OKEECHOBEE, Fla. — After sharing the same stretch of water for the first two days of the Bassmaster Elite Series WildCard Event, Byron Velvick of Del Rio, Texas, and Keith Phillips of Calera, Ala., were forced to find new water Saturday on Florida's Lake Okeechobee.
In the end, Velvick located the most productive secondary areas and held off Phillips with a three-day total of 40 pounds, 8 ounces, besting him by nearly 2 pounds.
Crappie boat traffic crowded the area, centered around a bridge, causing both anglers to move from their shared spot. Velvick's decision proved best as he boated three fish by 9:30. He used the remainder of the competition day to build and upgrade his five-fish limit.
Along with Velvick and Phillips, the eight others who finished in the top 10 earned berths in the 2008 Bassmaster Elite Series. The final Elite field will be announced in mid-December. The previously announced competitors derived from the 2007 Elite Series fields and 2007 Bassmaster Opens can be viewed on www.Bassmaster.com.
"This was a tough, tough tournament," said Velvick, who scored his second BASS win. "It was a do-or-die situation for a lot of these anglers and it was very stressful. But it's a nice end to what has been a roller-coaster season."
Velvick primarily used four baits: a Gambler worm, a Berkley Power worm, a River2Sea Tungsten Vibe and a Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap. The 10-inch Gambler worm in redbug color proved to be the most effective, he said.
The area that was key for the top two competitors in the first two days of competition was a migratory spot that had key cover for pre-spawning bass. That location allowed Velvick to build a lead for the first two days, and the Texan was able to close with a modest limit Saturday.
"I played it safe today," Velvick said. "And it was a good decision. This was an exciting tournament and I knew it was going to be really close."
Phillips charged into second place after a 16-pound, 4-ounce limit Friday, but he wasn't able to catch the quality of fish that Velvick found. Phillips rounded out his limit at 2 p.m., barely before check-in time.
"My best decision was waiting out the bridge the first two days," said Phillips, 35. "I feel comfortable with all the decisions I made. I wouldn't take anything back."
Rounding out the top five were John Cox of Debary, Fla., in third with 36-14; Corey Waldrop of Fort Worth, Texas, in fourth with 36-11; and Texan Elton Luce, who was aided by a 10-1 behemoth caught Saturday, in fifth with 35-5.
Also qualifying for the 2008 Elite Series on the strength of their top-10 performances were Rick Ash of Pottstown, Pa., in seventh with 34-10, and Bobby Myers of Tulsa, Okla., in 10th with 32-8.
In the co-angler division, Robbie Anderson of Crystal River, Fla., took home more than $4,000, claming victory with 29-3. Finishing behind Anderson were Marty Scoggins of Trion, Ga., with 26-15, and Brandon Stanley of Johnson City, Tenn., with 26-10.
The WildCard tournament was a second-chance competition for 2007 Elite pros who failed to qualify via their performance on the top-level circuit, as well as 2007 Bassmaster Open pros who put together solid seasons.