He’s been fishing the James River since 1959 when he was 5 years old. “My granddaddy raised three families on this river,” James “Cowboy” Smith boasts from his chair on Mayo Bridge while watching three lines in the water.
"When I was a kid, you could pull three- and four-pound brown bass out of this river all day long," he recalls. "Whole species of fish are gone. This river used to be full of walleyes. Largemouth bass and sturgeon, too."
These days it’s likely to be catfish. "Best catfishing is at night between the high tide and the falling tide. Catfish are great in this river at night, especially from this bridge."
Smith is also catching herring, striper, white perch and shad, but he’s not willing to eat them year round. "I’ll eat what I catch from February to about the middle or, if you want to take a chance, the end of May. That’s it."
But Cowboy plans accordingly. "I’ve taken about 800 pounds of catfish out of this river in the past three weeks. My sister’s got fish, my grandma’s got fish, my auntie’s got fish. Everybody in the family has fish. I got about another month to do what I do. I’m the fisherman in the family."