Lee Morris went fishing every day at the Charles County Fair.
Perched on an elevated motorboat, the professional fisherman cast his line into a 40-foot-long tank filled with 5,000 gallons of water and stocked with bass. In his low, South Carolina drawl, he told his audience how to use the bait.
"Let it drop to the bottom and then up," he said as he dangled his bait in the fish-filled tank. "It gives the impression that it's injured."
Morris, 48, says he operates one of only 19 mobile fishing demonstrations in the country. He has performed at fairs, casinos and even in Wal-Mart parking lots, he said. Since Thursday, he has been at the Charles County Fair. In 15- to 30-minute shows that continue through today, he demonstrates in a long green tank he calls the "bass tub" how to catch bass with different baits and fishing techniques.
"They can come up there and see what the fish look like in their natural habitat and how they react to different baits," Morris said.
Looking down from his half-sized motor boat, Morris explained Thursday evening how to use popular plastic baits such as the Yamamoto, the Devil's Tongue and Mad Man Lizards.
"It's not too often you get this," said Rick Hayden of Waldorf, who said he enjoys recreational fishing. "It's hard to find someone who will give up their secrets."
The exhibition is the first of its kind in Southern Maryland and a new feature at this year's Charles County Fair -- competing for attention with about 70 other exhibits, farm animals, carnival rides and food ranging from barbecue to popcorn. There is an exhibit in which logs are carved with a chain saw woodcarver, another with competitive pig racing and even Navy divers. Roughly 300 volunteers helped prepare for this year's fair, said fair executive officer Jim Arnold.
Despite all that variety, C.J. Brown, 3, of La Plata didn't find the midway and fair animals half as appealing as Morris's mouth-puckering fish.
Squealing "Big fish!" he ran after a gold-tinted bass that drifted down the length of the tank: "Where you going?" he called out to the fish.
"He's tickled," said his mother, Tara Newton. "He doesn't care for the animals, but he will stay for the fish."
This is part of Morris's objective -- to draw children into the sport of fishing.
"That's the future of fishing right there," he told his audience Thursday, as he pointed toward a boy watching his presentation. He said it's important to hook children when they're young -- noting that he often fishes with his 13-year-old granddaughter.
He started fishing around that age, he said. He didn't go professional until 1989, when he began fishing four tournaments a month while also serving in the Army. In 1996, he retired from the military to pursue fishing full time. But he doesn't call himself an expert.
"You're never an expert," he said. "But I hold my own usually."
He says he fishes only "local" tournaments -- but for Morris, who is always on the go, that has meant tournaments in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Florida, among other states.
Morris has been traveling with the exhibit since the beginning of this year, when he accepted a job offer from Bass Tubs of Oklahoma, a family-owned company that has six traveling fish shows on the road around the nation.
The company puts on 250 shows a year, he said, with each pro doing 30 or more shows. Morris is on the road from June to October and then January to April. He hopes that by divulging his fishing secrets, he will spread the sport.
"We try to promote fishing," Morris said. "We're all a bunch of fishaholics."
A fish tank as large as a tractor-trailer attracted Diane Kramer, 61, of Port Tobacco to Morris's performance. She had just won a horticulture award at the fair, but she said she doesn't fish.
"I think it's pretty clever. I've never seen anything like it," she said of the fish tank.
Though Morris "caught" a number of bass during his short presentation, he didn't keep a single one: "I'm a strong believer in catch and release," he told his audience.
Charlotte Dougherty, 45, of Bel Alton said she hoped her husband learned a little from Morris.
"How did you do in 10 minutes," she asked Morris, "what it takes my husband to do in eight hours?"