A Fool’s Errand
One year in July, convinced that the key to having success at Potholes was about finding beaver huts that were submerged, I went on a little solo mission to find those huts. Since I couldn’t see them, I brought along an Aqua View to drop down anywhere I thought there might be one. It seems silly now to think this was a good idea and not a waste of time, but it’s the truth.
After a couple of hours of probing and no huts, I decided I would just “cover water”, stay on the trolling motor and work fast with a buzzbait. It was about 7 o’clock in the morning, and I figured I had another hour or so before it was too late for a buzzbait (yeah, I still believed that back then too.) An hour into my buzzbait exploration, I spotted a taller dune a couple hundred yards ahead of me that looked inviting (“that looks good”), and put the trolling motor on high to make my way along some scrubby willows. I made a few haphazard casts along the way, and all of the sudden the water erupted and in short order I lost a nice LM near the boat. As the boat coasted to a stop, I preceded to catch 3 nice LM on consecutive casts with the buzzbait. Remembering the Aqua View, I dropped it down to see what I could see. Bingo, willow branches all stacked up. I was sitting smack dab on a big ol’ hut that was totally submerged.
After a couple of casts with the buzzbait, I decided to try the green pumpkin flipping tube. I had it Texas-rigged with a 1/4 oz. weight. My favorite flipping/pitching bait back then. I caught bass on consecutive casts (pitches) and thought, “this is the best I’ve ever done on one spot at Potholes”. I stayed on that spot for another half-hour and caught several more nice 3-4 lb largemouth. Now, by this time, I had a more modern fish-finder/GPS that was mounted to the boat. No more handheld unit. And you can bet I made sure that hut was marked!
I ended up finding another hut on that day (“Hut 2”), so now I had two huts that I felt confident in going into the big tournament that was coming up. Not a lot to go on, but I had caught over 15 bass that day off those two huts and next to nothing anywhere else. Easy decision on where to go for the tournament. We did okay in that tournament, nothing special, those huts held fish, but nothing much bigger than 3lbs. It was a tournament the following year that I really want to talk about.
It was an ABA tournament, so it would be one event on Saturday and one on Sunday. At any rate, it wasn’t good to have two places you felt confident about fishing and two whole tournament days to fish. So Ray and I decided to prefish with an eye to finding something else to go along with our two huts. Now, we had other huts to fish, but these were the only two that we thought a). had fish, and b). nobody else knew about. So we thought.
Ray and I had a prefish day up there together, and to bring this all full circle, that was the initial swim jig outing that I talked about in part 2, and this was done on the other side of the dunes (Crab Creek side). So we had two huts to fish on the west side and a random cover water pattern on the Crab Creek side. So this, in a nutshell, is how most of my tournament experiences had been on Potholes – a couple of specific spots to fish (usually some favorite hut for the year) and then a sort of drunken, meandering “covering water” technique. It wouldn’t be until several years later that I would start to break away from this way of fishing Potholes. So we had this new weapon (swim jig) that we didn’t really understand yet, and our strategy for using it was “go”.
Day 1 – Hut Magic
We started that first day on our main hut, “Hut 1”, and didn’t catch a thing or maybe one little one. I don’t really remember, but it wasn’t good. We both had this swim jig thing in the back of our minds, so we decided to take a trip around the hut with it. The first one I caught took my reel off my rod. Not that it was that big of a fish, but the nut holding my reel down wouldn’t do the job anymore, so that first fish of the day was caught by hand lining in a 2lb largemouth (thanks Ray). The rest of our tour d’ hut was fruitless, so we decided to go off to “Hut 2”
Hut 2 sat in a pocket that really had one way in and one way out, or I should say, one obvious way in and out. As we were making our way into the pocket another boat was high stepping it into the same pocket but they were crashing through the willows to beat us to the hut. Since they took the “shortcut” they got there first, only they went right by Hut 2 and went straight to a visible hut sitting in the corner of the pocket. As it was, they were about 50 yards from us and were about to see this all go down. I’m guessing they were happy we didn’t want their hut and we were happy they didn’t want our hut.
Our first 7-8 casts on that hut all produced clone 3 to 3 and half pound largemouth. As fast as one went in the livewell, the other guy was hooked up. It was one of those moments where you are trying to cull, fight fish, net fish, and re-rig your lure all at the same time. Chaos, but the fun, giggly sort of chaos. I don’t know if that other boat knew about the hut we were on or if they just thought we were casting to a deeper willow line. They left before us and we thought we were pretty smart. Whatever we called that hut (it wasn’t “Hut 2”) from that day on we called that hut the “_________ hut”, named after those other anglers that raced us in the pocket to the wrong hut.
We left that hut with over 17 lbs and as it turned out never culled or even caught another fish the rest of the day. Now, at that time 17 lbs was a decent to good day at Potholes for the month of June, so we had a sense that we had done good, but the fact that we couldn’t catch another bass anywhere else that day combined with the odds of that same hut being good again left us feeling like we were going to struggle the next day. When you have a 20-30 minute flurry that represents all your fish for the day and the rest of the day you cover acres and acres of water without a bite, it’s hard to feel like you’ve got anything figured out. We tried the swim jig some, as well as whatever else we had in the boat that day. It was like we weren’t anywhere near any fish other than that hut and it seemed like we caught all of those. We finished 2nd that day, and it was one of the strangest feelings ever. We asked each other several times questions to the effect of “what just happened”? How can you almost win a tournament and do that bad? The next day was going to blow the door off of that question.
Day 2 – “You guys got this placed dialed in!”
We knew we were in trouble before we launched the boat. We felt we had no choice but to check our two huts. But it didn’t seem reasonable to expect what had happened on day 1 to happen again on either hut. It didn’t. Not a bite, much less a fish. So at probably 7 am we had a choice about how and where to spend the rest of our day. Our only thought was to go over to the Crab Creek side and cover water with the swim jig. At this point we had expereinced one phenomenal prefish day with the swim jig, but had burned much of that water the day before in the afternoon trying to get a bite. Since that hadn’t worked at all, we had lost some confidence in that area. We reminded each other that on that prefish day we were just covering water, not necessarily worrying about where we were. Stuff we would never do on the Columbia or any other body of water. But in this case it seemed like the only thing to do. We headed over to Crab Creek deciding that we would put the trolling motor on 30-40 and not get off it until we found them.
Once over there on the east side of the dunes we started our search. Now one of the real strengths of the swim jig is it’s ability to cover water, come through cover ready for another cast. It is the most efficient lures I can think of. Very little time is spent getting it un-hung or cleaning it off. Within the first hour or so, Ray caught a decent fish off a visible hut on the swim jig. This didn’t help us much since we were in an area where we weren’t familiar with where other huts were. So we continued on. We came to one of those “intersections” that are all too common at Potholes. Continue straight ahead or hang a right? Ray shrugged his shoulders echoing my thoughts. How the hell could we pretend we knew? I said, “okay, when we get up to this opening if we catch a fish out in front of it, we’ll go into the pocket. If not, we keep going straight ahead. At the opening, I caught a nice 3 lb fish. We laughed, talking about the odds of catching one right were we had said and not anywhere else.
So we take a right, and go into the pocket. Only we don’t go another 15 yards and we are both hooked up. Now this “pocket” is one of thousands at Potholes and to be honest I couldn’t really tell you if I had been in there before or not, and I’m sure Ray would say the same. But I can say, this might have been some of the worst looking stuff Potholes has to offer. Clean sand banks. No huts. A few scrubbing willows scattered here and there, they weren’t even greened up and thick looking. Kind of a lunar landscape. It was pretty flat, with one drop off in the middle. I would say most of the pocket was 2-3 feet deep. For the next half an hour or so, largemouth were coming from every direction to kill that swim jig. We would see them coming from 15-30 yards away. We weren’t throwing to really any cover since there was so little to throw to. We were honestly just winging that swim jig as far as we could and watching with an odd mixture of fear and anticipation. These fish were ferocious. Attacking as we helplessly tried to make that swim jig escape. The fish won. We had another culling “situation” on our hands. Since they were all nearly the same size it was a pretty pain-staking process to figure which one had to go back. Then, almost as quick as it happened it was over. Crickets in the background (not really, but you get the idea).
We had the now obvious idea of spending the rest of the day looking for the worst looking stuff we could find, like that pocket looked. That didn’t work. Oh, we found some bad looking stuff, but it was as bad as it looked. We went fish-less the rest of the day, so for 8 or 9 hours of fishing we had 30 minutes of hand over fist catching and the rest of the time we were clueless again. We had a little more weight than the day before, so we felt good about that, but even in private conversations with each other, we had no explanation for what just happened.
We ended up in 1st place that day, and I’ll never forget when a Potholes “veteran” came up to us after awards and said, “man, 2nd place and now a 1st…you guy’s really got this place dialed in.” We both laughed and said thanks. Walking back to the truck, I told Ray, “If they only knew the truth!” Now you do.
Next time: The moral of the story