."
"He's obsessed with fishing," Roger said. "Then it switched to motocross for awhile. Now it's been back to fishing."
Fletcher competed several years on motocross circuits -- his name is dotted in the results on websites like AmericanMX.com. Fletcher said he raced from age 14 to 22, including the last three years "full on, all-out," and it taught him valuable lessons that helped prepare him for fishing.
"I'm kind of glad I did it, because I had an awesome racing career," he said. "Never really won, but had a half dozen TV appearances. I know all about what it takes -- when the going gets tough, the tough get going."
He related one story when a big-name racer tried to run him off the track, which didn't sit well with Shryock.
"This guy slammed me and tried to knock me off this hill," he said. "It got me so fired up, I launched my bike and landed on this guy. And that was for a qualifying position. I just completely made a point that you guys ain't going to push me around."
He wasn't a frontrunner but was making checks, yet injuries, specifically a separated shoulder, made him let go of the handlebars and begin to take a firm grip on fishing rods.
Studying hard, he learned and copied techniques the Elite Series anglers espoused. Anderson said it's Fletcher's nature to go all out in his interests.
"You put something down in front of that boy -- I don't care if he's in the hospital bed and he has to be breathing oxygen," she said, "he's all or nothing."
"His life is all about fishing. Every Christmas, all I had to buy was fishing stuff."
Before winning the Open, he said this of his tournament experience: "I aint' got a whole lot."
He took second place in the Tuesday night Tappan Lake championship and was second in the Southeast Ohio Lakes Trail two-day team tournament. He also competed on the Super Northern Open anglers Association.
The Bass Pro Shops Southern Open 1 on Lake Toho was his first B.A.S.S. event, and he ended up a disappointing 161st out of 194 boaters.
"Guys I know laughed at me when I went to Florida … 'You're just blowing money.' I'd just look them in the eye … 'Yep,' " he said.
The naysayers looked prophetic when the wheels came off there. Shryock thought he could easily finish in the top 40 and cash a check, but on his second flip a fish wrapped him up, he had to break it off and retie his first time on the lake. It set the tone.
He later lost an 8-pounder at the boat, it "spitting the hook right in my face, three feet from the net." He said the event taught him two things: Don't mess with certain fish and get away from the crowd.
Shyrock said it's important to add experiences like that to his knowledge, because he's been digesting everything B.A.S.S. On the stage under the awning in Bass Pro Shops' boat department at Concord Mills Mall on Saturday, he admitted he was a bassaholic.
"It got to the point where I watched every tournament, took notes on what every top guy did, win or lose," he said. "Clear back to the '80s I watched the Classic. That's why I learned so much I think so fast … there's still a lot I need to learn, but I think I'm on the right track."
He feels a little like Charlie opening up a Wonka bar and finding the golden Classic ticket, even after being told the odds of that were virtually impossible. He said his is true zero-to-hero story.
"I'm a nobody," he said. "There's a handful of people who really believe in me, and I'm not sure I believe in myself as much as they believe."
Shryock did believe in the "magical spot" he found, saying it could produce a 20-pound bag and that he might be in early Saturday like Timmy Horton at the 2007 Champion's Choice. Horton was so far ahead he came around lunchtime, ate a pizza at the dock before winning by 13 pounds.
"That's almost exactly what it felt like," he said, "but it turned into a grind deal."
Next up: Shyrock describes his tournament, the final day grind and the aftermath of his victory so far.
6hBy Ian O'Connor