GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — Team Mercury pros Skeet Reese and Byron Velvick have been friends for 25 years. They competed against each other for years in the early 1990s as up-and-coming pros in California, and room together on the road during the Bassmaster Elite Series.

So it’s no surprise that Reese claimed the eighth win of his B.A.S.S. career on Sunday on Lake Guntersville, thanks in large part to Velvick. Reese brought 25 pounds, 5 ounces of Tennessee River largemouth to the scale for a four-day total of 92 pounds, 11 ounces, almost all of it on bait that Velvick turned Reese onto the day before the tournament began.

“I wouldn’t be holding this trophy right now if not for Byron,” Reese admitted on the Guntersville stage on Championship Sunday. “I had a horrible practice. My whole plan was to just come in here and try to survive, maybe get 13 or 14 pounds a day. But Byron clued me in on a bait that he had been catching the heck out of them on in practice, and I ran with that. It turned into something really special.”  

The bait, a 7-inch Basstrix Paddletail swimbait, is the bigger version of the 5- and 6-inch swimbait that’s been a staple in Velvick’s arsenal for 15 years. The 7-incher is a rarity on tackle-store shelves, though, because it’s relatively new, and because Basstrix is an independent, California-based shop that produces custom baits in small quantities. Velvick ordered a supply of baits, including the Paddletails, before the tournament began, and gave Reese a handful of the 7-inchers before Day 1.

The result: Reese whacked 24-15 on Day 1 to put him in immediate contention, and then sealed the deal with two straight 25-plus pound bags on Days 3 and 4. Over the course of the four-day tournament, 19 of the 20 fish that Reese weighed in were caught on the Basstrix bait.

“Skeet and I have been friends for a long, long time, and you have to be straight up with your friends,” Velvick said. “Most guys don’t even know that Basstrix makes a 7-inch bait. I knew Skeet wasn’t finding much in practice and I was, so it wasn’t a big deal for me to share that bait with him.”

Reese spent the tournament alternating between shallow laydowns, mid-depth flats, and deep grass in the Seibold Creek arm, catching fish in all three phases of the spawn by ultra-slow rolling the swimbait on a 7/0 weighted swimbait hook. Because Guntersville is so heavily pressured, the slow retrieve was key to Reese’s success.

“Painfully, painfully slow,” Reese said of his retrieve speed. “I basically had to have that bait crawling across the bottom or I wouldn’t get bit. You have to be pretty slow with a swimbait in general, but this week even more than usual.”  

Reese fished the big swimbait on his signature series 7-foot, 5-inch Victory Pro Carbon rod and Pro Carbon reel (6.4:1 gear ratio), both from Wright & McGill.

NOTES: The win is Reese’s second major victory on Guntersville: he claimed the 2010 Elite Series Southern Challenge on Guntersville in 2010 … Mercury pro John Crews finds himself atop the Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings after two Elite Series tournaments, with 182 points; Reese, Velvick and the rest of the Elite field are gearing up for the first West Coast swing in years: the California Delta (April 30-May 3) and Lake Havasu (May 7-10).

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