Welcome to the real world of bass fishing: Bassmaster's "A Day on the Lake." Here, we put the biggest names in professional bass fishing on small "mystery" lakes and give them seven hours to unlock their secrets while we log everything they do to find and catch bass.
This month it's Byron Velvick's turn at bat. The amiable Boulder City, Nev., pro holds the record for the heaviest three-day limit in a BASS event (83.5 pounds at Clear Lake, Calif., in 2000). A 15-year veteran of the cast-for-cash circuit, Velvick gained international fame in 2004 when he appeared on ABC's hit TV reality series, The Bachelor. He also served as co-host of BassCenter on ESPN2. Here's what happened November 7, 2006, when Velvick took on Lake G, a 1,100-acre impoundment. What follows should provide helpful insights into the reality of bassin' during prematurely cold fall conditions.
› 6:30 a.m. It's misting rain and 58 degrees as Velvick and I head for Lake G. He's towing a Triton Tr-21X equipped with a 250-hp Mercury OptiMax Pro XS outboard, MotorGuide trolling motor and Lowrance electronics. "I need some coffee," he says groggily. "I drove half the night through pouring rain to get here and I'm not awake yet!" We stop at a roadside market and he scores a caffeine fix.
› 7:15 a.m. We arrive at Lake G and Velvick pulls the cover off his boat. "I had no idea what this lake was gonna be like when I was preparing my tackle, so I brought some of everything," he says. He spreads an assortment of Rogue rods equipped with Okuma reels across the deck of the boat.
› 7:20 a.m. Velvick launches and checks the water temperature: 55 degrees. "What's up with this?" he wonders. "The water's about 10 degrees colder than it oughta be this time of year! That could make things tough." What's his first move on a strange lake in fall? "Bass feed up heavy on shad now, so I'm gonna look for concentrations of baitfish. I'll first determine what the lake's cover situation is, and then start fishing search lures like crankbaits to figure out what depth the life in the lake is using."
›7:22 a.m. Velvick drops his trolling motor and picks up a rod rigged with a small citrus shad River2Sea Jerk Shad crankbait: "These are awesome lures; they're tungsten weighted and have tremendous action and super-lifelike finishes
(www.river 2sea.com)." He cranks a ledge close to the launch ramp: "Local anglers usually ignore launch ramps 'cause they can't wait to run down the lake, but they often hold bass in fall because of the access to deeper water."
›7:27 a.m. There's a 15-mph breeze blowing out of the south as Velvick continues cranking around the boat ramp.
› 7:29 a.m. He switches to a River2Sea Hi Dep 88 crankbait in a perch pattern "to get down a little deeper."
› 7:30 a.m. Velvick cranks the Merc, runs about a third of the way up the lake and tries the deep crankbait on a deep point. After two casts, he pauses to tie on a River2Sea Trophy Minnow suspending jerkbait (chartreuse shad color). He fishes the minnow lure off the point with slow twitches.
› 7:35 a.m. The Bachelor ties on a 1/2-ounce green pumpkin Berkley Jay Yelas Power Jig with a Berkley craw trailer and pitches it to a laydown tree.
› 7:42 a.m. Back to the jerkbait as he works his way around a deep, rocky point.
› 7:45 a.m. He tries the Jerk Shad crankbait on the point: "Still lookin' for that all-important first bite!" Velvick is fishing his crankbaits on 10-pound mono.
› 7:50 a.m. Velvick makes a short run straight across the lake to fish a shallow point with the jerkbait and deep crankbait. Nothing here.
› 7:54 a.m. He works his way around the point with the deep crankbait: "Whoa, I just felt it come through a big tree!"
› 7:57 a.m. He tries the small crankbait around the submerged tree, but it hauls water.
› 8:00 a.m. Velvick is highly regarded on the Western tournament scene for his prowess with swimbaits, and he pauses to open a box loaded with prototype 4-inch chartreuse and pearl swim lures of his own design. The bait he ties on is rigged with a single red treble hook and has a 5/16-ounce weight molded in. He fancasts it around a long point.
› 8:10 a.m. Velvick idles 1/4 mile uplake and stops on a long point: "This point runs halfway across the lake and drops off to 15 feet. It's an ideal spot for fall bass to use as a migration route to deep water." He fancasts the swimbait around the structure, hangs it in a stump and pops it free: "At least it's got some cover on it!"
› 8:13 a.m. It's raining a little harder as Velvick continues to probe the point with the swimbait.
› 8:18 a.m. "Oughta be one here!" Velvick says optimistically as he bangs the swimbait off another stump. The air temp has dropped noticeably since we launched.
› 8:21 a.m. There are some catfish jug lines floating on the point. Suddenly two local catfishermen in a pontoon boat appear and run right up on the structure where Velvick was casting to retrieve their jugs. After they depart, Velvick laughs, shakes his head and says, "Well, this spot is toast. Might as well leave and come back later."
› 8:28 a.m. The pro moves toward a nearby bank and tries the jerkbait.
› 8:40 a.m. Velvick follows the bank around to where it forms a flat. He moves farther out with his boat, spots a submerged brushpile, does a 180 and casts the jig into the cover. As he's easing it through the brush, a bass thumps it hard. He goes on point, hammers back his rod, and a big fish surges out of the snags into open water. He works it to the boat, lips it and hollers, "Yeah, baby!" The big-headed largemouth, Velvick's first bass of the day, weighs 7 pounds, 1 ounce. "When I saw that brushpile on my graph, I had to throw that jig in there, and the fish popped it when I was working it over a limb! This is the biggest Northern-strain largemouth I've ever caught! How cool is that?!"
› 8:50 a.m. Velvick is working the opposite side of the brushpile with the jig.
› 8:55 a.m. He's back on the long point with the jig.
› 8:56 a.m. A bass pecks the jig on the point; Velvick swings and connects, but it's a short fish.
› 9:10 a.m. Velvick bumps his jig off a stump and a bass grabs it; he swings and misses. He then drops it off the side of the point and another bass smacks it.
Velvick sets the hook and skates his second keeper, 1 pound even, to the boat: "That fish was right on the drop in 7 feet of water. It looks like an anchovy compared to my first bass, but I'll take it!"
› 9:16 a.m. Velvick is alternately crawling, hopping and swimming the jig across the point, using it as a search lure. A bass picks it up and swims away with it; Velvick hammers the fish, but hauls water: "Sucker dropped it!"
› 9:28 a.m. The Nevada pro has covered the entire point with the jig: "I'll probably come back here later; this is the kind of spot bass will move on and off throughout the day."
› 9:30 a.m. Velvick runs to a main lake pocket and cranks some submerged tree limbs.
› 9:35 a.m. He graphs a brushpile in 13 feet of water and crawls the jig through it. No takers.
› 9:48 a.m. Velvick swaps his perch colored Hi Dep 88 for one with a natural shad finish and cranks it on the ledge without success.
› 9:50 a.m. He cranks another long point on Lake G as the skies darken even more: "This is almost like night fishing!"
› 9:56 a.m. "When do I get to take a break?" Velvick jokes as he continues cranking the point. "It's cold, rainy and I could use some more coffee!"
› 10:15 a.m. The rain has stopped, and the wind is now blowing out of the west as Velvick fishes a snaggy shoreline with the jig. He checks his watch and says, "That first bass is looking bigger every minute!"
› 10:19 a.m. Velvick runs to the opposite shore and fishes the swimbait, jig and deep crankbait around a channel point, but can't come up with a bass.
› 10:20 a.m. He pitches the jig into a submerged stump on the point and gets another backlash: "That's only my second one of the day!"
› 10:28 a.m. "I'm gonna spend some time fishing 'outside' stuff, deeper contours than I've been fishing," Velvick says as he slow rolls the swimbait along a 13-foot ledge.
› 10:35 a.m. Velvick cranks his engine. As he's idling away from the ledge, he notices a submerged hump in open water nearby rising to 10 feet on top, and drops a marker buoy on it. He then backs off and fishes it with the jig: "Sure feels snaggy down there!"
› 10:55 a.m. I ask Velvick for his take on the day so far: "It's cold and nasty for sure, but the bass are definitely not all out on those deeper wintertime areas yet — what fish I've caught today have been 7 feet or shallower. They're definitely lethargic, so I'm gonna spend more time fishing the jig and worm fairly shallow in isolated brushpiles and such. There are a few boat docks I wanna check out, too."
› 11:00 a.m. A local bass boat passes by. The driver swings closer, reaches in his livewell, holds up a 5-pounder and yells, "You guys need to try a topwater buzzbait!" After he takes off, Velvick says, "That's typical — I spent all morning inching a jig through cover, and a local guy catches 'em on a buzzbait in these cold conditions!"
› 11:05 a.m. Velvick ties on a big shad colored Optima swimbait, casts it past a dock and retrieves it slowly and steadily, "just like a spinnerbait, with the rod held steady about 10 o'clock. When a bass hits a swimbait, I promise you it's the best bite you've ever felt!"
› 11:13 a.m. He casts the swimbait around a long point.
› 11:18 a.m. A patch of blue sky appears through the gloom as Velvick continues chunking the swimbait.
› 11:30 a.m. He moves into a shallow cove and pitches the jig around some docks.
› 11:41 a.m. Velvick snaps back his jig rod and reels in a tree branch, hollering, "Get the net!"
› 11:46 a.m. He makes a quick run across the lake to jig a bank littered with laydown wood.
› 11:52 a.m. Velvick ties on a perch colored River2Sea Cranky M square-bill crankbait: "I love this plug in shallow wood; that square bill deflects off cover and can trigger a hellacious strike."
› 12:10 p.m. Velvick pitches the jig into the center of a big laydown tree.
› 12:20 p.m. With two hours remaining, Velvick runs uplake and stops near a large flat. He positions his boat far from the bank in 9 feet of water and casts the jig and square-bill crankbait around scattered cover: "I'm still convinced that isolated cover well off the bank should hold some quality fish."
› 12:32 p.m. Velvick locates a large brushpile in 10 feet of water and hits it with several casts of the jig: "A couple more 7-pounders wouldn't hurt!"
› 12:37 p.m. A bass picks up the jig in the brushpile, but drops it just as Velvick goes to set the hook.
› 12:42 p.m. He is still easing the jig through the brushpile but can't shake loose a fish. He checks his watch: "I need to go back where I caught the big one!"
› 12:48 p.m. He runs downlake to a clay point and makes several casts with the jig.
› 1:03 p.m. Back to "Byron's brushpile." Velvick eases the jig through the tangle of branches: "Gotta be another big one in there!"
› 1:13 p.m. He works the jig around some big rocks lining the shore.
› 1:20 p.m. With one hour to go, Velvick cranks the square bill around a boat dock, spooking a blue heron in the process.
› 1:27 p.m. He cranks the square bill past a stump: "Shoulda been a fish there!"
› 1:34 p.m. Velvick moves to a nearby sloping bank and tries the jig, but can't get bit.
› 1:50 p.m. He does a 180 and tries the Power Worm down the bank: "Come on! How can there not be a bass here?"
› 1:51 p.m. There's a bass there, all right — Velvick catches an 11-incher on the Power Worm.
› 2:00 p.m. He races back to the long point he fished earlier and tries a River2Sea Rover stickbait.
› 2:13 p.m. "Looks like it's just not gonna happen," Velvick admits as he makes his final casts with the jig.
› 2:20 p.m. Back to the ramp. The Bachelor's two keeper bass from Lake G weigh a total of 8 pounds, 1 ounce.
The Day in Perspective
"The prematurely cold water and the nasty weather made it really tough on me today," Velvick told Bassmaster. "The one big bass I caught really popped the jig, but what few other bites I had were short strikes, which is a typical bass response to a severe frontal passage. I did what you're supposed to do under these conditions —downsize your lures and slow down — but it was just tough out there. Tomorrow it's supposed to clear off and be warmer. I'd fish worms and jigs almost exclusively then, and would try hitting some cover in shallower water."
Where and When Byron Velvick Caught His Two Keepers
1. 7 pounds, 1 ounce; submerged brushpile; 1/2 –ounce green pumpkin Berkley Jay Yelas Power Jig with a Berkley craw trailer; 8:40 a.m.
2. 1 pound; side of long pint; same lure as No. 1; 9:10 a.m.