Published Wednesday, June 13, 2012
GAINESVILLE, Ga. — On Highway 53, the road to Dawsonville, only a half dozen miles north of the chicken capital of the world is a place called Harbour Point. Must have driven by it scores of times over the years without knowing what lay beyond the entry gate.
Nestled into the neighborhood of million-dollar homes overlooking Lake Lanier is a marina, which is where one of the most accomplished of fisherman, Henry Cowen, hangs out.
Henry’s fishing credentials as one of the nation’s top anglers are secure, but his story — where he was born, how he became an expert fisherman, and why he wound up in Georgia — is as fascinating as it is to see him deftly cast a fly rod on North Georgia’s largest lake. He can adroitly toss a seductive fly 70 plus feet, dropping it in a space no larger than a saucer.
This is a man who grew up in a crowded 16-story apartment building in Brooklyn, N.Y., and became a striper fishing addict. Henry is always punctuating his conversations with little vignettes which reveal he is knowledgeable and insightful, full of fun facts -- a seasoned conversationalist non-pareil. As he whipped his fly rod about with the aplomb of a sweet-swinging Sam Snead lacing a one iron to a tiny green, he revealed little-known fishing facts.
“You know,” he smiled, “the most stripers are in the Chesapeake Bay, and the second most you will find in the Hudson River.”
Although Henry had a serious bent for basketball growing up in Brooklyn, fishing trumped all sports. He had a paper route like countless kids across the country and saved money with an exemplary due diligence that would have made Ben Franklin smile.
All the while, he kept his eye on a new fishing rod and knew that one day he would go for the big prize — an Evinrude 9.9 portable motor.
If you had known him in those days, you would have seen him frequenting the Brooklyn docks with a fishing rod in the rod holder of his bicycle, as he pedaled to his Shangri-La. Most of us wouldn’t consider Brooklyn in that light, but Henry Cowen’s story is a reminder that life in the big city has its redeeming elements. Where you are born can be irrelevant when it comes to experiencing fulfillment and happiness.
“Brooklyn,” he said, “is surrounded by water, and where there is water, there will be fish.”
Later in the afternoon, following time on the lake, he got out his laptop and proudly brought to the screen images of Montauk Point, the furthermost Eastern point of Long Island. His eyes danced with elation and reverence when he recalled the days of his youth when he fished this well-known landmark.
If there were rankings, Henry would be among the top 25 fly-tying craftsmen in the country. Check out the popular fly-fishing catalogues and you will find his “Cowen’s magnum baitfish,” “Bonefish scampi,” and “Cowen’s Coyote” flies, three of the most popular among fly fishermen. When manufacturers host exhibitions, they invite Henry to lecture and demonstrate.
On alighting from Brooklyn and taking up residency in North Georgia — only romance could bring that about.
His wife, Tina, who had grown up in Kentucky, was based in Queens with American Airlines. She became homesick for space and the outdoors. They moved up and down the East Coast and never found a geographical fit — that’s when she suggested that they give Atlanta a second look.
“Good,” he said, “but there is one thing missing — the ocean.”
She countered that there had to be plenty of lakes. A salt-water angler at heart, Henry reluctantly said he would give it a try.
Soon enough, he experienced an outdoor makeover — he became a passionate lake fisherman. He is still active with his day job, traveling on business (marketing of little girls’ dresses by Pastourelle Design) multiple days out of the year, but has time for 200 fishing days. Not only did he find an abundance of stripers on Lake Lanier, he gained the greatest of bonuses -- marital bliss.