Bassin’ hot streak for Oak Hill fishing team

Sam Rachal, left, and Garrett Hooker consistently catch good-sized bass like the “hawgs” they are holding after a day on the water March 4, 2023, in an LHSBN tournament at Toledo Bend.

Hooker, Rachal finding plenty of wins without forward facing sonar

Last year’s most accomplished Louisiana high school bass fishing team are poster boys in the argument against forward facing sonar sweeping the U.S.

Garrett Hooker of Gardner and Sam Rachal of Elmer, both 17 and Oak Hill High School Fishing Club team members, are riding a hot streak while fishing sans LiveScope, etc. Since their first tournament together in January 2020, they have won nine high school bass club-level tournaments, two Louisiana High School BASS Nation qualifiers and one LHSAA state tournament.

Their captain, Mat Hooker, Garrett’s father, began fishing when he was “little bitty,” then fished competitively before devoting his time to captain Garrett as an eighth-grader and Sam as a seventh-grader in 2020. He’s all in favor of their approach. Together the two high school student/athletes and their captain continue to counter the opinion by many that forward facing sonar is the only way to go.

“I don’t want to hate on LiveScope or anything,” Garrett said. “(But) it takes the fun out of it. It takes away from fishing, the fishing art. I would rather catch them on a frog and a big bass blowing up on it.”

Versatile anglers

As this five-bass limit shows in February 2020, Sam Rachal, left, and Garrett Hooker have clicked as a team since their early days with the Oak Hill High School Fishing Club.

Sam, the son of Joey Rachal and Stephanie Simms, agreed and said, “I would say LiveScope definitely does give you an advantage on seeing the cover and how the fish react to your bait” but without it he believes it makes them better fishermen, more versatile, he said.

“That’s what we really want folks to know, that there are a lot of kids out there (who think), ‘If you’re not scopin’, you’re hopin’. Kids hear that,” Garrett’s dad said, noting many young bass anglers don’t have access to the technology. “We want kids to know you can still do it the old-fashioned way. You can. They have proven they can.”

Garrett, a senior, and Sam, a junior, were on top of their game last year. They reeled in three big wins, including an LHSAA State Championship in January at Toledo Bend, while fishing 12 in-state tournaments big and small. The Rams’ partners won two other big tournaments, plus finishes in the Top 10 eight times.

The two-man team also fished two national tournaments, the High School Fishing National Championship on the Mississippi River at LaCrosse, Wis., and the Bassmaster High School National Championship at Lake Hartwell in South Carolina.

Sweetest results

Not surprisingly, each bass angler’s sweetest result came during state championship competition. For Garrett, it was their LHSAA win last January at Toledo Bend and for Sam, the LHSAA contest in April 2021 when he caught his personal best of 7.12 pounds to anchor a 12th-place showing in a 61-boat field at Cross Lake.

Garrett Hooker, second from right, stands next to his father and the team’s captain, Mat Hooker, while Sam Rachal, second from left, stands by his father, team captain Joey Rachal, March 4, 2023, after winning the LHSBN North Division Qualifier at Toledo Bend.

Garret said their 28-pound, 7-ounce total for the two-day LHSAA state tournament Jan. 21, 2023 was most satisfying because they notched it sans forward facing sonar.

“What we were doing was rippin’ Chatterbaits in about 10-foot of water using a contour map or our 360 to follow the contour lines while everybody else was LiveScoping, playing with fish out deep, and we were fishing pretty shallow at that time and we beat them,” he said., noting the Chatterbaits were green pumpkin with a Z-Man RaZor ShadZ soft plastic trailer. Sam’s 7.12-pounder was the big bass of the two-day LHSAA state tournament on April 17, 2021. It helped their eight-fish total of 20 pounds, 14 ounces.

“It was very shocking,” he said about the bass that inhaled the Chatterbait. “Garrett caught a fish off that cypress tree. I threw back in there and watched him eat it. The rest is history from there. Despite consistent success on Toledo Bend, the OHS bass anglers’ favorite fishin’ holes are different.

Sam is partial to Sibley Lake, where he enjoys tapping the bass population in April. He fished it for the first time with the Hookers in a club tournament.

“I do love Sibley Lake in Natchitoches. It’s a very special lake and a small lake. It’s loaded with fish. It complements my Chatterbait-style of fishing and that helps,” he said, noting he and his dad went last summer and caught many bass, including a 6-pounder that bit his plastic frog. In April, he said, target bass in isolated or big patches of grass with bladed jigs.

Garrett’s favorite waterbody, Cotile Lake, is within minutes of his home and he loves to fish it in April.

“It’s very accessible,” he said. “You can throw frogs, swim jigs, flip. It’s a shallow-water man’s dream this time of year. The ideal depth is 2-foot, 3-foot, grass on the bank, and cypress trees that stick out.”

About Don Shoopman 556 Articles
Don Shoopman fishes for freshwater and saltwater species mostly in and around the Atchafalaya Basin and Vermilion Bay. He moved to the Sportsman’s Paradise in 1976, and he and his wife June live in New Iberia. They have two grown sons.