Big bass events invade Potomac

Bassmaster starts tomorrow, FLW next week



MARBURY -- All the green these days on the Potomac River isn't grass beds and lily pads.

Two major bass fishing tournaments are hitting the "nation's river," this weekend and next week, with nearly $500,000 in cash and prizes at stake. Both will be staged out of Charles County's Smallwood State Park.

First up is the Capitol Clash, the penultimate event on the 11-tournament Bassmaster Elite Series that will help determine who wins Angler of the Year honors and cement the field for February's Bassmaster Classic.

The four-day competition begins tomorrow with a field of about 200 anglers and concludes Sunday with a dozen men vying for the $100,000 first prize.

Next week, the FLW Outdoors Northeast Division tournament will run from Wednesday through Saturday, with as many as 400 anglers trying to be selected as the pro and amateur to compete next August in the 2007 Forrest Wood Cup.

Both bass fishing organizations have been coming to the Potomac for years.

The first BASS tournament on the Potomac - won by Guido Hibdon - was in 1989. Thirteen pros who competed in that event are in this year's Elite Series, including former Classic champs Rick Clunn, Paul Elias and Denny Brauer, who won the Elite event last month on Lake Champlain.

"I think it's a unique challenge because of the tidal influence. ... They haven't seen that yet in the Elite Series," said Trip Weldon, the BASS tournament director. "It's obviously one of the best fisheries in the nation.

"You've got the guys, especially the older pros who have fished numerous BASS events there, they're going to run up in the D.C. area. Some of them just kind of have a milk run, again, depending on the tide, and they always catch them. That's what's amazing, they go to the same places and they always catch."

Competitors on each circuit guess it will take 12-14 pounds of bass each day to win the tournaments. On low tide, many will flip well-established grass beds on river tributaries; on high tide, they'll go upriver near Washington to fish a crankbait around pilings and docks.

Three-time Bassmaster Classic winner Kevin VanDam said he loves fishing the Potomac because no matter how he monitors the tide, there's always a surprise.

"The tides don't always follow the charts there. For the guys who have never fished it before, it's going to be a unique experience," said the Michigan angler.

Michael Iaconelli, the New Jersey angler who cut his teeth fishing tournaments on the upper Chesapeake Bay, leads the Angler of the Year standings with 2,170 points. Alabama's Steve Kennedy is in second place, 50 points back. Veteran Dean Rojas of Arizona is in third, with 2,117 points, one point ahead of VanDam and former Kentucky Derby jockey Kevin Wirth.

Weldon said it would be a mistake to count out the relatively fresh faces in the Elite Series.

"You would think the Denny Brauers, the Tommy Biffles, the Kevin VanDams, the ones who have had a lot of success on the Potomac would have the advantage, but what we've learned real quick on the Elite Series is that all these anglers are good and on any given day that all can catch them," he said. "And then we have some young guys from the Maryland area - Grant Goldbeck, Darrin Schwenkbeck, John Crews - guys who have fished other BASS events and other tournaments on the Potomac and they're used to that type of water, so you have to watch out for all of them."

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