LAKEPORT, Calif. — Clear Lake continues to be kind to Byron Velvick as the West Coast transplant, who now resides in Del Rio, Texas, inched closer to his first Bassmaster Elite Series victory Saturday on the big-bass factory.
Velvick held the throttle down at the Golden State Shootout, building his three-day total to 75 pounds, 8 ounces, enough to open up a near 6-plus pound margin.
While other competitors threaten Velvick — Bill Lowen brought 24-2 to the scales, enough for 69-9 and second place — he won't budge. In fact, he brought in Saturday's biggest limit at 24-8.
It's been well-documented that Velvick set the BASS' three-day heaviest tournament weight here 10 years ago with 83 pounds, 5 ounces. But that was before the swimbait revolution, and Velvick noted that the fish have become more intelligent and it's taken its toll on the 45-year-old.
"Man, I'm sore," said Velvick, who scored consecutive Bassmaster Classic qualifications the past two seasons. "I've just gotten beat up. My arm is so sore. But this feels great to be in a position to win. My career has progressed nicely the past couple of years and I'm super-excited."
Much has been made of Velvick's versatility this week and that has certainly helped his cause. But he is sticking with his bread-and-butter, the swimbait, for roughly 80 percent of the time.
He has been plagued by slow mornings — he only had three bites four hours into the tournament — but has been able to capitalize on the majority of the big bites. He said he knows the area so well that he can almost anticipate when the "dead zone" will occur. Considering that, he said he wouldn't hesitate to explore new water Sunday if things slow down to a halt.
"The big ones live in my primary area," Velvick said. "But it's a constant battle. Should I stay or should I go? Still, I know that if I get the right five bites in my primary area, I should win the tournament."
Conversely, Velvick can also anticipate when he is going to entice a big bite. He says the bigger fish are stacked a bit deeper and he has failed to cash in on one big bite each day.
Stepping back and taking a look at the tangibles, it would be easy to assume Velvick should win the tournament. After all, he has been consistent, absolutely dominant on the fishery and has a sizable lead. But there is always an X-factor.
With warming conditions and bluebird skies dominating the event, sight fishing could be prime for Sunday. And though that could be hit-or-miss for many in the field, the threat exists and was in the back of Velvick's mind.
He was able to consistently entice bites in his primary area but he lamented the fact that he wasn't able to drill down on a smaller, more-defined spot that was occupied by another competitor. He was able to hit the spot early — landing a 5- and 6-pounder — but it was rendered useless the rest of the day. With that competitor making the top-12 cut, Lowen might have to manage without it.
And questions still remain whether Lowen's area can withstand the crazy pressure it has been subjected to over three tournament days. Guy Eaker of Cherryville, N.C., in third, has been one of a few competitors who have sat on it through the tournament.
"I don't know how much that spot can take," said Lowen, 35. "I do think that I figured a little deal out later in the day though. It's something the fish haven't seen and I'm going to try it out Sunday."
While the spot is chock full of 5- and 6- pounders, Lowen wasn't sure it had the potential to yield a big bite that Clear Lake is famous for.
With Lowen and Eaker sharing the same spot, they have also been connected in the standings. Each has managed to move up one spot and Eaker, with 68-4, was third and within striking distance for his second BASS victory.
The 70-year-old Eaker has been fishing BASS tournaments for 30-plus years and has gone nearly 150 tournaments without a victory.
"I might not have the accomplishments that some of the other guys who started with me have," said Eaker, a 10-time Classic qualifier. "But I guarantee you no one has had as much fun as I have."
Slipping from second to fourth was Randy Howell of Springville, Ala., with 67-4. In fifth was 19-year-old Bradley Roy of Lancaster, Ky., with 64-2.
Only the top-12 competitors moved on to Sunday. Notables in the cutline included 2007 Bassmaster Classic champion Boyd Duckett (ninth) and Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif. (11th).
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.