LAKEPORT, Calif. — Just as Clear Lake is starting to warm up, so is Byron Velvick. Velvick, a West Coast transplant who now resides in Del Rio, Texas, wasn't able to land a monster bass, like Thursday, but the two-time BASS winner managed 22 pounds Friday, building his two-day total to 51 pounds.
Randy Howell of Springville, Ala., upgraded his total to 46-10, enough to keep Velvick honest heading into the weekend.
Velvick has considerable big-fish chops — he established the BASS three-day tournament record here with 83 pounds, 5 ounces, — and is tapping into his extensive knowledge of Clear Lake. Still, Elite events are all about learning and adapting and Velvick says he has been able to accrue new knowledge of the fishery each day. And things are setting up to be a slugfest.
"It's going to be like an Easter egg hunt on Sunday," said Velvick of the fish being susceptible to sight fishing. "It is just going to be sick."
Velvick has been mining areas that have produced for him in the past. In fact, one — his primary — was the area that yielded the three-day record. This week, he hasn't pigeonholed himself into one technique. Instead, he is changing up his lure presentation between three choices.
Some of his strategy has involved protecting his areas from other anglers — both locals and pros. And with the lake turning on and pleasant conditions in store, the lake could be a madhouse over the weekend.
But Velvick has a sound contingency plan. He has formulated something that he can go to and feel confident in scrounging a solid limit if necessary.
"I've learned a lot over the past two days," said Velvick, 45. "I have a little something figured out where I know what I can do no matter what happens."
The two-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier said he missed a couple of key bites Friday but Velvick was able to consistently land bites — he totaled 15 to 18 — throughout the day.
While Velvick has been running and gunning, Howell has sat on one spot the entire tournament. The area is comprised of spawning flats and the fish are coming in waves. The early bite has proved stout — Howell landed a limit in 15 minutes — but it gives way to a sporadic bite later in the day.
"This is the first time in a long time that I feel like I have an area with the potential to win," said Howell, 36. "I have a lot of confidence and I plan to either win it or lose it on that area."
The nine-time Classic qualifier is no stranger to fast starts. Countless times in 2009 Elite competitions, Howell started off strong but faltered a bit in the end. Still, he was able to compile a bundle of top-20 finishes and qualified for the inaugural Bassmaster Elite Series Postseason.
Strangely enough, Howell and Velvick were neck-and-neck last week at the Elite season-opener on the California Delta. But they were fighting it out for 82nd with Velvick edging out Howell, who finished 83rd. Both are looking for redemption here and to put themselves back in the top half of the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings.
In third was Bill Lowen of North Bend, Ohio with 45 pounds, 7 ounces. In fourth was Guy Eaker of Cherryville, N.C., with 44-4. Eaker and Lowen are sharing an area that continues to produce but the question remains if the area can withstand the heavy assault both anglers are applying to it.
On the opposite end of the experience spectrum from the 70-year-old Eaker is 19-year-old Bradley Roy of Lancaster, Ky. Roy is right behind Eaker in the standings though with 41-9, enough to settle into fifth place.
Local favorite Jared Lintner of Arroyo Grande slipped from second to sixth. He still remains within striking distance at 41-2. Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla., made the move of the tournament up 37 places from Thursday to seventh.
He was buoyed by the second double-digit bass Clear Lake has yielded this week. Lane boated an 11-pound, 1-ounce, behemoth Friday — tops for the tournament thus far — on his 10th cast of the morning. The brute fell for a 9-inch Osprey swimbait.
Prohibitive favorite Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif., was 11th with 39-0. Five-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam fell to 59th and missed the Saturday cut. VanDam's struggles are surprising but with the schedule setting up well for himself, the 2010 Classic champion is still certain to be a factor in the AOY race this year.
Other notables in the cutline were 2007 Bassmaster Classic champion Boyd Duckett (13th), 2006 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Michael Iaconelli (20th) and Elite rookie Matt Greenblatt of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (22nd). Only the top 47 advanced to Saturday's competition. The top 12 will move on to Sunday and fish for the $100,000 top prize.
Clear Lake is the largest natural lake to lie entirely within California. In sharp contrast to the sprawling, shallow Delta system — where last week's Elite event was held — Clear Lake is 19 miles long, measures eight miles wide at its widest point, and has an average depth of 27 feet.
Fans are invited to the daily launches and weigh-ins at Library Park, located at 3rd and 5th streets in Lakeport. Boats launch at 7 a.m. PT; weigh-ins will begin at 3:30 p.m. PT.