Fletcher Shryock is a relative newcomer to the top level of tournament bass fishing, which is fitting since he is from Newcomerstown, Ohio, yet the young pro has years of experience fishing for bass when the water temperature cools down. His approach for the colder months is relatively simple and he focuses on finesse fishing with soft plastics the majority of time he is on the water late in the year.
For Fletcher, it all comes down to soft plastics. If he had to pick one single technique for cold water it would be the dropshot, “It’s versatile and you can catch them anywhere from 2 feet down to 50 or deeper. It also works great for largemouth, spotted bass and smallmouth,” adds Shryock. While it’s true that many soft plastics will work for both species, Shryock has noticed some key differences between the preferences of the different species. “I know everyone says it, but smallmouth really go crazy for Berkley Gulp. I will use all of their baits but my favorite bait for cold water smallmouth is the Gulp Fry, it’s a small bait and it just works great for smallmouth,” shares Shryock.
In addition to a dropshot, Shryock also relies on a shakyhead and wacky-rigged soft plastic stickbait anytime he is faced with cold water bass. While using a shakyhead, he prefers to use a Berkley Havoc Bottom Hopper Jr. in green pumpkin. “The Bottom Hopper Jr. and a shakyhead is my go-to bait, no matter what season it is. You might not win a tournament on it, but it is the best way to add another fish to your limit or when you can’t get bit on anything else,” adds the Ohio pro.
The wacky rig has proven itself to be a top producer during the spring time, but do not count out its effectiveness late in the season. “The wacky rig will work no matter what month it is, I will always have one tied on. I have been using a variety of different baits for this, but have settled on using a Berkley Powerbait Heavyweight Sinkworm,” acknowledges Shryock. His reasoning is the heavier weight of the bait and the fact that he often fishes it much deeper than what is typically associated with the technique. To increase the depth he gets on this bait, he will also use nail weights to add to the already dense soft plastic.
The right set-up can make or break a finesse fishing approach; too heavy line and your bait’s action will suffer. Fletcher Shryock is a firm believer in light line and will often go as light as 4lb test fluorocarbon. “I will typically use 6lb or 8lb test in practice and then switch to either 6lb or even 4lb during the tournament. I feel that I get more bites that way and when the fishing is tough it can mean everything,” states the Ohio pro. His thought process involves the fact that often during colder months he is fishing deeper water that is far from the heaviest cover along the shore. “I don’t have a problem going that light, but you just have to pay attention when the fish jump or get close because if they have the bait down their throat a little you know the line will be sawing against their teeth. Really that’s with every pound line, but you just have to be more cautious with the lighter line,” shares Shryock.
Rod and Reel
With finesse fishing, the spinning rod is almost always the top choice for touring professionals. Fletcher Shryock is no exception and he relies on rods and reels from Abu Garcia; the Veritas rod and Revo Premier spinning reel are his top picks. “I’ll actually use two different rod lengths for my finesse fishing and will change it based on the depth I am fishing,” adds Shryock. When asked for more information, he shared a tip he learned from countless trips to Lake Erie, “When I am fishing more than 15 feet deep I will use a 7’ medium rod, when the water is less than 15 feet deep, I will use a 6’9” medium light action rod. The reason is the line stretch you get from the deeper water,” adds Shryock. He continued by saying he likes the heavier action rod in deeper water as well because he feels like he has more control over the bait and the fish as he is bringing one to the surface.
Structure, Depth and Locations
Fletcher Shryock prefers to focus on high percentage areas for cold water fishing. Vertical seawalls, bridges and standing timber are ideal situations for using a dropshot. “I like to line up with these areas and watch my graph and use a vertical approach to fish these spots with my dropshot,” shares Shryock. There is no magic depth for finding late season bass, but Shryock believes that bass will be active in a variety of depth ranges. Anywhere you have the right combination of structure and baitfish will hold bass according to Fletcher Shryock.
You Can Never Slow Down Enough
When the water temperature dips into the 50’s or below, Shryock believes you can never fish slow enough. One of his favorite ways to fish a dropshot is by dead-sticking the bait for long periods. He recalled a recent trip to Ohio River after a drastic reduction in water temperatures; the fish would not bite the bait if it was moving too fast. Through trial and error he decided to slow down and started getting bit. His retrieve was slowed down to a point where he would not move the bait for 15 or 20 second before slowly moving it again. It proved to be the only way to entice the cold water bass. “It’s hard to do, especially when you are an angler who likes to move your bait fast like I am, but sometimes it is the only way to get bit. I will cast and keep my rod steady as long as I can,” says Shryock. He adds that it works best when you have a little bit of current because your bait will still move naturally, but it is something that will work anywhere you have colder water and less active fish.
Cold water fishing can be simplified to the point of using just a small selection of soft plastics and focusing on the high percentage areas. Fishing during the cold is not always easy, but by preparing yourself for less active fish and using some of Fletcher Shryock’s proven techniques; it can be some of the best fishing of the year.