The Quest to Be Elite: Part 1

Read Part 2 and Part 3 of "The Quest to Be Elite"

It's Wednesday, Sept. 24. Jamie Laiche (rhymes with "mesh") launches his boat into Kentucky Lake for his final day of practice for the Bassmaster Central Open tournament. About three weeks ago, he spent three days running the water, learning his way through the lake's maze of channel markers and treacherous shoals.

Besides nine days of his time, he's invested his entry fee, hundreds of dollars in gasoline and oil and whatever it costs him to eat and sleep — although this trip he's bunking with a friend. His meals have been mostly bologna sandwiches, Vienna sausages straight from the can and, if he takes the time to go get it, a fast-food burger.

He doesn't care about the food. The tournament begins the next day, and bass fishing is all he thinks about. Everything's at stake for the 33-year-old from Gonzales, La., including the financial security of his family and his lifelong dream to become a Bassmaster Elite Series pro.

Laiche has his mind set on nothing more than the chance to get to the highest level of competitive bass fishing, the Elite Series. He and his wife, Angie, have committed to life on the Tournament Trail, starting with the 2008 Open season. He still has a job as an instrument technician at a chemical plant; he has arranged to work only when he's not on the road. Angie's gone back to work after staying at home since the birth of their daughter, Noelle, now 2.

Laiche has shown the talent to turn pro. Although this is his first year competing at the Open level, he's had phenomenal success on the BASS Federation Nation trail. He won the Central Divisional two years running, qualifying twice for the BASS Federation Nation National Championship including the upcoming event. He was one of six Federation anglers who qualified for the 2008 Bassmaster Classic on South Carolina's Lake Hartwell, though he finished a disappointing 38th. He has a chance to accomplish the same thing through the Federation Nation Championship this year, set for Kansas' Milford Lake on Nov. 6-8. He was a member of the six-man team that won the first Bass Club World Championship. He's also done well in scores of local and regional events.

Laiche has entered both Open divisions this year in hopes of qualifying for the Elites through one of the avenues. Right now, for Laiche, the Southern Open circuit is a bust. He's sitting in 56th place in points after two events. With just one to go, the odds of his of moving into the Top 10 in the points standings and receiving an Elite invitation are slim.

At Kentucky Lake, he's at a turning point. The Elite Series invitation can come for him this year only through the three-event Central Open circuit. Kentucky Lake is the second event. He's going into it tied for 10th place in the Central's points race.

So the Central Open is it. The Kentucky Lake tournament begins the next day. Laiche feels he has the fish to win. He's banking on the bass he found over the past five days in the New Johnsonville area, a long run south of the Paris Landing launch site.

He plans to spend the final practice day checking out some other spots he found earlier in the week. He knows they've probably changed: The water level's been dropping daily — Kentucky Lake is being drawn down to winter pool level. The weather's been erratic. Bluebird skies and wind are forecasted for the latter half of the week — the tournament days.

Kentucky's a vast impoundment with miles of fishable water, but about 160 other Open pros and perhaps as many co-anglers have been combing the water for big bass over the past few days.

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Fast-forward to Friday, Sept. 26, the second day of the Open event. Laiche had just failed to make the cut, which settled at less than 22 pounds. He ends in 50th place. It was a tie, so he got one-half — $235.50 — of the 50th-place check.

And now he has a 560-mile trip to get back home. Thursday he leaves for Milford Lake to scout before the cutoff date for the 2008 BASS Federation Nation National Championship. A Classic berth's at stake which would be nice consolation for Laiche considering his performance on Kentucky.

It was a bad tournament, admittedly, for Jamie Laiche, hopeful future Elite pro. How did it go so wrong?

Read Part 2 and Part 3 of "The Quest to Be Elite"