Attention at a professional fishing tournament usually focuses on the biggest bass and most successful anglers.

But for Charles County officials, an eye-catching aspect of the Bassmaster tournament that ended yesterday is a potent economic punch that makes the yearly event the county's leading generator of tourism revenue.

The tournament brings some 500 anglers and others from nearly three dozen states to Charles County, where they eat, sleep, shop--and spend. Specialty magazines and television shows cover the four-day event, which started Wednesday but drew contestants for practice even before that.

It all adds up to a quick jolt of spending while the tournament is in town, and a longer-lasting bath of favorable publicity that helps draw another 35 to 40 large tournaments each year.

"For a one-time event, it generates more economic impact than any other tourism activity," said Joanne Roland, Charles County's director of tourism.

That's true in part because Charles County's other attractions pull in relatively few visitors.

The Thomas Stone National Historic Site attracted about 3,000 people in 1998, according to figures from the National Park Service, which owns the home built by the signer of the Declaration of Independence.

The home of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, who set the broken leg of President Abraham Lincoln's assassin, attracts 3,000 to 4,000 visitors yearly, according to the nonprofit society that owns the home.

No other tourism site in the county attracts as many people, Roland said.

Last week's Charles County stop on the Bassmaster tour--the 10th in the last 11 years to be staged out of Smallwood State Park's Sweden Point marina--involved 150 boats and 300 anglers, half of them professionals and half amateurs. About 200 family members and friends came along, as well as about 60 tournament officials and representatives from boat and engine manufacturers, Roland said.

Many visitors arrive days before the tournament to practice and scout productive spots on the Potomac River. They patronize hotels, motels, restaurants, gas stations, convenience stores and shops that sell tackle and bait. Antique shops and general retailers also stand to benefit.

Dan Eckerd, 34, of Carlisle, Pa., an amateur who took part in the tournament, drove to Charles County along with his wife, Deb, 32.

"There's a lot of good shopping in this area," Eckerd said. "She'll be doing some shopping for sure."

Eckerd himself was not immune to the shopping bug. He estimated he had spent $200 to $300 on fishing lures in local shops.

Roland said she had not calculated the direct impact of last week's tournament, which was a stop on a national circuit run by the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society.

A University of Alabama study found Bassmaster tournaments generated an average of $286,000 in direct local expenditures and total economic impacts of nearly double that amount.

The study did not attempt to calculate the promotional benefits of staging a tournament. Roland said that was where the Bassmaster stop pays its weightiest dividends.

Bassmaster magazine, with a circulation of 600,000, covers the tournament, as does a fishing program that is telecast on cable channel TNN, The Nashville Network. Roland estimated the program's audience at 1.5 million people.

"You can't buy that kind of publicity," Roland said. "It's phenomenal for us. . . . We're going to get these television spots that say, 'Here we are on this beautiful Potomac River.' "