BRANSON, Mo. — Searching the planet for the best fishing guides has proved to be a rewarding task for Byron Velvick.
Velvick, a Bassmaster Elite Series angler who enjoys his saltwater, has been around TV enough to know what makes good subject matter, and hosting Outdoor Channel’s Guides’ Eyes allows him to show viewers the real lives of the best fishing guides this planet has to offer.
While he also gets to fish, he says it’s not about him.
“We’re learning more about really profiling the guy, showing how hard it is to be a guide, letting him be the star of the show,” Velvick said. “I pull back as the host and just let the guy show off his neck of the woods. Give credit to a guy who knows the water so well.”
Those waters stretch a far piece, with shoots taking the Guides’ Eyes crew from Florida to Mexico, from Central America to Alaska.
“Every guy is just really at the top of his field,” he said.
The show finds most guides by word of mouth, and it has featured the likes of Mike Frenette in Venice, La., Steve Daniel in Okeechobee, Stan Gerzsenyi at Falcon Lake, T.R Andreas at Lake Amistad and Eric Prey at Table rock, among others.
“We shot our show here at Table Rock about a month before it went off limits,” Velvick said from the Elite event he was fishing, adding he thinks the show can help anglers determine what they should look for in a guide. “If you only have two weeks’ vacation, picking the right guide is so important. Our show is about finding the right guy. That can make or break your very little vacation time.”
So what have been Velvick’s favorite species to pursue? Velvick seems to go for the redonkulous. He chose outings that are most memorable, and No. 1 is trying to wrestle goliath grouper from a bridge in Stuart, Fla., with George Gozdz.
“It’s like bass fishing on freaky steroids,” Velvick said. “It’s in 14 foot of water, so there’s nowhere else for them to go except under the bridge. They try to drag you up under the bridge. If you were strapped to the rod, it could kill you.”
The largest grouper species can reach 8 feet in length and weigh 1,000 pounds. The IGFA record is a 680-pounder caught near Fernandina Beach, Fla., in 1961. With the prospect of a small boat in shallow water, along with the bridge, it’s extreme fishing.
“They can’t go down — it’s not 40, 50, 60 feet of water — it’s 14-, 17-foot and these giant grouper live under the bridge under this abutment. The first time we went there I hooked 13 and caught one. It took hooking 13 of them with giant 6-, 7-pound bait, and a giant shark type hook. There’s no telling how big most of them are; most of them you can’t turn. They’re snapping everything you got. It isn’t fishing; it’s more like power wrestling.”
As for bass fishing, it’s the extremes of Amistad and Falcon he lists next. He said the trophy bass fisheries on the Texas-Mexico border are so close they can be lumped together.
“And because I live in south Texas and I love it,” said Velvick, whose bass fishing credentials include two U.S. Open titles and holding the B.A.S.S. tournament record for heaviest bag in a three-day event.
Head way south to the Zancudo Lodge for his next extreme.
“Of all the shows, going down to Panama was unbelievable — Costa Rica and Panama,” he said. “Those were a lot of fun. I like fishing the inshore stuff — big roosterfish, cobia, amberjacks.”
One method was off the charts, too, he said. Locals take fallen trees and carve them into dugout canoes, or cayugas, and Velvick got to try fishing out of one.
“Handlining in a cayuga for amberjacks with a native,” Velvick said of No. 3. “They took us out and filmed it, gave me a pair of gloves. Handlining 30-, 40-pound amberjack in a little canoe with no motor — we had to paddle way out there.”
Last but not least was a trip to Alaska’s Elfin Cove, west of Juneau.
“We took a float plane just to get in and were fishing way out in the ocean for the salmon and the rock fish,” Velvick said. “Those kind of places, you just pinch yourself that you’re getting paid to go fish.”