February 19, 2013
DEL RIO, Texas — The Spanish word "amistad" means "friendship" in English. "Lake Amistad" means "love" to Byron Velvick. This lake on the Texas-Mexico border is where Velvick's bucking-bronco-ride of a life finally started to smooth.
"It's so pristine," Velvick saie. "There's nobody here. I hated to leave once I got here."
He got here in 2006 and stayed a couple of months while practicing before the Bassmaster Elite Series season. He immediately started buying property around the 65,000-acre lake.
Unwavering in Velvick – for almost 50 years now – has been his lust for life. When he gets thrown off the horse, he always pops up, ready for another go.
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Velvick's enthusiasm is on full display in the Outdoor Channel series "Guides' Eyes." The show features local fishing guides on their home waters. First-season locations range from Stuart, Fla., (tarpon, snook, grouper) to Nevada's Lake Mead (largemouth bass, stripers) to Costa Rica (sailfish, mahi mahi, rooster fish).
It promises, and delivers, fun and adventure.
"We wanted to call the show "Through The Eyes of a Guide," but that title was just too long," Velvick said. "The goal was to find the very best guides and show why they're so good at what they do."
Mission accomplished, if Season One is any indication. On one show, Velvick lands a 212-pound yellowfin tuna offshore from Venice, La., after slamming redfish and black drum inshore the previous day. There are many other highlights, but that's the "big fish story" from Season One.
Velvick, 48, retains his charm and good looks – the primary reasons why he was selected in 2004 for "The Bachelor" in the sixth season of the ABC-TV reality/dating series. And he still has a mop of hair that would make any 18-year-old proud. But there are crow's feet beside his eyes now. And Velvick has some wisdom that comes only with experience.
Undiminished is that child-like glee, a quality that seems long ago abraded for most at Velvick's age. If possible, that joy seems cranked another notch when Velvick launches a boat in Lake Amistad, as he did one mid-December day last year.
"There's a world of life here in 100 feet of water, where most places have none," Velvick said. "Grass grows 30- and 35-feet deep here."
Velvick proved his point shortly after launch. His Lowrance HDS-10 sonar graph lit-up like the Las Vegas Strip. The sonar screen appeared comically crowded with fish of all sizes, from baitfish schools near the surface to the big arches below them, at every depth in 40 feet of water.
Within minutes, Velvick started producing the reality of that sonar screen – catching one fish after another. Mostly he caught largemouth bass, but there were white bass and stripers in the mix – the Lake Amistad Slam. (There's a "Guides' Eyes" episode about that, too.)
"This lake has more carnivores than any other place I've been," he said. "It's insane."
Velvick is recognized as an authority on fishing swimbait lures – the imitators of swimming baitfish that come in all shapes, sizes and materials, from soft-plastic to hand-carved wood.
"This lake is great for swimbait fishing," he said.
Lake Amistad was a key point when swimbait bass fishing went from a regional technique to a national craze. The March 2006 tournament on Lake Amistad was the second event in the Elite Series' initial season. Ish Monroe won with 20 bass over four days that totaled 104 pounds, 8 ounces. The top 10 finished with over 90 pounds each. The Elites came back the next year, and Derek Remitz won with 111-7 in another slugfest.
Swimbaits didn't account for all the bass caught in those tournaments at Lake Amistad, but they were a staple.
A five-inch soft-plastic swimbait produced Velvick's biggest bass on this December morning – a five-pounder on a lake where the record largemouth is 15.68 pounds, so nothing to get excited about. But the potential for a lunker always lurks at Lake Amistad.
Velvick demonstrated his love for swimbaits as a big-bass-lure by heaving an umbrella-rig loaded with four eating-size bluegill soft-plastic imitations. Repeatedly. It hurt your elbow simply to watch.
Velvick's life is changing. It will soon add another chapter. This one is set in San Antonio with his wife, Belinda and their 18-month-old daughter.
Velvick has spread himself thin. Del Rio is a four-hour drive from San Antonio. The 2013 Elite Series starts in March. Reality has come into focus: Hosting a TV show requiring wide-ranging travel, competing on the B.A.S.S. circuit, owning and managing a resort on Lake Amistad while nurturing a new family in San Antonio – not even Velvick's enthusiasm can swing that quartet of duties.
Byron and Belinda own a home on Lake Amistad. She grew up in Del Rio. They'll always come back. But Velvick's days on the lake he loves will take a backseat now to the new loves of his life.
Click here for a video on Byron Velvick's 'Guides' Eyes."
Click here for the 'Guides' Eyes' show page.