Thursday, June 27, 2024

2024 TNT Firework Bassmaster Elite at Smith Lake Day 1: Hunter Shryock Leads with 15-15lb!

Canadians Cory Johnston 2nd, Chris Johnston 33rd, Gallant 39th & Gustafson 53rd

By Andrew Calulette 

BASS Press Release

CULLMAN, Ala. — As predicted, catching a big bag on Day 1 of the TNT Fireworks Bassmaster Elite at Smith Lake wasn’t the easiest proposition.

But a handful of competitors gutted out a tough day on the 21,000-acre fishery and gave themselves a slim edge on opening day of this derby in north-central Alabama.

Hunter Shryock, a 35-year-old resident of Ooltewah, Tenn., caught a five-bass limit weighing 15 pounds, 15 ounces to take the Day 1 lead. He’s just ahead of Canada’s Cory Johnston, who’s second with 14-12, and Ohio’s Alex Redwine, in third with 14-8.

In all, 76 of the 98 competitors are within 6 pounds of Shryock’s lead – underscoring not only how tough the fishing was on Smith, but also the unlikelihood anyone will run away with the lead.

Shryock did all he could, however, to put some distance between himself and the field on Day 1. Like most, he weighed spotted bass, but he added a trio of heftier largemouth to his catch, which isn’t exactly common on Smith Lake in June. One of them was a 4-7, earning Shryock $1,000 for having the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Day.

With the leaderboard as close as it is, Shryock wasn’t sharing much after he weighed in the day’s best bag.

“There’s not a lot of bites, obviously, and I’m kinda playing with fire,” he said. “But I learned some stuff today. I only had two fish at 11 a.m. and then I went on a little run. Sunshine helps me, so I think the cloud cover earlier today messed me up a lot. But honestly, I’m not sure. I’m still trying to figure it all out.”

Despite having only two bass by the lunch hour, Shryock said he probably couldn’t have asked for a much better start on Smith.

“I qualified for the Elites here (in a 2017 Southern Open), so I’ve fished here quite a bit,” he said. “One thing I learned then is that however you catch them one day, you can pretty much forget about it the next day. Just start over. Every time I’ve fished here it’s been like that. You take the days one by one and don’t fight it.”

Johnston shared that sentiment on Day 1, when he pulled five spotted bass from different locations and on different lures.

“This place is extremely hard to find the better-than-average size fish right now,” Johnston said.

“I’m covering a lot of water, using the LiveScope, looking for a lot of individual fish,” he continued. “I caught a few on a jig, a few on a minnow, a few on drop shots. They’re biting pretty short, but when you see them on the LiveScope, you get a pretty good idea if they’re big or not. You just have to cover water and hope the bigger ones bite.”

Johnston said he just missed some bigger bass Thursday, and that gives him some confidence heading into Day 2 and, perhaps, the weekend.

“It was a good day,” he said, “and I think I figured a few things out. But you never know with this place. You could catch 8 pounds tomorrow or it could be 16 pounds. I’m just trying to get in the right area and cast in front of the right ones.”

edwine, 24 and from Blue Ash, Ohio, said Day 1 was a study in patience.

“It was a decent one here, a decent one there,” he said. “I felt like I was catching slightly above-average fish all day.”

But it wasn’t much more than that, he said.

“There are qualify fish out here, bigger than the ones it seems like everyone’s catching,” Redwine noted. “You can see them on the electronics. I think they’re a little bit smarter, a little bit older. It might take a little more time and better execution to catch them, but those are the ones you need to win.”

Bryan New, of Leesville, S.C., is in fourth place with a 14-3 total. Steve Kennedy, of Auburn, Ala., is fifth with 14-2. All but six of the 98 Elites caught a limit on Thursday.

The Alabama summer wasn’t nearly as unrelenting as it could have been on Day 1, with temperatures hovering in the mid-80s and intermittent rain showers throughout the morning. Friday’s forecast calls for highs near 90 with mostly sunny skies and a slim chance for scattered showers.

How those conditions help, or hurt, competitors is anyone’s guess – fitting for this summer showdown on Smith.

Carbondale, Ill., rookie Trey McKinney continues to lead the Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings with 634 points. Alabama’s Justin Hamner, winner of the 2024 Classic, is second with 599 points, followed by Missouri’s Cody Huff in third with 571, Tennessee’s John Garrett in fourth with 552 and Wisconsin’s Jay Przekurat in fifth with 543.

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