Byron Velvick announced today that he will not be fishing the 2011 Bassmaster Elite Series. The Texas pro qualified for professional bass fishing's most prestigious circuit based on his 2010 season, including a win at Clear Lake. However, a spinal fusion surgery he underwent this past November has him sidelined.
"I was hoping I would have recovered enough to compete, but there is just no way I am physically capable of fishing at a competitive level," Velvick admitted. Several years ago, Velvick, 46, started losing feeling in his right hand. He fished through the discomfort until last year's Classic when the entire right side of his body became numb and a piercing pain between his shoulder blades could no longer be ignored.
The day before last year's Classic started, Velvick went to Andrew's Sports Medicine in Birmingham to get relief from the pain so he could fish the world championship. "The doctors there did an MRI on my neck and told me the cartilage that was supposed to be between my vertebrae was gone. Thirty years of riding in a bass boat on rough water had pounded it away. The nerves in my neck were being pinched, and the right side of my body was wasting away because of it," Velvick explained.
His right arm had atrophied so badly, it was about half the size of his left. So, the Texas pro contacted a neurosurgeon in Las Vegas (Western Regional Center for Brain and Spine Surgery) and scheduled the surgery for November 12. The procedure required a 4-inch incision to be cut in his throat, just to the right of his Adam's apple, where plastic inserts and a titanium plate were secured to his spinal cord with screws to separate the vertebrae in his neck.
Although he has been recovering for two months, he is still far from 100 percent. "I do not have full range of motion in my neck. I still can't feel my fingertips. I struggle lifting my arms above my head. It's just frustrating!" admitted Velvick.
"So, I plan on working hard during the 2011 season to get in shape. I hope to be in the best shape of my life in 2012. And I will focus on working hard for my sponsors — who have all been incredibly supportive — by doing shows, seminars and television." B.A.S.S. tournament director Trip Weldon is allowing Velvick a medical leave of absence for the 2011 Elite Series season, giving him automatic qualification into the series for 2012.