MARBURY -- Had these Maryland men been avid baseball fans, one might have expected them to sign up for a midwinter fantasy camp, where they could mix with and learn from former major-leaguers.
Instead, they are avid bass fishermen, and rather than donning double knits in Florida or Arizona, they put on their Ranger Boats caps and bass club jackets and headed out on the Potomac River last week for four days of rough-and-tumble tournament fishing with the 100 best pros in the world.
On Wednesday, Day 1 of the BASSMASTER BP Top 100, Gary Lee Hardesty of Huntingtown was paired with Jimmy Houston, a gadfly fishing show host and top-notch fisherman from Cookson, Okla. And for a few minutes that afternoon, Houston led the tournament with a catch of 17 pounds, 9 ounces.
While Houston was taking his limit from the grass beds in the Washington area, Hardesty was catching four much smaller fish from the back of the boat -- and trying real hard for No. 5.
"He lost his fifth fish, and then he broke off his fifth fish," Houston said. "He could have had a pretty good string."
And on another day, Hardesty probably would have. But on Day 1 the wind was strong from the northwest and he and Houston spent much of the day in the relative shelter of grass beds and an inordinate amount of time up in the creeks.
"He told you, huh?" Hardesty said after weighing in 5 pounds, 13 ounces. "He wasn't supposed to. But it wasn't 20 minutes ago that I lost the last one."
"We went to a couple of my spots and nothing. It was just too windy. All I could do was sit back and ride the waves like we were on a surfboard."
Phil Civitares of Baltimore opened the tournament paired with four-time BASS Masters Classic winner Rick Clunn. For Civitares, it was the
second pro-am he has fished on the Potomac. The first was in 1989, when Hurricane Hugo blew through the 100-boat field.
"But I tell you," Civitares said, "this week my stomach still was all churned up. I have fished a lot of tournaments, but not like this.
"I couldn't hardly eat the other day. . . . I thought I felt all right once I got in the boat, but I was a wreck. I couldn't cast right. It was like the demons possessed me."
Civitares exorcised the demons and by Day 4 he stood in sixth place with 26 pounds, 14 ounces, less than a pound ahead of Lloyd Elswick of Pasadena in seventh place.
'I was real fortunate to have some real good partners, and after I settled down a little I was able to fish fairly well,' said Civitares, who caught the big bass on Friday. 'I just got lucky, but I feel real good about being up there in the top 10.'
Gregory Stephenson of Waldorf was fishing his home waters with Randy Moseley of Missouri, and Stephenson was feeling the pressure.
"I was a nervous wreck," Stephenson said. "I couldn't sleep the night before at all. I kept getting up and going down to futz with my baits. Doing this. Doing that."
Stephenson caught one fish over 12 inches and had to release another that was just under the one-foot limit.
"And it almost broke my heart," Stephenson said.
Perhaps there were a number of Maryland hearts broken last week on the Potomac River. After four days of fishing, the top 5 amateurs were from elsewhere.
But the amateurs are the guys who make these tournaments and the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society a multimillion-dollar operation. The amateurs, over the long run, buy the products from the sponsors that support the pros, who stimulate local interest in bass fishing.
"Fishing this tournament is great," said Robert Vogelsang of Jessup. "These guys are gentlemen, experts at what they do and it amazes you if you sit and watch them.
"They are so good. It is just like watching Cal Ripken play baseball, and this is just like a baseball fantasy camp or playing golf with Jack Nicklaus. Especially with these guys, because this is the top 100 and they are all the famous guys in fishing."
During the week, one of the famous guys in fishing, Harold Allen of Milam, Texas, was paired with Steve Casey of Baltimore, who usually fishes the Gunpowder River-Dundee Creek area.
Allen was having a bad day. The wind was blowing him off his favorite spot, the fishing was slow, deadly slow. His motor was broken down so he couldn't easily fish any of several other spots nearby, and Allen was thinking about quitting early.
"Steve made me stay on the spot," Allen said. "I'd kind of get the hot foot, and he kept on saying, 'Catch one more; catch one more.' "
Casey said Allen had reached a high level of frustration and simply needed to calm down.
"I'd give him an hour on each fish to catch," said Casey, who did not fish that day so that Allen might make the best of a miserable situation.
"Well, he'd break off about 20 baits and get worked up," Casey said. "I'd tell him to tie them up again, relax and give the fish a chance to rest. Then he'd go back and catch another one."
Said Allen: "It is real hard for me to sit in one place for 30 minutes and not catch a fish. I got itchy two or three times. But whenever I did, he'd say, go ahead make another cast, and I'd catch one.
"Steve really made my day."
It was the only limit Allen caught all week.