The 70th Annual LOWA conference was held this past weekend in Morgan City, LA, a stop along the Cajun Coast. I arrived Thursday afternoon and checked into the hotel after riding around to a couple of familiar places, like the Adele Swamp, which I had stumbled upon during my birthday jaunt in 2014 where the blue heron did its “shadow dance“. I also wanted to see where the boat landing was located from which we would be departing on our fishing trip the next morning. As convenience would have it, the landing is located at the intersection of where I turn to go to the Adele Swamp. Well, that made things easy!
This time as I ventured into the Adele Swamp, (part of the Atchafalaya backwaters off of Belle River), there was not one sign of a bird. It has been so hot here the past week, with heat indexes above 100, that I fear the poor birds must have all cooked right on their nests. Disappointed, I returned to eat some supper and get to bed early in preparation to arise at 4:30 the next morning to go fishing.
Friday morning, I woke to my cell phone alarm and realized that after I had gone to sleep the night before, someone had sent me a text which read, “Meet in lobby at 5 a.m.”. FIVE AM? Are you kidding? The itinerary said 5:30, and it takes me about an hour to wake up, get coffee, do the morning routine, and slather on sunscreen. So, I jumped out of bed and rushed to the little coffee pot, which fortunately I had set up the night before, only to find that it would not turn on. Frantically, I found another plug and pressed the on-off switch several times before it worked. Then, the water dripped through at the speed of molasses, throwing my whole morning routine out of whack.
By the time I finished dressing, the coffee was NOT yet finished dripping. Good grief! Don’t mess with my morning coffee. The coffee finally finished about the time I needed to walk out the door. As I stirred my coffee, I received another text asking, “Where y’at?” I rushed to the lobby to find that I was the ONLY one there so early.
Putting aside my grouchiness at being so rushed, I waited patiently in the lobby, rod in hand, while all the men gathered. (Sorry, guys, y’all are the best outdoorsmen around, but your lollygagging never ceases to amaze me! Ladies, don’t ever let a fisherman tell you that women take forever to get ready.) Watching these guys was like watching ants, and I’ll stop while I’m ahead!
Good thing I scoped out the location of the boat launch ahead of time, and I was happy to navigate. After a short ride, we pulled up to Doiron’s Landing in Stephensivlle, where three very nice bass boats and three young men waited. After the ants, I mean men, decided who was going to fish with whom, I met my guide for the day, hopped in his truck, and off we went to launch the boat.
Donning life jackets, we idled away from the launch, down Doiron’s Canal, and into Belle River. I had seen the river from both banks via roads, but I’d never seen it by water, and what a beautiful early-morning boat ride up river to Lake Verret, the sun rising over our shoulders. A light breeze bore the promise of a pleasant morning of fishing and high hopes of my hanging in there for the entire six-hour trip.
Corey Wheat, my guide and competitive bass fishermen, asked if I liked bass fishing. Well, yes, I like catching bass, but I’m not a bass fisherman. Bass, as you saw in my last post, are something we accidentally catch here in the brackish zone while fishing for red fish. I’m not opposed to catching them, I just don’t have all the proper gear, tackle, and bait to specifically target bass. I told him to treat me like a clean slate and teach me like a beginner. I’m not sure what the poor fellow thought at that point, but I imagined it was something like, “Oh, man, they stuck me with the little old lady who doesn’t know how to bass fish. I don’t think I can take six hours of this!”
Corey’s 39, and I’m old enough to be his mom, so I guess for him it was akin to fishing with his mother. I failed to ask him if she likes to fish, but I digress. Proud of his Bass Cat bass boat, he asked me if I’d like to see her top speed–at the moment we were cruising along at 48 mph. I shook my head, my jowls blowing back in the wind. He asked if I was sure. I was sure. He asked again, so I played along, asking “How fast does she go?” He answered, “Just 73! But I’m very safe.” Uh, no thanks, I’m good. He acquiesced.
At those speeds, we reached our destination of Lake Verret, (yes, of Troy Landry Swamp People fame), in no time. Since Corey uses baitcasting reels, I opted to bring my own spinning reel combo in order to be comfortable while learning to target green trout. He seemed puzzled about my not using a baitcaster, so I explained to him why I don’t. While my sons are adept at using them, I’m not. Every time I picked up one of theirs to try to learn, the line got tangled in what we call a “bird nest”; and again, not knowing anything about the reels, I could never get them untangled. I got so frustrated, that I gave up. Then, about five years ago, a fishing buddy gave me a nice one from his arsenal, demonstrated how to cast it, and instructed me to stand on the bayou bank and cast and cast and cast until I got the hang of it. I did, and just when I reached the point where I could cast 10 out of 10 without birdnesting, the rig came up missing. My guess is that someone renting the camp accidentally mistook it for one of their rod/reel combos and took it home. (If that’s YOU, please return my Citica!) It has never turned up since, and that prematurely ended my baitcasting career.
Corey rigged my line with a Humdinger spinnerbait, dropped the trolling motor into the water, and instructed me to cast past the piers, pilings, cypress trees, etc. and reel in at medium speed. He caught a bass on his first cast, and my confidence level was pretty high that I would soon follow suit using my own trusty rod and spinning reel combo. After he landed his second trout, I finally hooked one, and then the competition was on! We trolled up and down the shady banks, casting along edges of docks, water hyacinths, logs, trees, EVERYTHING, and the bass cooperated. It didn’t take long for this double hookup! I caught a couple more with my spinning reel, and the score was tied!
That is, until I snagged something at the base of a cypress knee and handed the rod to Corey at the front of the boat so he could reel down to the snag and release the hook. He heard metal click against metal and suspected I had snagged a derelict crab trap. He tried hard to get my line loose, but when the line broke, not only did we lose the bait, but the tip of my rod broke off, too. “Uh oh. Now you’ll have to use one of my baitcasters!” he chided.
Abandoning all my past negativity about “bird nesting” a baitcaster, I told Corey to assume I knew absolutely nothing about casting one and to teach me from ground zero. Like an old pro, he built my confidence while removing any preconceived doubt that I could master this piece of gear. After a couple casts and a couple corrective measures, I got into the rhythm of casting with this more sophisticated reel; and before long, I was casting it with either hand, flipping it under piers, side-arming it along parallel lines with the docks, and WHAM! When I caught the first bass with it, you’d have thought I had caught a trophy fish.
But it wasn’t about the fish at all. It was about getting over a negative mindset held for years and mastering a new skill I had not yet conquered for reasons already listed. I felt proud, accomplished, and as though I had somehow arrived at a new fishing destination.
I went on to catch several more nice bass on his Citica reel and Duckett rod combo. By the time noon rolled around (yep those six hours flew by), I felt like an old pro myself and regretted that it had taken me so long to learn how to operate such an amazing piece of equipment. Turns out, casting out and reeling in a baitcaster takes much less energy than a spinning reel, or at least for me. And at the end of hours of hard fishing while standing the entire time, I did not have a backache. Now, that’s an added bonus!
We were the last boat back at the landing, and Corey couldn’t wait to tell my colleagues how he did the best thing for me he could’ve possibly done–breaking my rod! I guess I had to agree with him that if that had not happened, I would still be throwing a spinning reel, not knowing the ease with which I can now fish with a baitcaster. I’m grateful to Corey for being so patient with me, for being so easy going, and for teaching me how to be a bass fisherman. Now, I can’t wait to charge up the trolling motor and try my hand at targeting bass in this area; but first, I’d better see about buying me a baitcaster. (Anybody got a hand-me-down?)
And guess what? We caught more trout than one boat, and just as many as the other boat, so, I’m still patting myself on the back and beaming with pride as I think about that broken rod tip, the feel of a Citica in my hand, and the seven bass I caught and released.
To be continued . . .