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Freeman takes lead at Northern Open

RISON — RISON - Ernie Freeman builds roofs for a living, but yesterday the Gambrills angler raised them during the first day's weigh-in at the BASSMASTER Northern Open on the Potomac River.

Freeman caught five fish weighing 21 pounds, 3 ounces, good for first place in the inaugural event of the 2004 professional bass fishing season.

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"I was surprised it was that much. I was shooting for 15 to 18 pounds," Freeman said.

A second Marylander, Brian Wilhoit of Oxon Hill, stands in second place, 2 pounds, 12 ounces back.

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One ounce back is Rick Morris of Virginia Beach, Va., with a total of 18-6.

On the amateur side, two New Englanders lead the pack. Phil Paradis of Vassalboro, Maine, had a sack of five fish weighing 16-7. Ronald Taylor of North Clarendon, Vt., came in second with 15-8. He also caught the largest bass of the day, 5-4.

Freeman chose to play a run-and-gun style, fishing nearly 50 locations south of the launch area at Smallwood State Park trying to avoid the slack tide. He cast crank baits and jigs to grass points within tiny grass patches.

"I believe it's going to take 50 pounds to win the tournament, so I'm going to try to catch 15 pounds a day, minimum," he said.

The full field will fish today, and the top 50 will continue to tomorrow's finale.

The total payout for professionals is $227,500, with first place worth $50,000 in cash and gear. The amateur pot is $85,600, including a $24,000 boat and motor for the winner.

Anglers raved about conditions on the Potomac River, which allowed them to catch fish in backs of tiny tributaries and on the broad expanse near Washington's landmarks.

Of the 200 pro anglers, 162 caught their limit, and 95 of the 199 amateurs caught their limit.

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"The creeks were absolutely filled with fish," said pro Frank Ippoliti of Mount Airy, who stands in 39th place with 13-1. "I ran out of time before I ran out of fish. It was like they had never seen a bait before."

Chris Price, the Church Hill pro who fished the 2002 BASSMASTERS Classic as an amateur, finished 33rd with 13-5.

Upperco amateur Jo Ann Wheeler didn't catch any fish last year. This year, she's tied for 79th with a total of 7-9.


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