Shootout's Odd Couple: Velvick, Eaker

LAKEPORT, Calif. — Standing at the holding tanks backstage of the Day Two weigh-in for the 2010 Golden State Shootout, Byron Velvick and Guy Eaker are the BASS version of "The Odd Couple."

The loosy-goosey Velvick, with his neon-green tournament jersey, silver-and-green sneakers, homemade visor and California-surfer-dude magnetism, is all animated energy as he stands face-to-face with Eaker, joking and laughing out loud as the two move their fish from one tank to the next en route to weighing in.

"He's 'The Senator', man," Velvick says kiddingly, but with obvious respect. "Look at him with his black slacks and really nice shoes. If bow-ties were in, he'd wear a bow-tie. This is the bass Senator from North Carolina."

Eaker, the Southern gentleman with his slacks, tidy black shoes, neatly pressed red-and-black tournament shirt and crisp red-and-white hat, smiles politely and nods.

They're separated by a generation in age and style, and as the California dude and Southern gentleman finish weighing their fish, it turns out that they're separated by roughly 6 ½ pounds in the standings heading into Day Three, Velvick in first place with 51 pounds even, Eaker in fourth with 44-4.

The biggest difference, though, turns out to be their techniques.

Velvick, who helped usher in the swimbait revolution in 2000 when he obliterated the BASS three-day tournament weight record with an 83-plus-pound bag — all caught on swimbaits in this same Clear Lake fishery — sits atop the leaderboard in no small part because of the quality of fish he's managed to tattoo throwing a series of five or six big swimmers.

"I'm throwing the swimbait about 80 percent of the time, but there are a couple of windows in the day when that bite really goes," said Velvick, who bagged most of his Day Two limit of 22-0 early on swimbaits and stuck the event's second-biggest fish (10-11) on Day One on a swimbait. "I got two fish real fast today, and then went two hours between bites where I got nothing, and then got one bite. Throwing a swimbait is something you have to keep grinding on. You have to commit to it.

Which the 71-year-old Eaker has not.

After dabbling with a giant swimmer on Day One of practice on Monday, the North Carolina native went back to his favorite go-to bait (a spinnerbait) on the last two days of practice, and then switched up again to a lipless crank and ¾-ounce jig with a Berkley Crazy Legs Chigger Craw, both of which have been extremely effective for him.

"I tried a swimbait in practice, but it was wasted time," Eaker said. "I never even had a fish follow it. I don't doubt that they'll bite it, but I don't know this lake well enough to keep fishing it like that. I think you have to know the spots better to fish that bait right. To me it was just hard to dedicate any time to that when I'm catching 3- and 4-pound fish with some other bait."

The two areas of Clear Lake that Velvick and Eaker are fishing are worlds apart, too. Velvick has hung a right out of the Library Park launch to fish the big flats between Lakeport and Long Tule Point, while Eaker has headed north to fish the shallow creeks and sloughs on the extreme end of the lake.

Velvick is making long casts and slowly retrieving his soft-plastic hitch imitations across the flats, letting them undulate like a lazy one-bite breakfast meal for the fish staging northwest of Long Tule Point.

Eaker, meanwhile, is flipping ¾-ounce jigs onto what he calls "cane" roofs, punching through them with the Chigger Craw, and retrieving lipless cranks across the opposite sides of a ledge that runs up into the shallow waters of the small slough he's been fishing.

"I'm fishing a little deeper than most," Eaker said, noting that his most productive area has been fairly heavily trafficked through the first two days of the tournament. "That spot is almost like a ridge that runs along the middle of a ditch. I'm getting right back in there, fishing both sides of that ridge, and it seems like with this warm weather they've just kept coming and coming up onto both sides of it."

As Day Three looms, with only 47 anglers now fishing a lake that has obviously started to phase close to a full-on spawn bite, the Odd Couple will fish their separate techniques and go their separate ways after the 7 a.m. PST blast-off. Velvick will attack the early-morning swimbait bite with a half-dozen baits, looking for a repeat of his Day One 10-pounder.

"I feel good about what I'm doing," Velvick said. "I'm throwing about five different baits of different sizes, and one I know they've never seen before. I 'm comfortable doing what I'm doing (with the swimbaits) and then mixing it up a little."

Eaker will continue to run his same water with the same jig/lipless crank combination, hoping the rapidly heating water will continue to bring spawnings waves into the nearby bedding areas.

"They're up and moving in those ditches, and seem ready to go up on their beds," Eaker says. "I'm counting on them to keep moving in, because I'm going to go right back where I've been."