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Big payday makes a Maxfield memory


If you're Carl Maxfield and you've just hit your biggest payday in 10 years on the professional fishing circuit, how do you celebrate?

Disney World? A champagne shampoo? A steak dinner with all the trimmings?

Nope. The winner of the Maryland leg of the BASSMaster 150 tour got in his truck with his $110,500 in prizes, drove eight hours to his South Carolina home, and ate a 2 a.m. bowl of Rice Krispies.

Does this guy know how to party, or what?

Days later, Maxfield, 47, was still trying to stay calm, despite the non-stop calls from friends, well-wishers, and potential new sponsors.

"When you don't catch a thing, you think your phone's been disconnected," he said of the silence he used to know all too well.

Maxfield figures that last weekend's win might be the beginning of a run that could put him in the company of Rick Clunn, Shaw Grigsby and Larry Nixon - all with $1 million in career winnings.

His winnings in Southern Maryland gave Maxfield a total of $242,500 on the BASSMaster pro circuit.

Maxfield has two big tournaments this month, both in Louisiana. First stop is the Red River in Shreveport for the Wal-Mart FLW Tour. Then he gets back on the BASSMaster 150 circuit in New Orleans.

"You're only king for a day," he said during a telephone interview. "When we get back to business down there in Louisiana, everyone will be ready to go again."

Maxfield insisted he doesn't feel like a marked man: "You don't fish against the other fishermen; you fish against the fish."

Still, the win was sweet for an angler who had found first place elusive since quitting his job in the wholesale car business a decade ago.

Maxfield, a quiet man, calls himself "a grinder. But when they're passing out checks, I usually get one."

Until last weekend, though, never the really big one.

It's not that he hadn't been close. As recently as July, Maxfield flirted with the big money at the BASSMaster Classic in Chicago. After the first day of the tournament, he was in first place - by an ounce. Bad weather on Lake Michigan kept him from returning to his hot spot, and he finished 16th in what is considered the world championship of bass fishing.

When I hooked up with him at General Smallwood State Park in Charles County a week ago Saturday, he was in first place after three days of fishing, with just nine hours left.

If an artist had wanted to paint a picture of tension, Maxfield would have been the perfect subject. He paced the dock and smoked one cigarette after another while waiting for the 6:15 a.m. start.

In pre-dawn darkness, he led the other nine finalists away from the marina and out onto the Potomac River. As soon as legally possible, he opened the throttle and blasted toward his new favorite fishing spot, the one that produced 19 pounds of bass the previous day.

After 90 seconds of high-speed running, Maxfield throttled back and entered Mattawoman Creek.

"Oh, gracious," he said, looking back over his shoulder at the half-dozen boats strung out behind him.

Clunn, in third place, slipped past Maxfield, drawing a nervous chuckle from the tournament leader.

In Maxfield's mind, the savvy angler from Ava, Mo., is the man most likely to wrest away the top prizes.

Yet, as they got deeper into the creek, Clunn yielded the left bank just above the "6 mph" sign to Maxfield.

"I've known Clunn since 1985. He's a real class act," said Maxfield, waving his thanks.

As he readied his medium-heavy spinning rod and net, Maxfield expressed confidence in the spot he'd chosen, a grassy area no longer than a football field.

He confided that at the very end of the last practice day he hung back while the other pros packed it in early to get a shower before the final tournament briefing.

Maxfield watched local fishermen work the area and then cast 15 times. The bass answered with five quick bites.

But on Wednesday and Thursday, Maxfield second-guessed himself, didn't fish his spot, and paid the price: 22nd place. On Friday, he made amends and hauled out a 19-pound sack of bass, good for first place by 5.4 pounds.

The grassy spot, dotted with lily pads, still held magic. Within 15 minutes, Maxfield had his first fish of the day: a 4 1/2 -pound largemouth.

With shaking hands, he tried to remove the hook but couldn't. A minute passed before he could work the hook free and hold up the fish where spectators could see it.

Maxfield looked skyward and mouthed, "Thank you," then placed the fish in the aerated livewell near the back of the boat.

Fifteen minutes later, Bass No. 2, a 3 1/2 -pounder, came aboard. Maxfield's hands were still shaking.

"This could be your lucky day, Carl," a spectator shouted. For the first time that morning, Maxfield grinned.

Fish No. 3 quickly was followed by No. 4.

Maxfield, now loose and in command, stopped his bass-catching clinic after two hours for a cigarette and cup of coffee. With his feet propped up and his hat pushed back, he regaled spectators in surrounding boats about losing "the $75,000 fish" in a tournament.

Casting again just before 9 a.m., he landed No. 5, a 2-pounder, the smallest of the morning.

"That's shameful, Carl," a spectator hollered, drawing another grin from Maxfield, who fished on, hoping to replace the small bass with a larger one before heading in.

He "traded up" in size twice while staying within the five-fish limit, releasing the smaller ones in the creek.

Clunn motored past and flashed five fingers three times, then two fingers - 17 pounds. Maxfield shot back his answer - 17 pounds - and grinned again.

By 3:15, he was back at the marina. By 4 p.m., Maxfield, with wife Toni by his side, hoisted the winner's plaque and pocketed the $75,500 check and certificate for a new $35,000 Ranger bass boat.

On the phone several days later, Maxfield thanked Toni, who also is his business manager. She always travels with him during a fishing season that swallows up 200 days a year and puts 60,000 miles on their truck.

Toni Maxfield keeps track of his 22 fishing licenses and handles all his sponsor contracts, a job that could expand with this win.

"I've had a couple of opportunities come up, but I'm not going to tie myself to a contract quickly," he said. "Ten years is a long time to think about it.

"I know what I want out of the fishing business. I want everyone to remember I was a good competitor. I want to make a living at this. And when I retire, I want people to say, 'He was a good fisherman.' "

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