LAKEPORT, Calif. Three straight days of throwing a swimbait for six to seven hours a day has slowly worn the 45-year-old body of Byron Velvick out.
As he conducts backstage interviews at the 2010 Golden State Shootout on Clear Lake in northern California, Velvick flexes his shoulders and tilts his head back and forth like a guy who's in need of a chiropractic adjustment.
Not that he's going to stop: Heading into the final day of the second stop on the 2010 Elite Series, Velvick's three-day swimbait marathon has pushed him 6 pounds ahead of the remaining 11 anglers and in excellent position to register his first Elite Series win.
"My arm is so sore," Velvick says after Saturday's weigh-in, where he loaded the biggest bag of the day on the scale with 24 pounds, 8 ounces to push him to 75-8 going into the tournament's final day. "I'm beat up."
And, he's doing a pretty good job of beating up the rest of the field.
Velvick's dogged determination to throw swimbaits, which he's done virtually from the second he blasted off from Library Park on Thursday, has gradually distanced him from the rest of the top five. Second- and third-place tandem Bill Lowen and Guy Eaker, who have fished the same slough within casting distance of one another all week long, enter Sunday with 69-9 and 68-4, respectively.
That doesn't appear to be much of a cushion in a fishery capable of producing double-digit largemouth, but the area that Lowen and Eaker are fishing hasn't proven to be a producer of the fish like the 10-11 hawg that Velvick weighed in on Day One.
It appears as though it'll all come down to Velvick's spot holding out for one more eight-hour swimbait marathon.
"I think it will (hold out) … I sure hope it does," Velvick says. "I'm just fishing for five bites (Sunday). We know the quality of the fish in that area. I should win if I can get five bites."
The war of attrition
Velvick came into the Shootout this week as one of the favorites, partly because he first made a name for himself with his record-setting 88-plus-pound three-day bag at a 2000 BASS Open on Clear Lake, and partly because the last time the Elite pros were on this fishery in 2007, swimbaits ruled.
But while that 2007 tournament was a bombs-away slugfest with 40-plus-pound bags and seven anglers weighing in over 100 pounds of fish on a fishery that was at its prime, this week has been more like a 1,500-meter run than a 100-yard dash.
"It's a war of attrition to stay in that same area and sometimes not catch fish," Velvick admits. "I've gone hours without a bite, but that's swimbait fishing at its finest."
That was the case on both Friday and Saturday, as Velvick scratched, scraped and clawed for every bite he could muster. The weeklong pattern that's developed at Clear Lake has included a good bite first thing in the morning and a secondary flurry late in the day.
On Saturday, Velvick missed two quick bites first thing in the morning, which put even more pressure on him to salvage as many chances as he could the rest of the day.
No small feat considering the reality of fishing a 9-inch swimbait, which frequently translates into missed bites as fish aggressively attack the bait without getting hooked.
"I was already wound up pretty tight because I had the (ESPN) camera on board, but I missed a couple of fish early that REALLY wound me up," Velvick says. "It's key to be able to get those fish early, because it gets to a point where I start playing that hour game in my head.
"I feel like I need to get a fish in the boat by 10 o'clock, and I'll go past 10 without a fish, and then I'll starting thinking 'OK, I need a fish by 10:45'. And then it's 'OK, I need a fish by 11:15, and then 1.' And then I start thinking 'OK, now I have to look for a big bite.' It's just this thing that goes on in my head."
Velvick has boosted his bag all three days with a solid 6- to 10-pound kicker fish, and the area he's fishing is certainly capable of producing largemouth that approach the double-digit mark. The area that he's fishing southeast of the Library Park ramp is so familiar to him that he's somewhat able to predict when he's into bigger fish.
"It's sort of random in that the whole area has (big fish), but they're a little further out (off the bank) than the small fish," he says. "If I hook something a little further out, I know it's probably a bigger fish."