The Quest to Be Elite: Part 2

Read Part 1 and Part 3 of "The Quest to Be Elite"

It's 6:15 a.m., Wednesday, Sept. 24. Aspiring Elite Series pro Jamie Laiche backs his Stratos down the ramp and trolls it to the dock. He's practicing for the Bassmaster Central Open tournament on Kentucky Lake.

Strapped to the deck are eight G. Loomis rods. There's new line spooled on the reels — Abu Garcia Revos and various Shimano models. Each rod is rigged with the lures he wants to start with today: a couple of buzzbaits, a couple of topwater frogs, a popper, a spinnerbait, an 11-inch plastic worm and a plastic craw.

Today he hopes to find a secondary pattern that will support his primary game plan.

"These past few days, I settled on a primary pattern — grass flats in the New Johnsonville area in the southern part of the lake. I learned from my first days of practice to leave the pockets alone and fish main river bays and points and flats."

He already has his strategy set.

"My success has come from getting a limit first, then going to big fish. Some anglers go for five big bites a day, but if I know a spot where I can catch a limit quick, but they might not be huge, that's what I'm going to do. I find it eases my mind — I fish better."

Laiche moves all around the flats on his trolling motor. As he casts, he tells the story of how he came to love bass fishing:

"For as long as I can remember, it's been about bass. I don't want to cry the blues, but when I was younger, up until seventh or eighth grade, I had a real bad stuttering problem. I went to speech therapy to overcome it. And I was a small kid. You know how kids are, they pick on you. If I had a bad day at school, when I'd come home, I'd grab my fishing gear and get on my bike and peddle down the road to the neighbor's pond and fish.

"It doesn't matter what size you are, how fast you are, or anything else when you're fishing. It's between you and the fish. Nobody can hold me back."

Laiche has a winning, outgoing personality. It's no mystery how he "made friends with bigger people" to get through the hard pre-teen years.

"And I love fishing because I've had so many great fishing trips with my dad. We were together every day he was off, or every day I was out of school during the summer. He's an excellent fisherman. He taught me the majority of what I know about bass fishing.

"On my own, I had to learn things like different techniques, how to read different areas, but you have to start somewhere, and fishing with my father was how I learned.

"Maybe the best gift I ever gave him was pre-fishing with me for the Bassmaster Classic. I know it was always a dream of his to fish the Classic, and it was always a dream of mine. It was great to go out there (Lake Hartwell in S.C.) together; it was like fulfilling both of our dreams."

He says confidence counts when he's practicing as much as during the competition. One way he protects himself is not listening to "dock talk."

"It's not helpful when you're scouting. Say I'm struggling, and a person on the dock says, 'Man, I could have had 20 pounds today,' like they're trying to get in your head. Or if I have a strong pattern going on, and somebody says they were catching them doing something else, and maybe you're tempted to think you should go try that. But I think that's the worst thing you can do."

Ignoring dock talk is one way Laiche keeps up his confidence. Another is with his lucky charms. He has three. One is a shirt imprinted with his daughter's infant footprints. Another is a sea bean, which looks like a giant, chestnut-colored lima bean. They drop into freshwater, are carried into the sea and end up on faraway seashores where people pick them up. The third lucky item is a bracelet that says "Dreams Come True" — and it helps that it's in Louisiana State University colors.

Laiche also won't leave his measuring board out. He doesn't necessarily mean that a board kicking around the deck is a hazard. He says it's just plain bad luck not to stow it after each use.

He talks about his uncle, who was paralyzed at a young age. Laiche credits his uncle for encouraging him to chase his dream of being a professional angler. Being with his uncle also helped him overcome any trace of shyness.

By noon, he's made the decision to stick to two baits during the tournament: a Stanley Ribbit and a buzzbait.

Soon thereafter, he decides to head for the ramp and tournament registration. He runs hard. He takes off his visor and threads it over his arm. Occasionally he cocks his head as if he's listening to something.

At 1 p.m., he runs under the huge Route 79 Bridge adjacent to Paris Landing, and swings in toward the bay. He looks back at his motor, then scans the park where the service trailers are parked.

"I'm looking for the service guy. My motor's not sounding right."

He pulls his boat out, then trailers over to the service area. The technicians try various fixes. But if Laiche stays with the boat, he'll be in danger of missing the 4 p.m. deadline to register for the event and incur a $50 penalty. He leaves, registers without stopping to chat with anyone, then heads back to his boat. He had asked permission from the tournament manager to take it out and run it. If anything, it's running even worse.

And suddenly Laiche is in trouble. It's 5 p.m., he's at the tournament briefing, and he isn't feeling optimistic about the engine.

"I figure I have a 50-50 chance of it being OK," he says. He waits for the pairings draw, and gets No. 59, the fourth flight. Not what he'd hoped for.

At 8 p.m., he gets a call from a local Stratos dealer, C&O Marine. They're willing to loan him a boat, but the dealership is hours away. Laiche makes the call to go get it.

Read Part 3 of "The Quest to Be Elite" this Friday on Bassmaster.com.