James McDougal battled a spotted bass for 1 1/2 hours before finally reeling it in on Thursday.
The feisty fish had twice eaten half the bait on his lure, as if to toy with him.
“I might have to visit my psychiatrist again,” McDougal joked to Lee Whitworth of Charlotte, who piloted him onto Lake Norman for a full day of fishing for spotted and large mouth bass.
McDougal is a 59-year-old former Army sergeant who drove to the lake this week from his home in Fayetteville. He had been under psychiatric care for years from his time in the military, he said.
He hasn’t needed to see a psychiatrist or take medication for three years, however, since attending his first fishing outing with fellow veterans through Operation North State, a nonprofit, all-volunteer military support group.
The organization’s Third Annual Lake Norman Top Shelf Fishin’ Festival on Thursday drew about 65 “wounded warriors” and disabled veterans from across North Carolina, including from the Fort Bragg Wounded Warriors Transition Battalion, Camp Lejeune’s Wounded Warriors Regiment and VA medical centers from around the state. A few came from other states, including South Carolina and Virginia.
Thursday’s event provided camaraderie with fellow veterans, in a tranquil setting where they could relax.
“This is my therapy, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” McDougal said.
The Top Shelf Fishin’ schedule expanded to eight fisheries across the state this year. “There is nothing else like this schedule in the country – eight venues to treat these special Americans to a great day on the water,” said Operation North State founder Terry Snyder, who grew up in the Reedy Creek section of Lake Norman.
Ronald Graham and his boat host, Carson Cochran, 17, of Denver, N.C., caught 15 to 20 fish in just the first hour. “That’s what I was looking for, Baby Jaws,” Graham told Cochran after catching a 2 1/4-pound spotted bass. He and Cochran placed second overall in total pounds of fish caught.
“It’s for the fellowship, to be with my brothers and sisters,” said Graham, 53, a Marine sergeant who served from 1981 to 1991 and saw combat in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm. The day gives him a chance “to enjoy life and be appreciative of America,” he said.