SHREVEPORT, La. There's Paul Elias walking through the concourse in the Shreveport Convention Center.
And there's two teenagers chasing him, waving hats, clamoring for autographs.
And a few steps back of them there's a guy on a cell phone, and here's what he's saying: "I'm walking behind Paul Elias! The kids are running him down like a dang hot dog!"
How quickly an Elite Series angler at the Bassmaster Classic Outdoor Expo goes from top dog to hot dog. This is where some of the most talented bass anglers in the world do their penance for not qualifying for the Classic, schmoozing with fans and making appearances for their sponsors instead of fishing for a half-mil and a spiffy trophy.
Working the expo also makes them easy targets for autograph hounds such as Bubba Harris of Denham Springs, La., who was walking around the expo with a homemade lamp in the form of a massive wooden crankbait. Every time he comes to a Classic, which is frequently, he brings some object to gather signatures. "We have a big room full of all the paddles and caps," he said.
On Saturday, he had so many fresh signatures that the lampshade reeked of permanent ink.
It's a peculiar scene, but it makes interviewing anglers like, well, shooting fish in a barrel. Here's how three of them broke down this Classic on Saturday and how well, based on how the first two days have shaken out, their predictions held.
Run this Stone for good luck
People love Marty Stone, if for no other reason than to rub his bald head. The four-time Classic qualifier made an unambiguous pick to win: Scott Rook, who was fishing three hours from his hometown Little Rock, Ark., and who sat comfortably in sixth after Day One.
"Scott is as true a river rat as there ever was," Stone said. He figured that even though Rook's home water is the Arkansas River, that experience would serve him well on the Red. "Rivers can be fickle," he said. "They can be tough and they've got certain personalities."
Stone also has watched Rook cast a shallow-running square-billed crankbait with memorable precision. He figured that ability making multiple presentations with a go-to lure would carry him through weather changes and a fickle bite in a crowd.
"He's got potential to blow up a big bag," Stone said.
That afternoon, Rook's big stringer didn't materialize; he caught only three fish that weighed 6 pounds, 11 ounces, and missed the cut. So a swing and a miss for Stone on that one.
But he also said a couple of things that held through the weigh-in. One: "A spot a place beats a pattern 95 percent of the time." That seemed to be the case on Day Two, when Jami Fralick, Brian Snowden and Casey Ashley all had big days within easy talking distance of one another, and Skeet Reese made a big move swirling around the Shaw Lake area.
And Two: "Jami really found his groove. He belongs out here." Fralick, who has struggled often on the Elite Series, went on to prove he wasn't a one-day wonder by sacking 19-6 and claiming the lead in the Classic.
Quinn sets a "record"
Nearby, at the Evan Williams bourbon trailer, Jason Quinn was seemingly attempting to set a world record for most T-shirts signed in a day. He was handing out Mardi Gras necklaces with plastic shot glasses to people who would exclaim, "Ah! I saw you on TV!"
He didn't have much time to pontificate, but he did predict that Kelly Jordon would have a decent day (Jordon moved from 11th to fourth on Day Two) and, with shades of Stone, that the tournament would reward spot fishermen.
"It's one of those deals," Quinn said. "A guy can be 5, 6 pounds back, go off by himself and whack 'em."
He also picked Jay Evans as a dark horse. The Federation Nation angler has acquitted himself well, but at just 23rd after Day Two, the only way he might affect the top of the leaderboard is by using up all of Fralick and Snowden's fish.
Reed on the Classic
Matt Reed was hanging by the soft plastics at the Yum display, holding things together well despite missing a Classic 200 miles from his Texas home. He said when he saw the Red River on the calendar in February, he winced a little, knowing that floods would have a chance to wipe out the tournament.
But the weather held, and the fishery has produced.
"There seems to be a lot of quality fish," he said. "A little more than I anticipated."
If he had fished Day One? He figured he could have caught 15 pounds, which would have put him in the middle of the pack.
His pick has turned out to be a solid one: Edwin Evers bounced from eighth to third on the strength of a 19-3 bag on Day Two.
"Edwin had a wonderful prefish," Reed said. "He was probably disappointed with what he had on Day One."
First Champ picks new one