RICHMOND, AUG. 25 -- Saving his best for last, Rick Clunn collected an otherworldly haul from the James River today, luring in five bass totaling 18 pounds 7 ounces and, in one afternoon, vaulting from 10th place to capture his record fourth BASS Masters Classic.

The 44-year-old Clunn, also a winner in 1976, '77 and '84, collected the top prize of $50,000 to add to his career winnings of more than $500,000, second on the all-time list to Larry Nixon, who has topped $800,000. He finished with a total of 14 bass weighing 34-5.

The capacity crowd of more than 12,000 packed into Richmond Coliseum attained a higher decibel level with each bass Clunn, the final angler at the weigh-in, plucked from his bag. After learning of his remarkable take, a stunned Clunn had few words to offer.

"It was a beautiful day, just beautiful," he said.

Tommy Biffle, the leader the previous two days, managed only one fish weighing 1 pound 14 ounces to fall to second place (27-6). Biffle, from Wagoner, Okla., entered today's competition with a lead of nearly seven pounds over 1988 Classic champion Guido Hibdon and David Fenton. But by 1 p.m., Biffle had not secured a single bass.

For a while, it looked as if 1987 Classic champion George Cochran might add another trophy to his mantle, collecting four bass for a three-day total of 28-8.

Local favorite Woo Daves, from Chester, Va., finished fourth at 25-13. Entering the arena showered by chants of "Woo!" Daves said: "It's been three crazy years here. There's just no way I can put my feelings into words."

Fort Belvoir's Carlos Sellers, an Army sergeant major, managed only one bass weighing 1-4 while fishing with a broken right arm. He refused to use his ailment as an excuse, though.

"Hey, the trigger finger worked today," Sellers said.

All-time money leader and 1983 Classic champion Nixon recovered from consecutive disappointing days by discovering a shallower location south of here. After totaling only five pounds over the first two days, Nixon displayed his five-bass catch worth 7-13 today.

"I've heard golf is a game of inches, but so is bass fishing," Nixon said. "I had been in water two to three feet deep, but all the bass were in six inches deep."

Floridian Shaw Grigsby would concur, recording one of the highest totals of the day at 11-10. "I decided to change lures and I asked my partner how much time we had. He said a minute," Grisby said. "So I dropped the line and caught my second-biggest, about two or three pounds."

A weather front that kept much of the area soaked by heavy rains for days finally moved out to sea, allowing several anglers who came back empty-handed Friday to reach the five-fish limit.

Still, some top names didn't.

Oklahoma's Ken Cook, who entered the day 11th, caught only one 2-pound bass. He played the odds, going for bigger fish, and came up empty. "I threw a lot of smaller ones away and now wish I hadn't," he said.

Suffering the same predicament was Jacksonville's Peter Thliveros. The 6-foot-4, 300-pound Thliveros was Friday's hero, luring in five fish totaling over 14 pounds, vaulting from 41st to 13th place.

Today, though, the fishing was "not as hot," he said after his two bass weighed in at 1-12. "I got a couple of keepers but threw them back hoping to get bigger ones. It just wasn't to be."

One angler, Randy Blaukat of Missouri, attributed the gambling on the part of so many competitors to Biffle's early and dominant lead. "We all had to readjust our strategies to make up some ground," he said.

Nine-time angler of the year Roland Martin, who caught only one 15-ounce fish, summed up the frustrations, "The fishing was great, but the catching wasn't." Final standings, Page B16