CIUDAD ACUÑA, Mexico — On a slow Thursday afternoon, this little border town looks something like the sleepy image of Mexico that you see in old John Ford films.
Few people walk the streets. Shopkeepers aren't peddling their wares on the sidewalk as they typically do during busier nighttime hours. Only a handful of cars roll down the main drag through town.
But it doesn't matter to the group of Bassmaster Elite Series pros who've chosen to walk the streets on their unexpected day off from the tournament trail.
It's a rare day when fishing fortunes take a backseat to camaraderie and good times.
Byron Velvick, who owns Amistad Lake Resort across the border in Del Rio, Texas, has gathered a group of friends and fellow Elite Series anglers to spend a wasted day in Mexico.
The destination is Manuel's, Velvick's favorite restaurant in Acuña. Since moving to Del Rio two years ago, Velvick has become something of an unofficial spokesman and tour guide for the city and Lake Amistad. If you want to know something about Del Rio or Ciudad Acuña, Velvick will gladly oblige.
Today, he's kicking around with fellow pros Kelly Jordon and Brian Hudgins, as well as fiancée Mary Delgado, Mercury service technician Jay Andersen and business partner Michael Bonnee.
"Manuel's is the bomb," Velvick proclaims. "You've got to have the tampiqueña plate."
After paying the $7 toll to cross the Rio Grande bridge in Velvick's dual-axle Ford, the crew pulls in front of Manuel's, where a valet greets Velvick like an old friend.
"Park right here, amigo," the man says, instructing Velvick to pull into a parking spot directly in front of the restaurant.
Inside Manuel's, Velvick, Jordon and Hudgins discuss the previous Elite Series event at Falcon Lake, about 200 miles down the Rio Grande near Zapata, Texas. They talk about what went right and what went wrong. But the conversation soon slips into tales of past events on the BASS circuit — the good, the bad and the ugly (and all of it was, unfortunately, off the record).
It's like old home week, plopped down in a dusty border town.
Soon after the tampiqueña plates have been cleaned, the group wanders outside into the streets of downtown Acuña. Velvick points out the Corona Club, where scenes from the film "Desperado" were shot several years ago. Hudgins snaps off a few pictures with his point-and-shoot digital camera.
From there, it's down the street to the numerous shops. Andersen searches for souvenirs to take home, while Velvick and Bonnee look for accoutrements to decorate their resort back in Del Rio.
Delgado serves as the voice of reason, insisting that the group shop around before purchasing anything.
Before they can walk far, Dan Foley, a friend of Velvick's and a fisheries biologist for the National Park Service, pulls down the main drag in his 1952 U.S. Army jeep. The group piles into the jeep, some hanging out of the doors as it crawls down the street.
Walking toward the city's central market, the group suddenly stops to look through a shop window. Velvick is amused by a wrestling mask in the window display, and soon Hudgins and Jordon chime in.
Next thing, they're all walking away with shiny masks like those worn by quasi-famous Mexican wrestlers.
A few doors down the street, the pros walk into another store and comment on the little display of fishing tackle that's situated between cowboy boots and leather Wranglers. There are various hooks and artificial lures that draw their attention. An Elite Series poster on the shop window prompts Jordon to scrawl his autograph across the front of it.
Before long, it's time to head back to the U.S. Velvick will host several Elite Series pros for dinner at his resort. But the group is sidetracked by Manuel's. They spend another two hours there before fueling Velvick's truck at a Pemex station and then crossing the Rio Grande back to the states.
"You know," Velvick said. "I hate that we didn't get to fish today. But we should do this more often.