When Capt. Rod Thomas of Capt. Ponytail Guide Service was asked to take a terminally ill 12-year-old from western North Carolina on a fishing trip, he jumped at the chance. 

Thomas heard about Howell Brown, a cancer patient at Duke Children’s Hospital, from another kid he had taken fishing through the Dream Hunting and Fishing Program. Thomas did that trip back in the spring on the Roanoke River, and the young angler from that day got to know Brown through the hospital.

After hearing his friend’s story of catching the biggest fish of his life, Brown decided he wanted a similar experience, and told family friend and hospital volunteer Steven Finney of Garner about his wish. Finney and Thomas made a plan.

Thomas follows the hottest biting fish throughout the Carolinas, so he fishes different areas throughout the year. He knows the migration routes and what months the hottest biting fish will be in a certain area. So if you ever fish with Capt. Ponytail, your chance of catching the fish of a lifetime are very high. And Brown wanted to do just that.

With the bull redfish on fire for the past several weeks around the Georgetown (S.C.) jetties, Finney and his son drove Brown and his mom, Sue Brown, more than four hours to meet Thomas last Friday. 

After braving the ride through Winyah Bay, Brown, who has spent about four years at Duke Children’s Hospital undergoing cancer treatment, was ready to catch a fish. Thomas put out several lines with big pieces of cut bait on them, and before long, one of the rods began bouncing. Brown reeled in a small shark, but was still eager to catch one of the big old drum Thomas had spoken of.

Another rod bent over, and this time, Brown reeled in a huge bull redfish, which definitely qualified as the fish of a lifetime. The 45-inch redfish peeled line off the reel, but Brown continued reeling, and before long, Thomas pulled the fish aboard for Brown to see. His eyes lit up, knowing that he’d just caught such a huge fish. After a quick photo, Thomas released the fish, but by then another rod was bouncing. Brown wanted someone else to experience the fish this time, so his friend Colin Finney, Steven Finney’s son, began reeling this one in.

With one fight going on, another rod doubled over. Steven Finney reeled this one in, and as he and his son switched positions in the boat, making sure their fish didn’t tangle their lines, Brown watched with as much excitement as he’d had while reeling in his own fish. Finally, both fish were landed, and Brown took note of how different each fish looked, with one having more than one spot on its tail, and one – Colin Finney’s, quite larger than the other.

After a short lull in the action, in which Brown watched a number of dolphins playing nearby, another rod doubled, and when Thomas asked who was going to reel this one in, Brown’s face broke into a big smile when someone suggested Sue Brown fight this one. Thomas handed her the rod, and before long, another bull redfish was in the boat. Howell Brown couldn’t have been happier.

“Look mom, look at that fish you helped catch. You helped reel in that fish!” he said, pointing at the big fish as Thomas removed the hook and readied it for release.

Sue and Howell Brown thanked Thomas many times, and once they and the Finneys were back on the road, Thomas quietly said it never fails that he feels he always gets more out of these trips than he gives, and said he is fortunate to have the opportunity to meet so many great people and help put them on their fish of a lifetime.

If you’d like more information on, to donate to, or know a kid who can benefit from the Dream Hunting and Fishing Program, click here. And if you’re ready to tussle with your fish of a lifetime, book a trip with Capt. Ponytail.