Gillard finally lands first lunker, wins Big Bass honors
John Gillard has been hooked on bass fishing since he was just a kid, making trips up to Toledo Bend with his dad when he was only 10 years old.
“The lake was still filling up in 1967-68 when he used to bring me up here,” said Gillard, who turns 66 next month. Retired, the Lake Charles resident actually lives up on Toledo Bend now.
But with more than 55 years of fishing under his belt, and a few close calls along the way, a double-digit bass had always eluded him — until his number finally came up this past Saturday, April 27, when he and tourney partner Randy Pennington were in the San Miguel area during the Toledo Bend Oilman’s Classic.
It was getting close to weigh-in time, and the anglers were focused on a big bedding female in just a couple feet of water.
“She was almost like in a trance,” Gillard said. “I know it sounds weird, but it was almost like she was trying to stand on her head, because her tail would almost come out of the water. She was fanning, kind of moving around like that.”
The water wasn’t really clear, and Gillard actually noticed the lateral lines of another big bass, not 10 feet from the boat. He thought the second fish was about a 5-pounder, and started throwing his blueberry Texas-rigged Zoom lizard its way.
“I could tell when she’d spin around real fast that I was upsetting her,” he said.
About 2:30, Pennington said it was about time to head for the scales.
“I said, ‘Let me try to mess with her one more time.’ So I tossed it over there and drug it about where I thought her head was, and I could see her swimming off real slow and then I could see my line moving off slow.
“Podnah, when I set the hook, all hell broke loose.”
But landing his first lunker didn’t prove easy — the big bass took off for the buck brush, which provided for some tense moments before getting it into the boat.
“She was around some bushes, and I was fighting the trolling motor trying to hurry up and get in there,” Gillard said. “She was sawing the line in the buck brush, but I finally got the boat over there close enough and was able to turn her head and get her coming back to the boat.”
Pennington netted the big bass, but Gillard didn’t realize then that his 55-year pursuit of a double-digit fish was about to come to an end.
“I’ve caught a lot of 8-pounders, and any big fish I catch seems to be 8 pounds, so I was thinking 8 pounds again,” he said. “But (Randy) has caught two 10s, and he said, ‘You finally got your 10.’”
On non-certified tourney scales, the big bass weighed-in at 10.77 pounds, good enough for Big Bass honors for Gillard, first place for Saturday and a 7th-place overall finish for he and Pennington.
At Toledo Town and Tackle’s certified scales, the big bass officially weighed 10.98 pounds, and measured 25 ½ inches with a 19 ¾-inch girth, easily qualifying Gillard for entry into the Toledo Bend Lunker Bass Program, which awards anglers who catch and release double-digit fish with a complimentary mount.
“The way it all happened was so unbelievable… In a million years I’d have never thought anything like that would have ever happened,” Gillard said. “It was just meant to be.”