LAKEPORT, Ca. — Day Four of the 2010 Golden State Shootout has come down to this: It's the last lap of a race that appears to be running on three different tracks.
On one track is Byron Velvick, who has led this tournament since virtually the first hour, building a three-day total of 75 pounds, 8 ounces by steadfastly throwing swimbait after swimbait after swimbait across a broad, shallow, grassy flat. On another track are Bill Lowen (69-9) and Guy Eaker (68-4), who have tag-teamed a shallow, grassy slough for three days with jigs, lipless crankbaits, swim jigs and chatterbaits.
And finally, there are Randy Howell, Bradley Roy, Terry Butcher, Jared Lintner and the rest of an 11-man pursuit team chasing Velvick as he looks to claim his first Elite Series victory on a fishery where he already owns a BASS record.
But as Velvick proved on Day One when he weighed in a 10-11 — and as Bobby Lane proved again when he brought an 11-1 to the scales a day later — Clear Lake is capable of producing the kind of largemouth that can turn a Top 12 upside-down in one day.
"I promise you, there won't be a whole lot of finessing on this boat today," Skeet Reese (60-2) said before takeoff this morning. "I'm throwing the big stuff."
The big stuff being 9- to 12-inch swimbaits, which, by Clear Lake standards, are just part of the routine for catching big fish. Unfortunately for Reese and the rest of the field pursuing Velvick, he's throwing the same baits.
Velvick plans to run right back to his honey hole on the western shoreline, just southeast of the Library Park launch in Lakeport, and continue casting and slowly retrieving a handful of different swimbaits over a shallow flat. And with some cloud cover and a slight breeze greeting the field at blast-off this morning, that could provoke a few more of Clear Lake's big pre-spawn females into biting a big, slow-moving bait.
"This is ideal," Velvick said of the overcast conditions. "This is as good as it gets."
Velvick has one more reserve spot he hasn't fished yet this week, which he'll either hit at the end of the day, or if his primary spot dries up.
"I'm still waiting to go to one other area," he confirmed. "I can bop into that spot and check it for an hour or two."
Lowen, Eaker back to the slough
The two anglers with the best shot at catching Velvick, Lowen and Eaker ran right back to Rodman Slough, which collects several of the streams in the watershed before pouring into Clear Lake on its north end.
The pair have set up on a series of underwater grass ledges in a major transition area for pre-spawners, which, according to Eaker, "have been coming in waves all week long".
The area has kicked out an assembly line of 3- to 5-pound fish all week, but so far hasn't produced the kind of 6-plus-pounders that it'll take for the two to have a realistic shot at catching Velvick.
However, traffic in that area will be much lighter today, as a couple of the other Elite pros have pulled off of it, and the private-boat activity appears to be dramatically less than it was on Saturday.
"I've had someone sitting on my best area all week," Lowen said. "I caught two 5-pounders right in that spot the very first day and haven't been able to fish it since. I'm going to go right back there and live or die by that spot. I don't have anything out on the main lake that I could go to."
A slugger's chance
Velvick's lead might seem insurmountable to most of the other 11 anglers, but as Jared Lintner pointed out, with Clear Lake's largemouth in such a dramatic transition mode and lower visibility today, the big bite might be more prevalent than it has been the three days prior, with high skies and super-clear water.
"They're coming in so hard, it's ridiculous," Lintner said. "The big ones are out there, and I feel like I'm around them. A little cloud cover and some wind on the water is going to help, because they tend to feel a little more 'at home' if they can't see you."
Rookie Roy's first top 12
For a 19-year-old fishing only his second Elite Series event — and his first top 12 — Bradley Roy seemed calm and collected at the launch this morning. Roy has moved to "more active baits" as the week has progressed, and plans to stick to those same baits until he gets a limit. After that?
"I'm going to go chunk some big plastic," he said.
"This band had retired and cut its hair before Bradley Roy was even born."
— BASS public address announcer Keith Alan, commenting on the pre-launch music being played at the time, "The Final Countdown" by Europe.
"I'm not going to look for bed fish at all. If I go find a big one on a bed, it'll ruin me."
— Velvick on his plan to keep fishing swimbaits
"I need to go see a psychiatrist. I'm going to have nightmares about swimbaits."
— Lintner, on the mental toll of missing big bites on swimbaits