As Jamie Laiche held up the two largest fish in his 15-pound, 14-ounce bag on Friday, he wasn't just showing the crowd in Greenville, S.C.
He was showing his 22-year-old sister, Kelli, who was watching on Bassmaster.com — 7,000 miles away in Iraq. She sent Laiche a photo of her 9th Communications Battalion of Marines and stationed in Fallujah.
"She's an inspiration to me, even though she's my younger sister," he said. "She's over there fighting for the freedoms that we enjoy and love every day in this country. That's why I'm able to be here, because of people like her."
There was one other thing trying to keep Laiche from fishing the Classic — his job. Out of vacation, he asked his boss if he could take two weeks unpaid. Even after 10 years of service to the company, the answer was no.
"I talked it over with my family and decided to resign, and become a full-time fisherman," he said. "I've waited for this moment all my life. I prepared for this with hundreds of tournaments I've fished — not at this level — but I've been in pressure situations before. I just want to go fishing."
He handled the pressure fine on Friday, out-fishing the likes of Skeet Reese, Steve Kennedy, Boyd Duckett and Timmy Horton. He was in 13th place heading into Day Two, but he's not satisfied with "just making the cut."
"I'm going to gamble today and try to make up some ground," he said. "Making the cut is great, but you really want to try and win this thing."
If he is able to work his way up the leaderboard, almost his entire family tree would be there to see it. His parents, wife, newborn daughter, aunt, and uncle have all showed up — and those were the just the relatives Laiche's dad, Donald, could get to before the national anthem cut him off Saturday morning.
Laiche said it is important for him to have his family with him.
"One of things that touched me more than anything in this tournament is that my father was able to be with me while I pre-fished the first three days," he said. "My dad taught me how to fish and it just meant the world to me to have him in the back of the boat. I'm sure it was a dream he had years ago."
Donald Laiche said he was just as honored, and that this is something he saw coming long ago.
"I used to take him fishing every time I'd go," he said from the Classic takeoff dock, moments before his son took off on Day Two. "Even back then he'd catch bigger fish than me."
Laiche hasn't had much luck in the three BASS events he's entered, finishing 53rd, 14th and 134th for a total of $0. But he's convinced he can fish for a living and a day into the Classic, it would be hard to argue against him.
"Making it to the Classic is the dream of a lifetime," Laiche said "As far as what this tournament means to me, words just can't describe it."
Bassmaster.com will provide unprecedented live video coverage of the Classic this week, Feb. 22-24. We'll have live "Hooked Up," daily launches at 7:15 a.m. ET and live weigh-ins and real-time leaderboards starting at 4:30 p.m. ET broadcast live from the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, S.C.