The Big Bass That Wasn't

by John Kruse, October 10, 2020

Rusty Johnston is my best friend of 40-plus years. We met bass fishing as kids and have never stopped fishing together since that time. The two of us had been practicing this spring and summer to fish the Berkley Big Bass Tournament at Potholes Reservoir, scheduled to happen October 3rd. Seven hourly first place winners using only Berkley baits and Abu-Garcia rods or reels would receive a $3,000 check and one of those winners would get the keys for a new bass boat valued at $42,000!

Unfortunately, that tournament was cancelled a few weeks ago but Rusty and I decided to fish that day as if we were participating in the tournament. Launching from the state park in the morning, we saw the lake was as crowded with boats as if it were a tournament day. There were probably close to 100 boats on the water full of anglers going after everything from bass to walleye to crappie to trout. Much to my surprise, both the Potholes State Park campground and MarDon Resort a short distance away were completely full of campers enjoying the beautiful fall weather.

Rusty and I had marked several promising spots not far from Potholes State Park and fished those first. However, after two and a half hours all we had to show for our efforts was an 8-inch fish and a lost Abu Garcia rod and reel that went over the side of the boat by accident. Not an auspicious start…Even for an imaginary tournament!

We decided to make a move. I had watched a lot of videos on YouTube of anglers fishing this lake in October and knew a spot where two of them had hooked into good bass. Arriving there Rusty hooked into a solid three-pound largemouth bass on his first cast. After that, the skunk was off and we started to catch fish, a mix of largemouth and smallmouth.

About an hour into this we located a promising shelf under the water that dropped from seven to 17 feet. Figuring there would be bass there we cast our crankbaits and for the next two hours we got into some of the best fishing we’ve enjoyed for years!

We lost count of how many largemouth and smallmouth bass we caught. It was cast, catch, release and then reel another one in. Better still, there were plenty of good fish here too. We caught four more bass in the three-pound class, the largest being 3.5 pounds. Good enough for one of those $3,000 checks we were hoping for and a shot at a bass boat? No, it wasn’t, but that largest one might have gotten us a third-place hourly finish and a $500 check (along with some bragging rights).

Speaking of bragging rights, we earned those too. In this same drop off area I hooked into something that I instantly knew was very, very big. I thought it was a 5 to 6-pound smallmouth bass at first, but when it came to the surface, we saw it was no bass, it was a walleye and a monster too! Rusty netted the fished, weighed it and announced its weight at 7.1 pounds, a personal best for me. Then, just to put a little icing on the cake, we caught another 4.5-pound walleye which went home with Rusty for dinner.

The lost rod and reel? The flailing and fruitless efforts of the morning? All forgotten during an afternoon of fishing that had two 56-year old men as giddy with enthusiasm as the teenage boys they once were catching a limit of fish out of Lake Sammamish in Western Washington.

As for the Berkley Big Bass Tournament? That’s been rescheduled for May of 2021. In the meantime, Potholes Reservoir is fishing very well right now for both bass and walleye. If you are looking for some good action, or maybe for a cast & blast getaway with ducks or pheasant in the morning and fishing in the afternoon, this lake located between Moses Lake and Othello could be a very good bet!

John Kruse – and


1. A seven-pound walleye caught by the author at Potholes Reservoir
2. Rusty Johnston with a nice 3-pound largemouth bass


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