BOSSIER CITY, La. — As Jami Fralick was entertaining his umpteenth interview of the evening — a pitfall, alas, of leading the Bassmaster Classic after Day Two — he stood against a wall in CenturyTel Center with his back to Ray Scott, who fairly blindsided the angler.
"All right, good luck to you, baby," the founder of BASS told Fralick, shaking his hand and gripping his shoulder.
As Scott continued down the hall, Fralick reflected on how quickly he had blossomed from a Classic afterthought to its frontrunner.
"Yesterday," Fralick said, "he was like, 'Who are you, again?'"
Usually Fralick's the guy behind the guy who gets the trophy. He has yet to win a BASS event but has made an art of finishing second. Runner-up is his top finish at the state, division and national level of Federation Nation tournaments, and his top finish in an Open. In his three years on the Elite Series, he has yet to notch a top 10.
But he made the move from second to first on Day Two — by not moving at all.
He and Brian Snowden (sixth place, 34-13) are sharing a 200-some-yard stretch of bank in Pool 4 that Fralick said was plagued with hyacinths until recently. Finding it has afforded both of them the luxury of sticking with what works.
"From the history I have on the Red River, fishing tournaments, there are key places where those fish will home in on," he said. "And scattered everywhere there are places where the fish want to be in, and they keep replenishing. That's what's been happening on that spot. Every day new fish are coming up."
If Fralick is feeling the pressure, he's not showing it. For the record, there's a murderer's row of hungry bass fishing pros behind him.
Skeet Reese, who finished second at the Classic two years ago, whacked a 22-9 bag on Day Two to move from 13th to second, 8 ounces behind Fralick.
Edwin Evers, the power fishing Oklahoman who's a perennial Classic pick, moved from eighth to third, while Kelly Jordon, a Red River regular, ran the same water he ran a day earlier only to much greater effect, jumping from 11th to fourth on the strength of a 20-5 stringer.
Aaron Martens slipped from fourth to fifth, and Dave Wolak held steady at seventh. Behind that gang of old pros without a Classic win among them are three past champions: Mark Davis (22-7 on Day Two), Day One leader Boyd Duckett (a modest 13-12 on Day Two) and Michael Iaconelli. All are within 5 pounds of Fralick.
Among the notables to miss the 25-angler cut were Scott Rook, Terry Scroggins, Kevin VanDam and Todd Faircloth. Louisianan Greg Hackney survived, in 20th place, with 16-6. Fred Roumbanis, who was in third place after Day One, caught just 5-8 and plummeted to 29th.
"It's all about the holes," Duckett said. "You just work. You just go in and fish and grind."
Reese is at the mouth of the pond where Duckett, Martens, Randy Howell, Kota Kiriyama and Todd Faircloth collected. Duckett theorized that the pressure funneled fish toward Reese, who said he caught fish consistently all day.
"I've been around leaderboards enough to know not to get caught up in the emotion of it," Reese said. In his BASS career, he has three wins against seven runner-up finishes.
Count Jordon among the anglers who will run the same water on the Classic's decisive day that he ran the first two days. He caught fish on his spots both days. On Day Two, they were just bigger.
"I just didn't catch them yesterday. They just didn't bite," Jordon said. On Day Two, a different story. He caught a 5-pounder on his third cast.
A low pressure front in advance of a rainstorm may have triggered the big bite. Overall the field weighed in the same number of fish, 223, on both days. But on Day Two, they weighed 70 pounds more: an average of 5 ounces per fish. Even the day's big fish, Davy Hite's 7-6, was precisely 5 ounces more than the Day One big fish.
Evers was customarily tight-lipped about what he was doing, but he sounded more likely to freelance on Day Three. "I have two or three different things I can do," he said. "I'm keeping an open mind."
Had he happened on Fralick and Snowden's hole on a different time in practice, he might have been able to sit still. Evers said he knew of the same ditches where those two are fishing.
"Historically," he said, "it's been a good spot." It was the only area that he visited in practice, crossed off, and then returned to. He knew it had that much potential.
Snowden is within 3-12 of Fralick. The two men will return on Day Three with a chance to milk it for a Classic trophy, fishing near enough to each other that they can converse on the water.
Fralick said they haven't yet brought up the potential for a Classic win.
"We haven't talked about it," Fralick said. "I was joking around that Skeet Reese was pretty close, and Brian said, 'You better watch out for that guy in sixth place' — that's him. Both of us have a chance. I'm leading, so I don't have to catch quite as much, but there's 22 pounds in there that Brian could catch or I could catch."