Byron Velvick will be limping into Lake Havasu this week due to a back injury he sustained during the Sacramento Bassmaster Elite Series at the Sacramento River tournament last week.
On Friday afternoon, Day 2 of the event, Velvick was returning to the weigh-in when he hit a rogue boat wake.
“We were coming into downtown Sacramento, going about 65 mph,” he said. “We had just passed a huge cruise boat, one of those big 150- 200-foot sightseeing boats, when the bottom just dropped out. It was almost like you could see the bottom of the river. I didn’t see it coming; my marshal didn’t see it coming.”
Velvick and his marshal, Kentaro Amagai, flew into the air, disengaging the kill switch on his outboard. Both landed hard in their seats. The impact fractured Velvick’s spine, in his lower back, vertebra L2. And Amagai ended up with a contusion on his upper left arm and cracked ribs.
Velvick still weighed in his fish Friday afternoon, but went to the Oakdale, Calif., emergency room that night. When his sponsor Livingston Lures learned the severity of the injury, officials arranged for the 50-year-old angler to fly to Las Vegas, Nev., so he could visit the same spinal clinic where he had surgery on his neck a few years ago. That one was a spinal fusion on vertebrae C4 and C5 in the area between his neck and shoulder blade. It caused him to miss most of two Elite seasons.
So how can Velvick possibly fish at the Bassmaster Elite at Lake Havasu presented by Dick Cepek Tires & Wheels this week?
“I have a back brace, and I’m going to try to limp through it,” he said. “The doctor said I could fish Havasu if I was very careful. If I start feeling any numbness, or tingling, I’m to stop fishing. So it’ll be an hour-by-hour kind of thing. I’ll see how I’m feeling and what the weather is like. If the wind is blowing 30 mph, I may just troll out.
“My 4-year-old daughter is going to be at this one, with my wife, and she (daughter) has never seen me fish.” Then Velvick’s mind began to wander to two of the tournaments coming up on the Elite Series schedule — one on Kentucky Lake and another on Lake St. Clair, Mich. “Those lakes can get rough,” he said. “I don’t think you can limp around there.”
Velvick will be wearing the back brace for the next 8 to 10 weeks, whether he’s fishing or not.