OKEECHOBEE, Fla. — Despite giving up much of his Thursday lead, Byron Velvick of Del Rio, Texas, moved one step closer to punching his ticket for the 2008 Bassmaster Elite Series as he leads the Bassmaster Elite Series WildCard Event on Florida's Lake Okeechobee with a two-day total of 29 pounds, 8 ounces.
The 43-year-old Velvick leads by less than one pound over Keith Phillips of Calera, Ala., who closed with a Friday total of 16 pounds, 4 ounces. Phillips and Velvick are sharing a stretch of water that is free of other competitors, but the two had to contend with crappie boats Friday, one of which aided Phillips' and hurt Velvick's bite.
The WildCard tournament is a second-chance competition for 2007 Elite pros who didn't qualify via their performance on the top-level circuit as well as 2007 Bassmaster Open pros who put together solid seasons.
Live, streaming video footage of the daily weigh-ins and real-time leaderboard information can be viewed on www.espnoutdoors.com.
"I got to my spot this morning and there was a crappie boat on it," Velvick said. "And I was a little stubborn and didn't move around as much as I should have. It worked to Keith's advantage, however."
Once again, Velvick primarily threw worms to precise areas, mixing in a Rat-L-Trap when the wind permitted. While Velvick is safely in the top-10 cut line and will probably only need to scratch out a small limit to capture one of the 10 berths, his focus is on winning the event.
"It's great anytime that you can earn bragging rights," said Velvick. "Additionally, it would be nice to wrap up the season on a very positive note."
Phillips, who totaled 28 pounds, 13 ounces over two days, surged from eighth to second throwing a Shaky Head worm to brushpiles in 7 to 10 feet of depth. Like Velvick, he occasionally mixed in a Rat-L-Trap.
The 2007 Elite pro expects much of the same crappie boat traffic Saturday but is optimistic of his chances of earning a qualifying berth.
"I think I have enough fish to make it in the top 10," Phillips said. "But it would be nice to win it. I think I've got as good as shot as anyone."
Rounding out the top five were Steve Daniel of Clewiston, Fla., in third with 26 pounds, 13 ounces; Rich Ash of Pottstown, Pa., in fourth with 26 pounds, 9 ounces; and Corey Waldrop of Fort Worth, Texas, with 25 pounds, 7 ounces.
Also among the 34 pros fishing for Elite Series berths are Terry Segraves of Kissimmee, Fla., in 13th with 20 pounds, 0 ounces, and Kyle Fox of Lakeland, Fla., in 22nd with 18 pounds, 5 ounces. Saturday will be the deciding day of the tournament.
In the co-angler division, Robbie Anderson of Crystal River, Fla., leads the chase for a top prize of more than $4,000 with 19 pounds, 5 ounces. Trailing Anderson were Gil Phillips of Alba, Texas, with 19 pounds, 2 ounces, and Ben Todd of Pierson, Fla., with 18 pounds, 14 ounces.