The sun is a faint glow over the marsh around Lower Dulac, Louisiana, not yet ready to appear and warm the air. The lights along Shrimpers Row on the banks of Kings Bayou are winking in the slow moving dawn behind us and the cool air makes us shiver. The night birds are trading with the grebes and pipers. An alligator makes a small wake as he moves slowly down the bank. You can smell the new day coming.
All around us, the vast Louisiana marsh is coming awake mon cher. Capt. Chris Schouest, the owner of the Crawdaddy, Wade Bourne, fellow outdoor writer and I are going fishing. Kings Bayou is busy with outgoing and incoming shrimp trawlers, moving in and out of Big Lake. The day shift is coming on, the night shift heading to unload. I relish the smell of the air. It has been a long time.
As a boy, I visited the area often. I hunted ducks and fished the brackish water. Much of South Louisiana has changed. Canals are everywhere and the marsh is constantly ravaged by hurricanes. Still, the fishing industry, all of it, is booming. We are fishing for speckled trout, redfish…, and anything else that wants to bite. We have one day before the outdoor writers conference begins in Lake Charles. We will spend most of the day on Big Lake and in the bayous around it.
Captain Schouest is Cajun through and through. He was born and raised in the area and knows what he is doing. We get along famously. He can both pull and take a joke and as it is with me, he doesn’t take himself or life too seriously. I know it is going to be a good day. When we met, his language was just the right amount of colorful and I could understand 95% of what he said. The base language of the area is a form of French. It is not Parisian French, but still, mostly French. It dots conversation even when in English.
Our humble lodging the night before was the luxurious Baymont Inn in Houma, 19-miles north of Dulac. Dinner had been somewhat of an event. We ate at Boudreau and Thibodaux’s. As the name suggests, it serves authentic Cajun food. I ate more in one meal than I had eaten in a week at home.
According to the Lt. Governor, one out of every ten working adults in LA is in some way involved in the tourist industry. I can attest to their professionalism and hospitality. Kelly Gustafson with the Houma Convention and Visitors Bureau saw that every detail of our trip was handled to perfection. It isn’t all about fishing, either.
You could spend two weeks in South Louisiana and enjoy a different and varied trip every day. It is truly a tourist’s paradise. From art galleries and swamp tours to restaurants, antique and flea markets or gulf fishing, there is something for everyone and Houma is a great place to start.
I asked Capt. Schouest about the impact of the famous oil spill on the gulf. His answer was simple and straightforward. “Almost non-existent.” He said. “The next year was some of the very bes shrimping and fishing we ever had. Many of the off shore fishermen, dey just run through the oil to clean water and kept on fishing. Dey all did great cause dey wadn’t no crowd. You have nothing to fear bout eatin dem fish, my fran.”
After 20-minutes of running the bayous in the cold morning wind, we stopped and got down to business. I was casting a jig under a popping cork. We watched for schools of baitfish or shrimp popping the surface. It didn’t take long to see both and we were soon into speckled trout, a delicious fish to eat and blast to catch. When they are really doing their thing, you often catch two at a time on a tandem rig.
I watched as osprey and bald eagles traded airspace with a variety of gulls and herons. The fishing was not red hot but it was steady and the big cooler began to fill with trout, redfish and the occasional sheepshead, a beautiful fish that fights like crazy and is fine table fare, albeit a beast to fillet. For a while, a trio of alligators wanted our popping corks. As the tide changed, water began to run out of the marsh and into the bays, lakes and bayous. That brought fresh food into the brackish water. That attracted schools of sport fish. We fished current coming in. It was steady action.
Too soon, the day was over. As Capt. Chris cleaned the fish, we talked of fishing and shrimping. He has a five-bedroom, five-bathroom lodge, designed for the comfort of his guest’s, right on the bayou. It is a step from his house to his boat. He is a jack-of-all-trades, especially cooking. He caters several large events each year. Food is important in Louisiana.
With our fish fillets iced down, Wade and I returned to Houma to spend the night before driving to Lake Charles the next day. The huge king size bed at the Baymont called but first, we must eat. Supper that night was a true event. We ate at Nancy’s Crab Shack, next door to the Baymont.
We started with two dozen oysters on the half-shell. Then, came a large cup of the best crawfish gumbo I have ever eaten. I settled on an oyster poboy and could not begin to eat it all. But Wade won the prize.
He is quite an eater so he went for the Shack Platter. That consists of 18-fried oysters, 18-shrimp, five pieces of catfish, a mountain of French fries, two soft shell crab, slaw and bread.
It was truly enough food for four people. Or Wade Bourne. But even that could not compare with the menu the next night in Lake Charles.
I’ll tell you all about that in another column. I might even mention that I won both first and second in national competition for outdoor writers. This little hometown paper kicked some high-priced butt in Southwest Louisiana last October.
I have a suggestion. Give some thought to a South Louisiana vacation.
Any of the CVB’s in the area can help you with arrangements and you can contact Capt. Schouest at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or call him at 985/209-4386. You can get all the info you need from Kelly Gufstason by emailing, Kelly.email@example.com.
In Lake Charles, we stayed at the Isle of Capri resort and casino and you cannot go wrong there. Trust me; you can do something different every day. Kids and adults will be entertained.
For Wade and I, the trip was made even better by our transportation. Chevrolet provided us with a brand new loaded Silverado to travel in. It was like riding on a cloud and had every bell and whistle you can think of. Best of all, it got almost 22-mpg. I sure hated to give it back.
I have a suspicion I am going back. I think I want me some more of that hospitality, fishing and of course, the food.
I’ll be writing more about this trip later. One column just does not do it justice.
Contact John L. Sloan at firstname.lastname@example.org