Photo by Dan O’Sullivan
Byron Velvick Lands a giant
What many did not know at the time is that Velvick, and a few other western anglers, like Dave Rush and Russ Meyer, had been employing a large saltwater bait called the Worm King Dinosaur in tournaments. To most, outside of southern California, the bait was largely a triggering mechanism for big spawning females who wouldn’t respond to traditional bed fishing offerings. For Velvick, the bait had broader appeal. His experience on south- ern California waterways proved to him that swimbaits were more than just for spawning fish, they also worked when retrieved through the water column on a steady retrieve. His nearly 28 pounds per day performance at Clear Lake proved their effectiveness to the world. “I had been able to keep the whole thing quiet for several years, basically by lying through my teeth,” Velvick said. “I’d catch a fish in a draw tournament on a swimbait and act like it was a total surprise, and sometimes even tell them it was my first fish on them, but Clear Lake exposed them to everyone.” Even with the win and the record, he would have rather had it remained secret, but the presence of national media made sure that wouldn’t happen. “When Steve Price (Bassmaster Senior Writer) was on the water taking pictures of me throwing that original Basstrix the final day, I knew the secret was out,” Velvick remembered. That fateful day would become a turning point for the then 35-year-old pro. Until that day, he had been one of the most suc- cessful anglers following the western circuits. “The prize boat I won that day was like my 14th boat won in competition,” said Vel-
vick. “I’d also won a Rolex watch and a truck in my career, but that Clear Lake tournament changed my focus; I knew I could make a big splash across the country on swimbaits.” So, with the help of Bruce Porter at Basstrix, Jerry Rago, Mick- ey Ellis at 3:16 Lure Company and Ken Huddleston, Velvick loaded up on swimbaits and set out to prove to the world that big swim- baits were effective everywhere. “I was intent on proving that they would catch fish everywhere,” he said. “I was determined to do for swimbaits what Dee Thomas and his protégé Dave Gliebe did for flipping; I was going to be the Godfather of swimbaits.” What resulted were several years of frustration for the suc- cessful western based pro. He had grown accustomed to cashing checks with regularity, and winning his fair share of events, but was finding himself finishing out of the paycheck line more often than in. “I had so many close calls in those days,” he said. “I’d have tre- mendous schools of fish attacking my swimbait in practice, then have the weather change on me. Or, I would have them located, then realize as the tournament started that I was sharing water with other guys, and the big results never came.” One other thing that Velvick realized in hindsight was that the lack of landing nets in BASS competition was another factor. “I’ve learned that swimbaits and landing nets are almost like peanut butter and jelly,” he said. “I’ve lost more giant swimbait fish in Bassmaster tour level events at the side of the boat than I’d care to remember.