Case Study: Potholes Reservoir – An Introduction

This is the first in a new series about how a body of water can be a testing ground or a case study for development of some bass fishing skills that can be applied anyplace, anytime.

So what exactly is a case study?

a particular instance of something used or analyzed in order to illustrate a thesis or principle.

Potholes is that place, unique on many levels, that can be used to show a bigger concept(s).  Concepts that can be applied in situations all over the world.  So whether or not you have or ever will fish Potholes (you really should), you can learn how to better yourself as an angler just by following along with my experiences at Potholes.

Let me start at the beginning.

I believe it was 1999.  I remember some discussion about handheld GPS’s being affected by the impending Y2K bug.  Ray was kind enough to show me Potholes.  I had never been before, but had heard lots about it.  Along with names of areas I would never know.  “Spinnerbait Alley”, “The Pig Pen” (I think every lake or river has a place called the “pig pen”), and a few others I’ve forgotten, because again, I didn’t know where the hell they were.  At any rate, Ray gave me all the details, told lots of stories and we even caught a few fish.  I had never before, or since, been to a place where you felt lost and overwhelmed and that any cast from where you were standing could be the right one – at the same time.  My senses were on overload.  The “eye-candy” was too much.

“Eye Candy”…Easy to get distracted

When we first arrived to fishing stop #1 on that day, I stood up and looked around. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you which direction was which and I certainly wouldn’t have been able to get us back to the ramp if I had to.  I was in love.  The challenges were overflowing as was the possibilities.  Ray talked of “beaver huts” and “bottlenecks” and we focused most of the day on these two things.  A bottleneck was where a willow line coming off of one dune, ran up to and almost into the willows coming off another dune.  Usually there was a road, or a beaver run that caused this alley way, but it would take years for me to grasp that.

With our 2 or 3 fish outing, Ray said it was “a good day”, that Potholes had been fishing tough in recent years.  I was satisfied with that, but still in awe of the surroundings.  Ray talked about some “old timers” that knew where all the beaver huts were and where the channels ran.  He even mentioned a guy who had compiled a notebook with pictures and notes of all the beaver huts at Potholes.  I didn’t know how many that was, but wow, that still seemed impressive.  Ray said guys that come up in the fall and winter and duck hunted also know where all this stuff was because the water was low then and you could see it.  That would be cool.  I had always thought at many different places that it would be awesome to just be able to drain all the water, take note of where everything was and then fill it back up.  But then Ray said it was hard to get around back in the flooded dunes in the fall because the water was low and the dunes not so flooded.  He said an “air boat” was the way to go.  As in the ones I had seen on TV, running around some swamps down south.

Over the Years

Ray with a Potholes good’un

Ray and I had lots of other good days at Potholes over the next 15 years or so.  Mostly him showing me the ropes and then eventually me starting to figure things out on my own.  I wouldn’t want to guess how many hours or days were spent over those 15 years, but a bunch no doubt.

Over that time period, a funny thing happened between me and Potholes.  A kind of tortured relationship developed where I would alternate trips feeling like I had totally figured her out and then the next trip would leave me humbled and depressed.  I would drive back thinking, “I’m never coming back” and then after the next trip, would do pretty well (or at least better) and think to myself, “I’ve got this place dialed in”.

Only I never dialed anything in.  I simply got lucky some days and unlucky others.  Sure, I suppose there was some fishing skills and intuition going on.  But, I couldn’t tell you what it was.  I could lie, and make a few things up.  Looking back on it, I would do the dumbest things there.  Things I would never do on any other body of water.  I was like the guy on the old “In Fisherman” commercial, saying “That spot looks good” or “let’s try over there.”

Now, before I go on, I realize that what I’m describing is simply how some people go fishing.  You go out, and try to cast your way to success in areas that “look good”.  If you do good, you try and remember that do good spot and look for other spots that now looked good because they looked like the do good spot!  All along, changing lures from one that looked good, to another that you liked the looks of.  Maybe I just described the fishing lives of most, but I had always thought I could analyze a body of water beyond the obvious and in my mind’s eye, I tried to build an image of what was where.  Only, at Potholes, I had trouble doing that.  At least when it came to the sand dunes.  Sure, along the rip rap of the dam or the rock islands along the dam, yeah, that made more sense.  But once I got back in the dunes, it was an accomplishment just being able to return to one of those spots I did good on before.


GPS changed all of that.  In truth, I’ve never really fished Potholes without it.  In the early days of my handheld GPS, I struggled to read it, or trust it.  The first tournament I ever fished at Potholes, I didn’t have any “spots” marked on my GPS, so I just made my way back into the dunes until I was sufficiently lost and then started fishing, with my patented “this looks good”, “that looks good”, “I bet they like this color” approach.  Problem is, (didn’t seem like a problem at the time, but later turned out to be a problem) I wouldn’t have been able to make it back in time for weigh in if it wasn’t for that handheld GPS showing me the track I had laid coming in.

Only the deer know where they are

Today, GPS has grown up and matured some.  Nowhere is it more of an essential tool than it is at Potholes.  But it has taken a lot of tweaking and fine tuning on my part to understand how to use it.  In the early days, it was all about marking beaver huts.  Of course, I only knew where a handful were, mostly thanks to Ray.  He admitted that none of the ones he knew about were any kind of secret.  Since we didn’t have the notebook that was rumored to be out there, we were relegated to 6-8 “community” huts.  Of course, I understood nothing about beaver huts, other than they were a pile of sticks and some people caught bass off of them.  I’m pretty sure I went a couple years before I caught a bass off of one.

On many beaver huts, this is all the clues you get

Eventually, I gathered quite a collection of beaver huts and other locations where I had caught fish.  I had a collection of “blue dots” and that was about the extent of my knowledge.  Most of the huts I knew about, so did others, so all in all, I didn’t really feel like I was learning a lot and was still going through that “love-hate” relationship I had with Potholes.  As I was to learn, there is a whole lot more to fishing than running around after those blue dots on the screen.

Part 2:  Potholes – New lure testing grounds

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  1. Looking forward to the next installment. Potholes can make you feel like you know everything only to turn around and remind you that you dont.

  2. These articles are full of useful information! Thanks for creating such a cool website.
    It’s filled the void in my life lost after nwcn went off the air.