Hunter Shryock did a lot of waiting on Thursday during the opening day of the Bassmaster Southern Open on Lake Chickamauga. The Ohio angler was the 189th to take off, which meant all but six fellow competitors in the three-day tournament had a head start on him. Then, after fishing all day, Shryock consequently was one of the final anglers to cross the stage for weigh-in.
Turns out all his waiting was worthwhile.
Shryock produced a five-bass limit that weighed 25-07, giving him the first-round lead in the second Southern Open of the season. That haul was 6 ounces heavier than the one weighed by veteran Florida pro Shaw Grigsby, who boxed 25-01.
Perhaps ironically, Grigsby was the first boat to launch on Thursday morning from the Dayton Boat Dock, and the third to weigh in. He had the lead almost all day until Shryock snatched it in the waning minutes of the weigh-in.
Following just behind are Minnesota’s Josh Douglas, who is in 3rd place with 24-13; and FLW Tour pro Michael Neal, who lives in Dayton and knows Chickamauga as well as anyone in the field. He’s 4th with 23-00.
A total of seven anglers caught limits weighing 20 or more pounds. Others were John Cox (22-06) of Florida, Freddy Palmer (21-02) of Tennessee and Rick Morris (20-14) of Virginia.
In all, 106 limits were caught by the near-capacity field, but fishing was tougher than many expected it to be on Thursday. “The Chick,” as locals affectionately refer to this 38,000-acre impoundment of the Tennessee River, has been phenomenally productive recently, and bass weighing 8 or 9 pounds have been almost routine in recent weeks. There were several bass in that range caught on the first day of the event, and the anglers who boated them found themselves atop the leaderboard.
The anglers down the board had difficulty finding the bigger bass that are decidedly in transition from spawn into the post-spawn phase.
Shryock didn’t have that problem, though he thought he might after having to wait for 188 boats to launch before him. When he did blast off, he headed straight to a spot where he had spotted two large bedding females during practice. He was certain another boat would be on the same bank when he arrived, but the place was empty and Shryock took advantage.
His biggest bass weighed 8-10 and he bagged another in the 6-pound range.
“I knew I had those two,” he said. “Other than that, I just went fishing all day. I caught one here and one there … God willing, there were no boats there. It worked out.”
With an 80 percent chance of rain predicted for Friday, Shryock said it was imperative to do well on day 1.
“I had to get those two in the boat,” he said. “Who knows what we’re going to get tomorrow.”
Grigsby had his pick of spots after drawing the No. 1 boat on Thursday. The longtime Elite Series pro took advantage of the early start and ran straight to an area he pegged in practice. Once there, Grigsby did what he does best – he began sight-fishing. He caught the big bass of the day, a hefty 9-12 specimen.
Thursday’s conditions were near ideal for a sight-fishing specialist like Grigsby, with temperatures hovering in the mid-70s, mostly clear skies and slack winds. Still, Grigsby wasn’t one of the anglers who thought he would catch a 20-plus pound sack on Chickamauga.
“I wasn’t confident I’d do all that well,” he said. “I figured I’d catch 12, maybe 15 pounds a day, but I just happened to find some really good sight-fish. I picked them off. Now I don’t know if I have much left, maybe a couple. Getting 20 pounds again tomorrow is going to be tough, but I’ll definitely be sight-fishing again.”
Here's how the top 12 stacks up after the opening round:
1. Hunter Shryock: 25-07
2. Shaw Grigsby: 25-01
3. Josh Douglas: 24-13
4. Michael Neal: 23-00
5. John Cox: 22-06
6. Freddy Palmer: 21-02
7. Rick Morris: 20-14
8. Bill Weidler: 19-13
9. Brandon Lester: 19-11
10. Johnny Patterson: 19-10
11. Brent Bonadona: 19-06
12. Chris Heath: 19-04