Fishing Freshwater Bass Fishing Smallmouth Bass

Tournament Angler Catches Same Record Smallmouth Bass Two Years in a Row

Thomas Russell caught a would-be-record, 9-pound smallmouth during a tournament on Cayuga Lake in New York. He says it’s the same fish he caught in the same tournament last year
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Thomas Russell with his 2023 record bass (left), and what he says is the same fish in 2022 (right). Thomas Russell

Thomas Russell and his long-time fishing partner and cousin Eric Sullivan were targeting smallmouth on Cayuga Lake when they hooked into the biggest smallmouth bass ever caught in New York state. The duo was fishing the Finger Lakes Open team bass tournament and were having a banner day. They already had a limit of five smallmouths in their live well—with several fish over 5 pounds—when Russell spotted a huge bass in Cayuga’s crystal-clear water.

“It was about 2 p.m., and I saw a big fish in just a couple feet of water,” Russell tells Outdoor Life. “I was using a drop-shot rig with a green Berkley Power Bait and cast to it. 

“It took a couple of casts before she took the lure. Then I set the hook, worked her close to the boat, and Ed did a great job scooping it up in the net.”

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The bass was a giant, and the anglers had to cull a 5-pounder to stay within the five-fish limit.

With little time left for fishing, Russell and Sullivan, who are cousins, headed back to the tournament weigh-in site. They had the bass officially certified for the event.

A video of the anglers pulling the fish from their boat’s livewell and weighing them on the tournament’s certified scales has gone viral. The fish are all huge, particularly for smallmouth bass, which generally average about half the size of largemouth bass.

Their five-bass total weight was 33 pounds, 1.2 ounces, which earned them the top place in the tournament and $1,300 in winnings.

The largest bass that Russell caught weighed an astonishing 9 pounds, .6 ounces, potentially setting a new state record for smallmouth bass. More incredible is that the anglers believe the bass is the same fish Russell caught last year on Cayuga Lake in the same tournament. He also used a drop-shot rig to catch the bass last time.

“I know it was the same bass, because there are some unique distinguishing markings, which we point out in the video,” Russell says. “I released that bass last year, which was caught in 10 feet of water about a half-mile from where I caught her this year two feet deep.”

Russell’s bass weighed 8 pounds, 5.8 ounces last year, which helped the team win the tournament. Russell weighed, certified, and entered last year’s smallmouth to set a New York record for the species.

But this year, Russell released the 9-pound, .6-ounce smallmouth, rather than entering it for another New York record.

“I didn’t want to stress that bass any more than necessary, so we released her right after weighing and [taking] a few photos,” explained the 55-year old state employee. “I’m more interested in caring for the fish and releasing her quickly.

“I already hold the state record for smallmouth, and we wanted to get moving to another bass tournament on the St. Lawrence River.

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“Maybe that same smallmouth will be around next year, and we can catch her again, hopefully bigger.”