Reese grateful, but not giving up his check

After helping Skeet Reese to a victory in the Diet Mountain Dew Bassmaster Elite at Lake Guntersville, Byron Velvick wasn’t the least bit bitter about coming in second. He said he knows the favor will be repaid a thousand times over.

Reese agreed with that notion, adding one disclaimer.

“I’m not giving him my check,” said a grinning Reese after winning the $100,000 first-place prize. “But that kind of thing always comes back to a guy down the road.”

Things were looking bleak for Reese after three difficult days of practice on a lake where he’s excelled in the past. He had almost resigned himself to the idea of catching 12 to 13 pounds a day and being done after Friday’s round without making the Top 53 cut.

But then Velvick, a fellow native Californian, longtime friend and Reese’s roommate on tour, told him about the Basstrix 7-inch swimbait. From there, Reese went out and caught 24-15, 17-6, 25-1 and 25-5 in four days to build his winning total of 92-11.

Velvick caught 18-13, 26-6, 18-7 and 24-7 to finish more than four pounds back with 88-1.

“The entire tournament evolved on the fly for me,” Reese said. “Catching one 6-pounder early gave me the confidence to stick with that bait a little more. Then I had one spot where I caught a 7-pounder, a 6-pounder and two 5-pounder over the course of four days. I made a lot of it up as I went, and it evolved into something really special, a win.”

The competitive question

Anglers sharing information in major events is an act of friendship and sportsmanship as old as the Bassmaster Tournament Trail itself. It’s especially common between anglers who room together on tour like Reese and Velvick.

It often goes unnoticed when one or both anglers turn in an average performance. But when they when finish one-two in the standings, it prompts questions from some about how wise it is for anglers to help their direct competition.

Velvick said he never blinked when he knew Reese needed help.

“I knew Skeet was one of maybe 10 guys on tour who was good enough with a swimbait to win here at Guntersville,” said Velvick, who pocketed $25,000 for second. “For a lot of people to win here with a swimbait, it would just be a matter of dumb luck. But he knows how to fish one.

“That didn’t matter to me. You can’t lie to your roommate. He’s one of my best friends in the world and in my opinion, the best there is.”

Reese has been on the other side of the scenario many times.

“We all help each other,” Reese said. “I’ve helped people plenty of times when they weren’t catching them. This was just one week when Byron turned me on to a bait that made all the difference for me.”

The real winner

Though Reese and Velvick finished atop the standings and created another great bass-fishing story, the real winner at Guntersville might have been the California company Basstrix Lures and its creator, Bruce Porter.

Velvick, who has known Porter for many years, said the bait was already experiencing a bit of a “renaissance” with people migrate back to it after years of trying other swimbait models. Now on the strength of the publicity it received from Guntersville, it’s likely to hit new heights.

Though the Basstrix Swimbait has been around more than 15 years, the 7-inch version has been on the market less than a year. As of Monday morning, the “ayu” color pattern that Reese relied on at Guntersville was out of stock in the 7-inch version at many major online tackle outlets and scarce at others.

“The bass on a lake like Guntersville just don’t see a bait like this a lot,” Velvick said. “People here throw swimbaits, but they’re narrow. This bait is wide, and its tail is designed so that it’s almost like the tail is pushing the bait instead of being pulled. It’s like the tail wagging the dog, and it gives it a unique motion.”

Velvick said the bait’s soft-plastic body also makes a remarkable difference.

“I don’t want to throw a hard bait, because they’re low-percentage,” he said. “You get a lot of hits and head-butting, and they miss it a lot. I like these soft baits a lot better, because you can slow-roll them and the bass smoke them.”

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