Rick Clunn has four Bassmaster Classic championship rings. Roland Martin has earned nine BASS Angler-of-the-Year awards. Larry Nixon has won 14 BASS tournaments. Denny Brauer's efforts have netted him more than $2 million.
Yet, it is a good bet that America's television watchers are considerably more familiar with the name of Byron Velvick.
Not because of his substantial talent with a rod and reel, however. More than 8 million viewers watched him become ABC-TV's The Bachelor and millions more are watching him weed through 25 beautiful bachelorettes over the course of 10 prime time weeks to select the woman of his dreams.
The 40-year-old Nevada angler may have become the country's best-known pro because The Bachelor viewers have seen him casting from the deck of his Mercury-powered bass boat while waxing romantically about his love for this profession. He may have been this season's reality television hunk, but Velvick has made it clear where his present and future lie.
"When this is over and everything is said and done, I'm just a bass fisherman," he says.
And an accomplished, competitive fisherman, at that.
Before he was making television hearts swoon, Velvick was breaking the hearts and hopes of his fellow competitors in tournaments throughout the West and, in recent years, on the CITGO Bassmaster Tour. In his 13 years as a professional angler, he has pocketed more than $500,000 in tournament winnings, most in the West where he has won 14 major tournaments.
Velvick also has made his mark in the BASS world. Although he has cashed a check in 11 of 70 tournaments, the renowned swim bait expert set a BASS record for the largest five bass, three day catch with 83 pounds, 5 ounces en route to winning the California Bassmaster Invitational on Clear Lake in April 2000. That record still stands.
It was while on Tour at the season's final event at Santee Cooper Reservoir in March that Velvick was first approached about The Bachelor.
"I won't ever forget it," he recalls. "I was in the parking lot with Brett Hite, who I was rooming with. I got a call from my friends, who were like, 'Oh, my God, blah, blah, blah . . . about the show.' And I said no. They said, 'Oh, come on, just consider it.' Then the show called and talked to me a little bit about it. I told them no. They told me I couldn't tell anybody about it and they wanted me to fly to L.A. to audition for it. I told them I was busy fishing.
"My friends kind of coerced me into doing it because they have been starting their families. They said, 'Hey, you need to meet a great woman and this is really a great avenue to meet a fantastic woman.' They said, 'You don't understand. The show is not about money. It's a legitimate love story-type of reality TV show. And the women are absolutely amazing and exemplary.'
"I had never even seen the show."
Velvick, who kept the whole matter secret from fishing friends and fellow pros, held little hope of surviving the elimination process to actually get on the show. He admits viewing it as an opportunity to get a couple of free trips to Los Angeles, where he could visit his mother.
The popular series, which last season featured New York Giants quarterback Jesse Palmer, was filmed in July and August ("It was super hush-hush."). In a two hour prime time special Sept. 22, Velvick earned the role when more of the women voted for him than his lone competitor. From there, he systematically eliminated one bachelorette each week before settling on the girl of his dreams.
The filming caused Velvick to miss just one tournament, an FLW Tour event on Lake Champlain.
"Thank God it was over before the U.S. Open," he says. "I was adamant about fishing it. I was third last year and seventh the year before. So, I was hot and heavy to get back and compete for the U.S. Open without any interruptions. I basically said I wouldn't be available until after Sept. 15.
"I couldn't wait to get over there and practice for the tournament. I spent every day for two weeks in August practicing for the Open as soon as I was cut free. Two days after filming was done, I was on the water. Every morning I was up at the crack of dawn, and I fished until dark every day.
"I never missed a beat. I shut my cell phone off, and I'd come home at night and check my messages and do this reality-business work. But I never missed a day (of fishing) for reality TV once the U.S. Open came. I really geared up for it. I wanted to win it.
"I'm not going to let this affect what I love. I've been fishing since I was a little kid. Fishing is my sanity."
Velvick, a two time U.S. Open champion, finished 57th, despite his extensive prefishing effort.
"I was glad to get back on the water," he says. "I was thrilled. I was never so focused because I could put all that craziness behind me. I went from these elaborate dates and these limos and being in a Gulfstream jet, to fishing every day. One day I'm flying around the country in Gulfstreams, and then all of a sudden, I'm back on the lake. I was so happy to be away from it. It was nice to be able to go back to being a normal fisherman again."
Velvick was asked what impact he thinks his enormous exposure on The Bachelor will have on his sport.
"I think it's going to be good for the sport, but I don't expect major changes," he replies. "It's not like we have paparazzi hiding behind cattails and bushes and popping out with scuba gear. I don't see it being like a media blitz. It will be interesting to come to the weigh-ins and all.
"I don't expect there to be a major, major influx of people. Maybe it will, and if it is, I don't think it's going to be a problem. It will just help the sport. It would be nice to go to these weigh-ins and see more people come out."