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Lunker bass

John Wurtsbaught of Mattoon caught this 11.71 pound bass during the Don Sanders/Bill Harkins Four Man Tournament Sunday. It was the largest bass in the 51-year history of the tournament. The fish pushed Wurtsbaught and his team into first place.

CARTERVILLE — When John Wurtsbaught of Mattoon stepped into his boat Sunday morning, he harbored no illusions about winning the Don Sanders/Bill Harkins Four Man Tournament at Crab Orchard Lake.

And, he had good reason

Wurtsbaught and his teammates, Todd Gossard, Rob King and Todd Holsapple sat in 13th place, nearly 15 pounds off the lead.

“I told Todd, I drove my car here, I’m going to go home at noon if we don’t have any fish,” he said.

That all changed mid-morning when Wurtsbaught made up nearly 12 pounds on one cast. He hooked and landed a massive 11.71-pound fish. The fish was the largest bass ever brought to the scales in the 51-year history of the tournament.

“Mid-morning we were just fishing the normal stuff we had been fishing,” Wurtsbaught said. “Then we caught two fish right in a row, about 30 yards apart, a six-pounder and a 12-pounder. It was riprap and some laydowns, kind of a junk area.”

The two big fish were caught on shallow running crawdad-colored crankbaits.

Wurtsbaught and his partner Todd Gossard caught a five-fish limit Sunday, tipping the scales at more than 27 pounds. That gave them a two-day weight of 49.81 pounds, giving them the narrowest of victories.

It was the first time Wurtsbaught had ever fished the Four-Man Tournament, the first time he had ever fished Crab Orchard. And, the 11.71-pound fish was the largest bass he had ever caught.

“I’ll sure be back now,” he said. “There was no way we thought we’d win. There were people bringing in 17-pound bags (Saturday) and we only had a small bag. We’re real happy.”

First place paid $3,600.

The second-place team of Danny Clark, Don Arvai, Matt Swalls and Mark Jelley finished with 49.80 pounds.

“It’s so hard to win this thing, then to lose by one-hundreth of a pound … that’s almost like a drop of water,” said Arvai. “And, then to get beat by a record fish, 11-something. That’s just nuts. That’s crazy.”

Obviously, Wurtsbaught won big bass honors. And, he and Gossard also won big stringer for the tournament. Their two-day total was 35.09.

The team of Tom Burns, Tommy Burns, Mike and Trevor McKinney, Saturday’s first round leaders, finished third. Their two-day total was 39.17.

Taking fourth with 38.87 pounds was the team of Lonnie Sadler, Charlie Glidewell, Darren and Hayden Snyder.

Also cashing in was the fifth-place team of Jim Norman, Jack Tates, Dale Dopp and Tim Murphy.

The tournament also netted $1,100 for the Williamson County Shrine Club.


On Twitter: @LesWinkeler​


Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

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