James Cowie fishes a lot. He catches a lot of fish. But he never, ever hooked a fish like the one he caught recently at Dunbar’s Anderson Lake.
“It was just a brute of a trout,” said Cowie, as he described the big rainbow. “It was, by far, the biggest one I’ve ever landed.”
What makes Cowie’s fish even more remarkable is that he caught it while fishing from a wheelchair.
“I hadn’t intended to fish that day,” said Cowie, who lives in Charleston. “I had to go to Nitro to get my car’s wheelchair lift fixed, and on the way back home I decided to stop by the lake to see if anyone was fishing.”
A handful of people were, and they had good news for Cowie.
“They said the stock truck had been there,” he recalled. “The crew had put the fish in near the handicap dock, and the people there made sure I had room to get my wheelchair onto the dock.”
Like many paraplegics, Cowie has to equip himself properly for winter weather so his lower extremities don’t get too cold.
“I hadn’t planned to fish, so I wasn’t dressed for it,” he said. “I was just wearing jeans. There was no way I could stay there all day, like I sometimes do, but I figured I would be OK for a couple of hours.”
The other anglers, who were there when the stocking truck ran, couldn’t stop talking about a “supertrout” the hatchery crew had tossed into the lake.
“Everyone there was hoping to get that big one to bite,” Cowie said.
As time slipped by, Cowie hooked and lost four smaller trout.
“I was using salmon eggs, [Berkley] PowerBait and pieces of nightcrawler,” he said. “Toward the end, I decided to try some Salmon/Peach PowerBait with a little bit of nightcrawler.
“I had decided to head home. I threw out one last time, and danged if I didn’t hook into the big one.”
The fish took off, stripping yards of line from Cowie’s reel.
“I use 2-pound test line, so I couldn’t put a lot of pressure on the fish,” he said. “It took me on a grand tour of that lake. I was glad I had a full spool of line.”
The fish’s first run, along the lake’s dam and into the deepest part, played into Cowie’s hands.
“There wasn’t a lot the fish could hang me up on over there, so I figured I had a chance,” he said.
Later in the fight, the big trout took Cowie’s thin, straining line toward the trunk of a sycamore tree hard by the shoreline.
“One of the fellows there bailed me out by putting his hand between the line and the bark to keep the line from fraying on the bark,” Cowie said.
The fish eventually tired, and one of the other anglers netted it.
“It was 26 inches long, and it weighed close to 11 pounds,” Cowie said. “The picture doesn’t really do it justice because it doesn’t show how thick it was. The girth on it was ungodly.”
After a quick photo or two, Cowie did something not many anglers would do. He released the huge rainbow back into the lake.
“I take a lot of kids and disabled veterans fishing up there,” he explained. “I’m hoping one of them will have a chance to catch it like I did.
“Oh, sure, I would have liked to have dragged it around, showed it to my friends, gotten a Trophy Fish Citation for it. But if I had, no one else would have had a chance to catch it. This way, they do.”