Two U.S. Open wins and a bucket load of other titles put Byron Velvick among the elite of the Western bass angling world. But, on Clear Lake, the location of the final B.A.S.S. invitational of the 2000 season, Byron stepped up and etched his name in the record books as the man who broke the three-day weight record with 83- pounds 5-ounces of bass.
Byron Velvick lives a stone's throw from Lake Mead but got his start in bass fishing by being a bag boy for bass tournaments near his home in California. His mentor, Steve Oliver, taught Byron to fish.
Byron's entrance on the scene of tournament bass angling wasn't a fairy-tale story of rags to riches. He scraped together the entry fee and fished his first U. S. Open in the mid-eighties. The result; he blanked the entire tournament.
The following year, determined to improve, he again scraped and scratched out the $1200 entry fee, giving the Open another try. The result; he blanked again. Two Opens - zero fish. Many guys might have packed it in after those results, but failure made Byron more determined than ever.
By 1991, after much patience and, indeed long-suffering, Byron Velvick won the U.S. Open. He won it again in 1996. He now has the goal of making it to the Classic, and by his past efforts when facing a challenge, who's going to say he won't make it?
As a bass professional, he now fishes 215 days a year, goes to an additional few dozen trade shows, and is a rep for several of his sponsors, including Viper Boats. With that kind of time on the water, it's surprising he doesn't have webbed feet or gills!
Byron Velvick has always enjoyed springtime fishing. Sight fishing has become his lightning rod. When he was a kid, he sight-fished from the bow of a tiny tin boat, and he learned quickly. Today, he has developed a keen eye and knows enough about bass behavior to be a threat whenever bass are visible.
Due to sponsor commitments, Byron couldn't fish the B.A.S.S. Arizona Invitational in March and, of course, had little chance of finishing the year with any hope of going to the Classic. He knew the Clear Lake tournament would be an excellent time to catch big fish, so he focused his effort on that event.
"I spent a week prefishing Clear Lake, and conditions were right," he said. "If the pattern held and the weather cooperated, I knew there would be some incredible weights caught during the tournament."
He had to keep pinching himself each day to ensure he hadn't died and gone to sight-fishing heaven.
"There were huge fish all over the place, in shallow and on beds, and a lot of guys were seeing and catching huge fish all week. "Many fish had made their beds in the shallows and were visible to anyone - until the last day of the pre-fish."
The weather pattern had held until then, but wind and rain moved in. The rain wasn't a show-stopper, but the wind was another story.
"Within a matter of hours, those shallow bass went from spawning to surfing," Byron said. "Beds were destroyed, and the bass were forced to leave. That wind broke a lot of guys' hearts."
Though the weather had changed, Byron had more than one game plan. "During my prefishing, I found several different areas that held fish. In addition to the shallow stuff, I found beds and fish in 4 to 6 feet of water. I just adjusted my game plan."
Byron drew Gene lovino on the tournament's first day and decided to "cherry pick" specific areas that he knew held good beds and large fish. The decision was a good one. They both found good fish - and lost good fish.
"I couldn't believe the numbers of 7-pound-plus fish we lost that first day. I experimented with an 8-inch Basstrix soft plastic swimbait by putting an extra hook at the rear of the bait. At certain times that works well," Byron said.
Even with all the big fish that were lost, Velvick's weight for the first day was a very respectable 24- pounds, landing him in fifth place.
One of Byron's secrets to excellent sight-fishing success is patience and persistence.
"You can't believe the number of times I have watched a boat move through an area, catch a 3- pound male, and then move to another spot. I'll wait a few minutes, move through the same area, and catch the 7-pound female that had moved into where the male had been."
Usually, the second day of a tournament brings smaller bags and more challenging conditions. For Byron, his draw for the second day was like manna from Heaven. "Roger Ernst was the perfect partner. He was happy to stay in the back of the boat and let me do my thing. The only problem was before I landed my first big fish, Roger had landed a 7- and 8-pounder. Here he was with 15 pounds of fish in the boat, and I hadn't caught a big one yet. That can be kind of tough on a guy. Roger had a great attitude and told me his fish was the biggest bass of his life."
Byron's weight for the second day didn't go down but rather went up from 24 to 28.15 and a two-day total of 52.15, good enough to give him a two-pound lead. Skeet Reese and Aaron Martens were both hot on his tail with just over 50 pounds a piece.
Some locals predicted a poor showing on the tournament's final day. Well, nobody told Byron Velvick or his day-three partner, Mike Folkestad. Although it was a challenging day for them both, Byron weighed 30 pounds 6 ounces, shattering Robert Lee's one-tournament record of 78 pounds 3 ounces set last April on the Delta. Mike Folkestad, for his part, weighed just over 18 pounds of bass, good enough for 16th place overall.
"There were a few big fish in the shallows most of the time," Byron said. "It was simply a matter of locating them and then enticing the strike. I like to say I "cherry-picked" the big ones because I would pass up smaller fish to go after the larger fish."
Another key to the location was something Byron found while prefishing. Out away from the shore, between 100 and 300 yards, beds of hydrilla covering a broken shale-covered bottom held spawning fish in 4 to 6 feet of water. When the wind came up and ruined the fishing for so many guys, Byron moved to the deeper beds and kept on top of the fish.
Byron used two baits almost exclusively on Clear Lake, an 8-inch Basstrix and a 5-inch Craw.
Byron 'fly-lined' his baits, both the Basstrix and the Chubby Craw. But, an adjustment he made to the Chubby Craw made it deadly.
He embedded a small nail weight in the body of the Craw that caused the bait to sink horizontally. He put the bait right on top of the beds, and the weight gave him the control needed to entice the strikes.
The Basstrix was a hit the entire time. Rigged mainly with one hook, although he experimented with a two-hook rig, Byron swam the bait over beds. "When I used two hooks on the Basstrix, I kept hanging the back hook on the hydrilla, which was very annoying. After the first day, I went away from the second hook idea."
Since Clear Lake, as if he wasn't before, Byron Velvick has been busy. The telephone has not stopped ringing. He's been on the road almost non-stop, and his friends probably wonder if all this notoriety is worth the trouble. But Byron has a pretty good attitude about it, "I've got to deliver a boat up into Utah, then drive to a Boat Show out West. Then I'm fishing the WON BASS Tournament on Clear Lake at the end of the month. I'm pretty used to this kind of schedule."
I don't know if all the excitement is taking its toll on Byron, but even through the phone line, I could tell Mr. Velvick was grinning from ear to ear. Congratulations on an incredible feat.
Reprinted with permission from Bass West Magazine