CLEARLAKE, Calif., April 15, 2000 - After a truly incredible turn of events at the BASSMASTER California Western Invitational on Clear Lake, there is little doubt which state now holds the title of "big bass capital."
At 3:38 p.m. PST, Byron Velvick of Boulder City, Nevada, not only won the event but also shattered the all-time B.A.S.S. record for three days with an utterly astounding 15-bass total of 83 pounds, five ounces. Bettering Robert Lee's previous mark (78-3 set last April on the California Delta) by over four pounds, Velvick accomplished the feat by increasing his daily totals while many others were slipping.
"I wanted that record, man! I wanted it so bad!" exclaimed Velvick as B.A.S.S. emcee Fish Fishburne and an appreciative crowd cheered their approval. Standing off to one side, Robert Lee could only shake his head in amazement.
"With this weather, I figured there was no way my record could be broken," But Byron did a great job in adjusting to the conditions," said Lee, who was already looking forward to next season's scheduled Delta event. "There's a good chance for this record to be broken again, but 83 pounds is awfully strong."
"California rules!" shouted one spectator as Velvick hoisted a pair of Clear Lake largemouth that anchored his 30-pound, six-ounce final-day catch. Like his first and second day weights of 24-0 and 28-15, respectively, the Nevada pro backed up a pure sight fishing attack with a western big bait strategy.
Focusing on sparse beds of hydrilla positioned in six feet of water or less, Velvick's 20 years of sight fishing paid off handsomely when the stormy conditions allowed visual contact with his targets. In those situations, he pitched an Anglers Choice five-inch Chubby Craw (Cajun craw pattern, brown/orange belly) rigged Texas style on a 15-pound Maxima line to open pockets in the weeds. The plastic craw was weighted with a small lead nail (1/16-ounce) inserted mid-bait to produce a horizontal fall.
Unfortunately, these opportunities were somewhat limited after a pre-tournament storm front all but eliminated much of his "hard-core sight fishing water."
"They went from spawning to surfing," laughed Velvick about the effects of turbulent water in his key, north-lake bay.
Recognizing the need for a solid, big fish backup pattern, Velvick turned to an eight-inch Basstrix swim bait (a fish-shaped, kick-tail type of lure rigged internally with a 3/8-ounce weight and sporting two exposed hooks) rigged on Maxima 20-pound test. With male bass trying to coax the larger females to the beds, Velvick got some of his biggest fish by working the swim bait over the bedding areas.
In what has turned out to be a spectacular year for Skeet Reese of Cotati, California - both on the western circuit with a win at Lake Powell and solid performances on the BIG Kmart Top 150 circuit - a second-place effort here was truly icing on the cake. With a three-day total of 72 pounds, three ounces, Reese cinched a spot at this year's Classic by relying mainly on a Yamamoto Senko (watermelon/black flake) rigged on 6/30 SpiderWire, Lamiglas XC 705 rod, and a Shimano Castaic reel.
Reese used every bit of sight fishing experience he possessed to locate deeper spawning fish in four to eight feet of water around scattered tulles.
"These bass all have different personalities, and there is no one way that will always work," noted Reese, who also employed white and chartreuse grubs and Robo Zipper worms during the event.
Despite three exceptionally strong fishing days, western points champion Aaron Martens of Castaic, California, couldn't shake third place from start to finish ending with a 68-pound total. Like Velvick's approach, Martens combined a variety of Robo worms and grubs in sight fishing applications, backed up by a Basstrix swim bait. For Martens, a turning point occurred when windy weather forced many anglers south to his area.
The following five anglers qualified for the 30th annual BASS Masters Classic to be held July 20-22 in Chicago on Illinois' waters of Lake Michigan. (Their Clear Lake finishes are in parentheses.):
- Aaron Martens - Castaic, CA (3rd)
- Koto Kiriyama - West Hills, CA (31st)
- Skeet Reese - Cotati, CA (2nd)
- Mark Rizk - Antelope, CA (23rd)
- Brett Hite - Phoenix, AZ (4th)