Late-afternoon invite turns into surprise Cotile Lake lunker

On the evening of May 14, Taylor Gardner, 17, of Elmer caught this 11-pound, 7-ounce bass on Cotile Lake while fishing with his friend, Garrett Hooker.

You can bet that anytime Garrett Hooker of Elmer gives classmate Taylor Gardner a call to invite him fishing, he’ll never get turned down.

“I only fish with Garrett,” said Gardner, 17, who recently graduated with Hooker from Oak Hill High School in his hometown. “I told him I’ll never say no to fishing with him.”

Especially not after last Tuesday. Hooker, a member of his school’s bass-fishing team, got hold of his buddy around 4:30, planning for a little fishing.

“He texted me at 4:30 and wanted to meet me at Cotile Lake at 5 to go fishing,” said Gardner, who admitted he’d never caught a bass worth having a photograph taken with. “I dropped what I was doing and met him.

“We joke that Garrett can catch fish in a desert. We were in his boat, using all of his stuff.”

An hour and two small fish later, Gardner was fishing one of Hooker’s rods – a baitcasting outfit loaded with braided line, tied to a Berkley Choppo, a topwater bait akin to a Whopper Plopper – over a grass flat, when he thought he got hung up on a stump. He saw or felt no strike from a fish, but when his line “started to swim to the left” he figured he had hooked his third small bass of the day – the other two 1-pound fish having fooled him by wrapping up in huge wads of grass after being hooked.

A big surprise

A few seconds later, when the fish jumped completely out of the water, Gardner realized that he’d misjudged his opponent. That small fish wound up being an 11-pound, 7-ounce giant, not exactly the kind that 1,775-acre Cotile, in Rapides Parish near Boyce, is famous for.

“I figured it was another small fish with its head buried in the grass until it jumped about 12 feet from the boat,” he said. “I kept reeling, and it tried to go under the boat. When I pulled her out, she sort of gave up. She barely fit in the net. She was hooked with one hook in the edge of her mouth.

“We went ballistic. If anybody had seen us, they’d have thought something was wrong.”

Hooker called his father, Matthew Hooker, to ask what to do. Hooker and Gardner were fishing in Hooker’s aluminum jon boat, powered by a trolling motor with a front casting deck made from plywood, with no livewell in which to tuck the big bass.

“Garrett called his dad and told him, and he told us to hold it in the water until he could get there,” Gardner said. “I called my dad and asked, ‘What would I do with a lake-record fish?’ He said, ‘You don’t have to worry about that.’ But then Garrett got the phone and said, ‘Mr. Kenny, he did, he did.’”

Keeping the bass alive

Gardner and Hooker spent the next 45 minutes on their knees, holding the big bass in the water, until Hooker’s father arrived in his bass boat. They transferred the bass to the livewell, then weighed and measured it. On Garrett Hooker’s portable scales, the fish first weighed 11 pounds, then 11 pounds, 5 ounces. On Matthew Hooker’s scales, he weighed 11-7. The fish was 27 inches long and 20 inches in girth. After a boatload of photos and a video, the fish was released alive.

“We were fishing a big, open area with a lot of grass,” Gardner explained. “The day before there had been a big rain that had flooded, so there was a foot of water on top of the grass. Garett was going back and forth between a buzzbait and a Whopper Plopper.”

Gardner said the fish must have just sucked his bait down, like a bream sipping a mayfly off the water, because he never saw or felt the strike.

“When the fish jumped all the way out of the water, we started freaking out,” he said.

Within a few days, Gardner had become a local celebrity. He was in Academy Sports & Outdoors one day when a man recognized him.

According to Gardner, the man said, “Bet you’re hooked now.”