Hurricane Bob today wiped out the first day of practice for the 21st annual $200,000 BASS Masters Classic scheduled for this area Thursday through Sunday.
Early this morning, Classic officials said latest weather reports indicated the upper Chesapeake would be too rough for contenders to fish today. The upper bay complex is wide and shallow, very vulnerable to high winds expected to accompany the storm.
The storm could change the complexion of Classic fishing waters for several days or more from the mouth of the Magothy to the Northeast and Susquehana Rivers.
Officials said practice would resume tomorrow if conditions improve, but the schedule will not allow anglers to pick up the lost day of practice on Wednesday because of other commitments.
Riled waters in the aftermath of Bob could be an equalizer. Storms quickly disrupt established fishing patterns, and could well wipe out the advantages gained -- at least temporarily -- by contenders who practice-fished here before the July 1 cutoff.
One who could profit is Randy Romig of Spring City, Pa., who might not know where to cast under changed conditions, but his experience here years ago in regional tournaments would give him some ideas of where not to waste his time in muddied waters. However, last night as the BASS group enjoyed a party on a cruise ship on the Patapsco, Romig said most of his past competitive fishing success occurred on the Eastern Shore side of the upper bay.
Crossing the Chesapeake in rough waters is tough for any small craft, but bass boats are made for speed and shallow water, and whitecaps make the going exceptionally rough. Many contenders, of course, will try, but much time will be lost in the 10-mile crossing, never mind the longer distances to reach the fishing holes once on the Eastern Shore.
And most of the popular angling spots are on the other side of the bay.
Last night, the threatening storm reduced catch predictions by many of the anglers on the poundage it will take to win the top competitive event in North American fishing.
In past weeks, contenders were talking of 30 pounds being hard to beat. That would be the limit of five fish daily, averaging 2 pounds. Last night, some cut that back to 25, or less.
It can take several days for water conditions to return to normal, and longer for bass to follow suit. A bad storm could ruin things for a week on the Susquehanna Flats, an area many intend to try.
But the Classic has a tradition of one or two fishermen beating the odds and locating a honey hole frequented by big fish. Nine Classics have been won by catches of 32 1/2 pounds or less. In 1987, George Cochran won with 15 pounds, 5 ounces from the Ohio River. On the other hand, defending champ Rick Clunn has the record for the best three-day catch -- 75 pounds, 9 ounces from the Arkansas River in 1984.
Clunn spent nearly a week practice-fishing here, but didn't do much casting. Instead he ran the waters on low tides. "I wanted to know where I could go, and to get to know the area," said Clunn, who has won the Classic an unprecedented four times. He prefers the Chesapeake to the James River in Virginia, where he won last year with 34 pounds, 5 ounces.
Virginian Woo Daves predicted 26 to 28 pounds would easily win if waters get soiled; Guido Hibdon, the Classic winner with 28 1/2 pounds in '88 on the James River, figures 30 to 35 pounds will be needed to win, and Harold Allen said he would settle for 30 pounds, though in six days of early summer practice fishing, he took some nice bass.
Jimmy Houston looks for 25 to 30 pounds to win the $50,000 first prize, though he too got some nice bass in four days of June practice. Bo Dowden, who won the Classic in 1980 and came up 3 pounds short to Clunn in 1976, is intrigued by the upper bay. He fished here for several days in June, had two limits and a third day he took three keepers. Among them was a 3-pounder.
"I'd like to get those fish again; so would a lot of other fellows," said Dowden after being briefed on the weather. "Three limits with a 5-pounder in each one would make anyone happy."
Romig, who got catches of better than 17 pounds on three weekends in a row in local one-day tournaments years ago, looks to 32 pounds as the Classic winner, though in one day last June he and his wife Ethel took 40 bass in one day.