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Angler meets challenges of catching big bass

By By Otha Barham/The Meridian Star
July 20, 2001
Mrs. Leola Cowart is a bass angler of unusual skill and dedication. She fishes for relaxation and the thrill of a strong fish on her line. And she has battled and landed some exceptionally strong ones, witness three impressive trophy fish on her wall, each of which would satisfy most bass fishermen as their fish of a lifetime.
Her mounts consist of an 8 pounder, a 10 pounder and a monster fish that weighed 11 pounds. The least of these trophy bass bit a small chartreuse and pink Bandit crankbait. The fish wrapped Cowart's line around a stump. She kept a tight line and the fish swam away from the stump and she finally dragged it ashore. Much of her fishing is from banks and shorelines in small to medium size farm ponds and lakes.
The 10 pound fish was fooled by a 6-inch black flecked worm, the plastic worm being her favorite lure for big bass. She was fishing from a boat and made her cast beneath a submerged pine log. When she hooked the lunker, she pulled straight up and the fish surfaced before he realized he was hooked. Cowart saw a syrup-bucket size mouth emerge and she grabbed the fish's jaw and lifted it into the boat before it could build momentum. It was a quick catch.
Her biggest bass took a 6-inch red curl-tail redbug worm. She also landed this fish while casting from the bank. The skilled angler detects bass strikes by touching her index finger to the line ahead of the reel.
It's in the book
Being somewhat of a record keeper, Mrs. Cowart's log shows that she caught 369 bass in 1997, 418 in 1998, 411 in 1999 and 446 in 2000. Illness and surgery have reduced her days on the water in 2001 and thus far she has only landed 134 bass – far more than most of us catch in a good year. She caught 2 bass last Friday while still on pain medication for surgery that same week!
The lady worked for 36 years as a registered nurse at the VA Hospital in Jackson. She and her husband, Soil Conservation Service retiree Dennis Cowart, moved to Meridian after retirement. Their daughter, Dr. Mary Ann Cowart, lives in Meridian. Leola fished often in the Jackson area on many bodies of bass water including some on cattle ranches in Hinds and Madison counties, ranching being her husband's former hobby and sideline occupation. She was a member of Jackson's Magnolia Lady Bass Club, where competition enabled her to learn even more about bassing.
She has been a member of Bassmasters since 1983 and enjoys learning from articles in their magazine. Her early fishing experiences came from creek bank trips near her childhood home at Tremont, Mississippi. "We would go to a creek in Itawamba County in a wagon and camp out and fish," she revealed. Later a cousin encouraged her to fish as a respite from her job.
Cowart has had her share of hair-raising experiences on fishing outings. She once fell into deep water and struggled to pull herself ashore by grasping onto weeds. On another occasion she had to get help to remove a large snake she had hooked with her lure.
Tackle Choices
Bass anglers might be surprised by Leola Cowart's tackle. "I like a 5 1/2 foot medium action rod, closed face reels and 10 to 12 pound line," she reveals. "I sometimes use 14 pound line in brushy water, but it is harder to cast." Her favorite reel is the time-proven Zebco 33. But she has used successfully reels made by Johnson and Shakespeare.
Cowart hooked her biggest bass oddly enough while taking a break and fishing for crappie with live minnows and a pole. "The bass skimmed across the top of the water chasing the minnow," she relates. "I got a good look at it, and it looked twice as big as my biggest trophy," she said seriously. The fish continued the run after grabbing the minnow. The thin crappie hook held, but the line broke without her ever turning the fish. Cowart believes the fish would approach 20 pounds. "I have been back there several times hoping to hang him and hold on," she said.
The master angler volunteers her nursing services with the Red Cross as a disaster nurse, and has responded to disasters in several states, including Florida, New Jersey, New York and Texas. Her most recent local work was for 15 days following the tornado disaster at Dalewood and Russell. Her husband, Dennis, works in mass care (food service) at the disaster sights.
She asserts that she might be satisfied "when I catch the state record bass." But one gets the feeling she would not retire from her beloved sport even if she held the state record. Her non-fishing husband remarked, " Nobody but the good Lord knows how much that woman loves to fish!"