When Colby Cotterill competed in the 2019 Bassmaster Central Open at Toledo Bend last February, it was his first tournament after a five-year hiatus. It didn’t take him long to get back into his fishing groove. With three Central Opens now in the record books, Cotterill holds sixth place in the Central Angler of the Year standings.
A good finish in the final Central Open at Grand Lake in Oklahoma will vault the 29-year-old angler into the top five in the AOY, which earns an invitation to join the Bassmaster Elite Series.
“I want to fish with the top anglers in the Elite Series,” Cotterill said. “To me, that’s as high as it goes.”
Born and raised in Lakeland, Fla., Cotterill fished tournaments at every opportunity until he took a job in Houston, Texas, in 2014. Eighty-hour workweeks with an apartment construction company left no time for tournaments. The coup de grace was the day a drunk driver totaled his boat.
Over the next five years Cotterill focused on his job and only fished occasionally for recreation. But he felt that something essential to his existence was absent.
“I missed bass tournaments,” Cotterill said. “I needed to get back in touch with an old friend.”
At age 4 Cotterill was a regular fixture in grandpa John Cotterill’s 17-foot aluminum johnboat. They would launch the boat in central Florida phosphate pits and catch heavyweight largemouth on wild shiners.
“Wild shiners keep a kid interested,” Cotterill said. “If things were slow I’d play with them in the bait bucket.”
Grandpa John was retired and maintained a popular weekly Saturday morning fishing show, Let’s go fishing with Johnny Cotterill. Cotterill was a guest many times while growing up. He did a fishing report for the show while attending Polk State College in Lakeland, Fla., where he graduated with a degree in business administration.
Around age 9 Cotterill began fishing with soft plastic baits, which put him on the never-ending road to mastering artificial lures. An annual kids derby in Lakeland, Fla., provided Cotterill’s first taste of competitive fishing.
“Hundreds of people would be there with volunteers handing out free redworms,” Cotterill said. “There were prizes for the biggest bluegill, the biggest catfish and other things.”
In his early teens, Cotterill participated in Casting Kids contests. True bass tournament competition began at age 15 when he took part in Junior Bassmaster events in association with the Lakeland Bassmasters. The senior members of the club would take two youngsters out in their boat during the junior events.
“I was one of the charter members of the Lakeland Junior Bassmasters,” Cotterill said. “I got to fish with a lot of different people who would teach us how to catch bass.”
Cotterill was a quick study, winning two Junior Bassmaster Florida state tournaments, which earned him berths to the 2005 and 2006 Junior Bassmaster Classic. He also won a state championship with the FLW junior format.
At 16 Cotterill fished his first money tournament as a co-angler, which was on the Kissimmee Chain. It was his first experience rocketing over the water at 70 mph. To say he liked it is an understatement. He also fished a few BFL events as a co-angler that year.
After graduating from high school, Cotterill’s graduation gift from his parents was a second-hand 20-foot Ranger. He used the boat to fish club tournaments with the Lakeland Bassmasters and the Winter Haven Lunker Lovers.
“I learned a great deal from a lot of big sticks in those clubs,” Cotterill said. “We traveled to many different playing fields. That gets your mind working and makes you a more rounded fisherman.”
While fishing with the clubs, Cotterill qualified to compete on Florida state teams for Bassmaster and FLW regionals. He also competed in a host of other local tournaments during this period.
“If I had a hundred bucks in my pocket, I’d go fish a tournament,” Cotterill said. “It’s an addiction that kept me out of trouble.”
Now that he’s back in the tournament groove, Cotterill looks forward to years of doing what he loves best.
“You meet a lot of good people in this sport,” he said. “I like the industry and see a place for me in it.”