It’s hard to imagine anyone who has fished Lake D’Arbonne in Farmerville during the last 45 years not stopping by Anderson’s Sports Center to get a bucket of shiners or a box of crickets or worms from Cooter Anderson.
I can’t even remember the first time I did it, but I think it was way back in the hey dey of the Metz Motel and the floating dock at Jakes, when you couldn’t see all the way across the Big Lake for the trees. If that left you scratching your head, ask somebody with gray hair to explain.
I see Cooter about three times a week from January to May to fill up my shiner bucket or bream box and head back to the lake. It’s one of those things at the lake we just take for granted year in and year out. But he and his business are landmarks in Union Parish. While I was getting a pound of minnows last week, it dawned on me that one of the biggest stories in the history of the lake was standing there before me. I’m not even sure what his real first name is. It doesn’t matter at this point. If you called him by it, nobody would know who you were talking about anyway.
Cooter isn’t as spry as he once was and he’s has fought through some tough times lately. But when you walk through the door with an empty minnow bucket, he’s headed for the shiner tank as fast as he can get there. August will mark the end of his 45th year running the store and doing just that.
Here’s a short version of his story. Cooter got into the Sports Center business by accident really. He was working in the oilfield business and jobs were scarce back in those days. He had two choices, go overseas to work or stay in Alaska six months a year in a camp with a bunch of men. Or find something else. He figured there had to be something better than the first choice and he approached the original owners of the store about buying it. They said yes and he jumped right in. He had no business plan, no idea of how to run the business, but just the desire for a job. He got one! It’s kept him more busy than he ever dreamed.
“I didn’t realize it, but the place wasn’t in very good shape,” he recalls. “The cooking oil and meal and groceries were old and they hadn’t been doing near the business I thought. There was a wall full of old H&H spinnerbaits and I realized that they had been there so long the skirts were rotten. We threw just about everything away and started over. The first day we opened in business, I brought in $65 and boy, I thought I had messed up. I was expecting a lot more than that. But it’s been good. It’s been fun.”
I was back in this week for a bucket of crickets and I got Cooter’s tip of the week. I had bought four little bream corks and just dropped them in the cricket box so I wouldn’t lose them. I told him I had to get home and get them out of there, because the crickets would chew on that styrofoam and ruin the corks if they got hungry. He laughed and told me he usually keeps small potatoes cut in half in his giant cricket bin to feed the crickets. Then he gave me the tip of the week.
“I ran out of potatoes a few days back and we had some overripe bananas at the house, so I grabbed them and put them in there. The next day, they were gone,” he said. “Crickets love bananas. I had a fellow tell me that years ago. He said put a banana in your cricket box the night before you go fishing and they’ll eat it. Not only will it keep them plump and juicy, you’ll catch more bream than anybody else. The smell of your banana-stuffed crickets will make the bream go….well, you know… bananas”.
I’m sure that’s the truth because Cooter told me it was. But after 45 years of hanging around fishermen seven days a week, I’ll bet Cooter can tell some fish stories that would make the rest of us feel like amateurs.