MARBURY, MD., OCT. 12 -- On a day when most eyes were fixed southward, peering at gathering clouds from a distant tropical disturbance, Oklahoma's Don Leach kept his mind on business, luring in a five-bass limit of 13 pounds, 14 ounces to win the $175,000 Maryland Invitational bass tournament today.
Leach, in fifth place entering the final day of competition, rallied to win the title, worth $14,000 and a new boat.
"Well, I'm glad," Leach said simply. "I had 14 bites in three days, so I was lucky. I caught them all in one spot just north of here."
More than 300 anglers from the United States, Canada and Japan competed in the event, held on the Potomac River off Smallwood State Park just south of Waldorf. Anglers searched for bass from the Wilson Bridge to Point Lookout, where the Potomac empties into Chesapeake Bay.
The conditions, though unseasonably warm, were not prime for fishing, several anglers said.
The 75-degree water, coupled with the low tide, spread the bass throughout the river and adjacent channels, resulting in few fish congregating in any one spot. Ominous clouds did not form until late afternoon, when the wind started to gust as the first signs of Hurricane Lili were felt. The river grew choppier as the afternoon progressed.
This was not the first time the Maryland Invitational was affected by a late-season hurricane. The third day of competition at last year's event was canceled by the approaching Hurricane Hugo.
One of the more popular venues was the ever-present rusted out hulls of Civil War-era battleships and barges. Dozens of bass could be flushed out of these natural aquariums, according to several anglers.
One angler hurt by today's conditions was David Fritts of Lexington, N.C., the leader after the first two days. Fritts reeled in only two bass, though he still took second.
"I can't complain. I had the bites today," Fritts said. "I've been catching them on dead high tide, so when it started going out today, I got in trouble."
Perhaps the most disheartened angler was Kensington's Piers Hackley, who went from fourth to 38th place, after striking out today.