SEBRING - When Adrian "Louie" Echols was 3, his grandpa and avid fisherman Dan Echols took him fishing at the Kissimmee River.
Louie caught a little bass, less than a pound, but that got him hooked to a growing hobby that has become a passion and has made the now 11-year-old an accomplished angler.
Last month, "Lunker Louie," as he's called affectionately, was recognized by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission for his numerous big catches.
The pint-sized angler, who will be headed to Sebring Middle School next school year and who reels in all his catches with no help, is one of the youngest members of FWC's TrophyCatch Lunker Club, a bass conservation program that recognizes the biggest bass anglers catch and release.
Louie has also bagged three major Big Catch fishing titles, including specialist, master and elite angler awards.
To earn the elite certification, he had to catch qualifying fish from 10 different species; for bass specialist, he had to reel in more than five qualifying largemouth bass.
"It felt really good," he said of the ceremony in Lakeland. He came home with plaques, gifts, gift certificates and a lot of bragging rights.
"Louie is an excellent student, and his passion for fishing and the outdoors is an excellent example for kids getting outdoors and leading healthy lifestyles," said Tom Champeau, director of the FWC's division of freshwater fisheries management, in a prepared statement.
Needless to say, the largemouth bass is Louie's favorite fish to catch, and Dan Echols said he's caught 29 bass so far weighing 8 pounds and more.
Two or three of those were at least 13 pounds.
Louie has caught so many 5- and 6 pounders the two don't even bother keeping track of them any more.
The 11-year-old's biggest catch was a 14-pound bass he caught in a neighborhood pond.
Grandpa and grandson were out fishing in the pond by their home, not expecting to bag anything big.
Then Louie felt a big tug on his fishing rod.
"I got one," he yelled.
Dan Echols thought at first it was a blue gill. Turned out it was a bass, and not just any lunker.
Grandpa held the fish in the water and hollered at Louie to run home and get a camera and his mom.
He must have been gone for a few minutes, Dan Echols recalled, but when he returned, he brought with him a whole crowd of people who came to watch.
Louie didn't fully understand the significance of what he had landed.
After all, he was just 7 then.
"But I knew it was something big," he smiled.
These days, Louie is teaching his grandpa a thing or two about fishing.
Louie has a knack for fishing, and what sets him apart from others is his confidence, his grandpa said.
It's almost like he has a gut instinct of where the big ones are, he explained. If Louie were asked to choose his fishing spots, he'd look close to boat ramps and under lily pads, spots where the fish congregate because of the shade.
While Louie wants to fish all of the 100-plus named lakes in Highlands County, his favorite spot is Lake Josephine, which they call "Lake Heartattack."
Somehow, the fish there like to swim real close to the boat, Dan Echols explained, and then shake the boat real hard when they are about to be reeled in.
"When you are about to pull it in, it almost gives you a heart attack," he added.
When Louie is not reeling in fish, he's painting and sketching them, often from memory, and has become an accomplished fish artist.
All fifth-grade students in Highlands County do a tag art project where they draw and paint something on a car tag their family can buy and hang on their cars.
Dan Echols taught Louie how to draw a barracuda for the car tag, which now goes with grandpa every time he's driving his vehicle.
The 11-year-old also has his own Facebook page, "Fishing the Highlands with Louie" where he posts pictures of his big catches and uses it as a forum to teach other kids fishing.
So far, he's taught about six kids how to fish and wants to teach a few more the joys of the outdoor sport, which he says, is not just a good way to spend time among nature but also away from video games.
A few photos of catches he posted on the Facebook page of "Lunkerville Television," a TV show about "real people and real fish stories" earned him in a spot in their episode, "Louie, Louie."
For the show he went fishing with the show's director Mike de Avila in Highlands County's own backyard.
Louie's also been featured in Field and Stream magazine, Gaff Magazine and in the FWC's Fish Busters' Bulletin.
Those who may have seen a photo on the Highlands County Lake Guide of a kid with a smile bigger than the monster bass he's holding may not realize it's our very own Louie.
He's also on the cover of FWC's 2013-14 Florida Freshwater Fishing Regulations.
In the picture he's wearing a blue shirt, his cap and big smile and holding - you guessed right - a big, largemouth bass.