LAKE WALES, Fla. — When Byron Velvick came off the Bassmaster Elite Series weigh-in stage Thursday, he was met by a line of kids seeking autographs on their yellow ESPN ballcaps. Velvick put his head down and started signing.
Then someone with a red cap got in line. When Velvick grabbed the red one, he looked up to see that Mary Delgado was holding it. He put his arms around her, then they shared a long embrace. The couple was celebrating Velvick's 25-pound, five-bass limit, which put him in first place on Day One of the Citrus Slam at the Kissimmee Chain of lakes.
Between another reunion appearance on "The Bachelor" that aired Monday night, and their participation in this tournament, it's obvious Velvick and Delgado have weathered the storm that was widely reported just before Thanksgiving last year.
"We're doing great," said Velvick, who paired with Delgado during the sixth season of ABC's series "The Bachelor" in 2005. "She's obviously fishing. We're together. We're just going at our own speed and our own pace."
That didn't appear to be the case last November. Delgado, a 40-year-old former Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleader, and Velvick, a 43-year-old pro bass angler, were involved in a domestic dispute that occurred while they were visiting friends in Seminole, Fla.
According to police reports, they first tried to resolve an argument between the couple they were visiting, when Velvick and Delgado began arguing. Reportedly, she hit Velvick, splitting his lip, then he called the police. When they arrived, Velvick didn't want to press charges, but the deputies decided a crime had occurred and arrested Delgado on a domestic battery charge.
She was booked into the Pinellas County Jail around 12:30 a.m. that Wednesday, then released that afternoon.
No one but Velvick and Delgado will know all the details of what happened that night. And if you've ever been in one of those situations, or know someone who has, you know there are always two sides to the story.
But Velvick and Delgado are finished talking about it, and have moved on, together. The fame that comes with being featured on a major network television show brought them together, and that same fame made their dispute a nationally-reported incident.
"It was pointed out to me by one of my astute friends," Velvick said, "that we're not musicians, we're not actors, we're not known for anything except being a couple. What that gets threatened or challenged, that's why it's newsworthy."
He wishes the incident wouldn't have been national news, but he understands why it was. And if he had it to do over again, he'd still agree to do "The Bachelor" TV series, and he'd still pick Delgado.
"It's a blessing that I met her," Velvick said Friday. "It's a blessing that ESPN noticed me. It let me start talking about what I love to do the most, which is fishing. I love fishing and I finally got a chance to share fishing with other people. I think that in a perfect world, that's what I want to do for the rest of my life."
In addition to fishing the Bassmaster Elite Series, Velvick worked for two years as a commentator for the ESPN2 show "BassCenter," a weekly program that aired from 2005-2006. Velvick also worked on TV coverage of the recent Bassmaster Classic as an on-the-water reporter.
"I love tournaments, but I'd rather spend the rest of my life sharing fishing with people," Velvick said. "It has been a great life for me, and 'The Bachelor' gave me that. It took me out of being just one of the other 100 guys that are here that love fishing and are known by certain people and made me a national personality because I put fishing out there to watch in front of 10 million people on ABC.
"I took the girls on fishing dates. That's what I wanted.
"After it was over, they wanted me to do some acting, get an agent and move to Los Angeles or New York. And I'm like, 'I'm going fishing,' and that's what I did.
"Some of the former 'Bachelors' have gotten little acting gigs. I didn't want that."
Velvick finished next-to-last in the Elite Series point standings last year, and had to re-qualify by winning a "wild card" tournament last December. That's another reason why the embrace that Velvick and Delgado shared Thursday was emotional. Velvick "The Bachelor" who chose Delgado, and Velvick the successful bass fishing pro, were back as one.
Velvick and Delgado are constantly asked when they are getting married.
"We get asked that so much," Velvick said, "it's almost like when somebody asks you to take out the trash so much you intentionally don't do it.
"We're doing great. As far as getting married, I don't have any idea when we're going to do it. We're just going at our own pace. Neither one of us is holding the other one back. We're both just happy together."
Delgado wasn't entirely pleased with her week in Florida. She has been a regular co-angler, paired with another pro, on the Elite Series tour. She has finished as high as 10th in the three-day co-angler competition. But this week on the Kissimmee Chain, Delgado didn't weigh a bass in her two days of competiton. (She caught one Friday, but knew it wouldn't be enough to get her into the top 50 cut, so she didn't bring it to the stage.)
More painful than that, she took a fishing lure hook in the nose Friday. The hook went all the way through her right nostril, from the inside out. (See related story.)
Saturday morning, Delgado was asked if she'd willingly sacrifice catching no fish and taking a hook in the nose every tournament, if she knew Velvick would walk across the stage like he did Thurday, as the Elite Series leader.
"Yes," she answered immediately. "That's a no-brainer."
At least in some people's minds, that would be the definition of love.