BISMARCK, Ark. — Brandon Gray has been here before, within arm's reach of a Bassmaster Classic berth. And it hasn't created fond memories.
But every one of the other five finalists would trade positions with him after the first day of the Toyota Bonus Bucks Bassmaster Team Championship Fish Off.
Saturday a 2015 Classic invitation will be awarded to the top angler in this field, which is made up of the anglers on the top three teams in team championship, which concluded Thursday.
Gray is the only man who caught a five-bass limit from DeGray Lake on a cold, rainy Friday. His total of 10 pounds, 8 ounces gave him a 2-pounds-plus lead over his nearest rival, Jon "Scooter" Griffth's 4 bass totaling 8-5.
No one else weighed more than two keepers. The other four finalists are at least 6 pounds behind him.
"I've been in this situation before, and it didn't work out so good," said Gray, a longtime Bassmaster Weekend Series competitor who lives in Bullock, N.C., on Kerr Reservoir.
When asked to explain that remark, Gray started down a depressing list.
"In the (Weekend Series) national championships, I was second at Dardanelle in 2011, third at Guntersville in 2012 and third again in 2013 at Old Hickory, " he said. "I lost by two pounds each time."
This Toyota Bonus Bucks Bassmaster Team Championship format has replaced the B.A.S.S. Weekend Series.
So you can understand why Gray didn't sound optimistic after taking the lead Friday. But he's clearly the favorite going into Saturday's championship.
"If Brandon's fish bite tomorrow, it's his to walk away with, no problem," said Todd Massey of Chapel Hill, N.C., Gray's teammate in their second-place team championship performance.
Gray is on a crankbait bite. In his deadpan humor style, he expressed some sadness on the weigh-in stage about losing one of his favorite crankbaits.
"I'm going to miss it," said Gray, sounding as if a friend had died.
That prompted tournament director Jon Stewart to ask, "Did it have a name?"
Instantly Gray replied, "Lucky.
"But I found Lucky Jr. today, and I think he's going to grow up to be a good one."
The weather conditions are predicted to change here for the fourth straight day. Friday featured miserable conditions with a high in the low 40s and rain off-and-on all day. Saturday it's predicted to be in the 60s with sunshine.
"I've lost about three or four degrees in the water temperature where I'm fishing," Gray said. "I'm hoping the sun will come out. I feel like it will move some fish up out of that (river) channel.
"I'm sitting out in the mouth of a major creek. It's like the first migration point they're going to hit when they come in there. Thirteen to 14 feet has been the key. I've got one little area that comes up to nine feet and drops off to 22. It's been good for the afternoon bite."
That's about as much optimism as you're going to get out of Gray. Plus, DeGray Lake is just too fickle to produce much optimism in anyone.
"I'm not out of it," said Massey, who suffered mechanical problems that cost him the first two hours of fishing time Friday and left him, admittedly, "spun out." He managed to catch two spotted bass totaling 2-6. "I've fished long enough to know that lightning can strike."
But Massey expects his friend Gray to ease some painful memories on Saturday.