Louisiana Wetland Treasures!

We’ve heard it a million times before:  One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.  Right?

In this case, one man’s hard work has become one woman’s treasures, plural.  While it might not be considered such hard work cleaning a fish, I guarantee you it is very hard work cleaning one type of fish caught and cleaned by the hands of this down-to-earth local fisherman, Bayou Fabio.  Just what does that have to do with trash and treasures?

Bayou Fabio fishes alligator gar fish for a living.  He is well known for his ability to make cleaning a gar look like kid’s play.   And if you are recalling a childhood memory of scraping off fish scales with a spoon, think again.  There is not a spoon made that could stand up to the likes of a gar fish scale.  Alligator gar are covered in hard, thick scales–so thick that Native American’s used them as arrowheads.

And now my friend, Kim, has given those scales new life.  Let me tell you the story.

Kim came to visit the bayou in May, at which time I gave her some gar scales from my collection (in photo above) to get her creative juices flowing as to what she could create with them.  Having taken  jewelry-making classes in her new hometown of Silver City, NM, and having a passion for jewelry making, Kim was excited about the possibilities.

She was so excited that she created some beautiful pieces right away and then returned to the bayou weeks later to meet the provider of the scales and to learn more about how he harvests them.

Garfish are not pretty, and the catching and cleaning process are not for the faint of heart, which exemplifies such a brilliant dichotomy between the roughness of the raw materials and the smoothness of Kim’s finished work.  It is so interesting how something that starts so basal can end up so refined.

This story will take you on the journey from fish in the water to final product.

It all starts with the jug lines that Bayou Fabio makes himself out of 2-liter soda bottles.  He baits them and throws them out in the evening to catch the fish.

The next morning, he brings the catch to his dock,

where he cleans them, casts the skins aside (with scales still attached), and puts the cleaned fish on ice.

Fabio has been cleaning garfish in the same spot for so many years, that the bayou bottom and bank are covered in scales.  Over the years, they have taken on a patina from algae and other organic matter in the water, which really intrigued Kim.

As the tide drops, the scales become visible, as seen under Kim’s feet above.

Later, Bayou Fabio places the skins between layers of a kids’ cast-off swimming pool, where maggots do the work of eating all the flesh and skin, leaving behind the enamel-like scales.  What is left does not look like anything that could be used for jewelry making.

Bayou Fabio shared how it took about three weeks to clean the scales to the stage seen in the basket above.  He did these especially for her to use in making her treasures.

Fabio explained how she needed to lay the scales out to dry so the moisture could evaporate and the smell could dissipate.  He also told her that soaking them in a little bleach and water would remove stains and kill any odors left behind.

The gar, with its full-body armor and mouthful of sharp teeth, looks absolutely prehistoric.  Appropriately enough, some folks jokingly call Bayou Fabio by another nickname–The Caveman.  With his long hair, sinewy body, and bare feet as tough as alligator hide, he seems to come straight from the same prehistoric times as the alligator garfish that now sustain his life.

Bayou Fabio, in true Native American fashion, would not take money from my friend for the scales but asked her to make beautiful things from the scales he gave her.  He suggested she make a cross using multiple scales, and maybe try dying them different colors.  That day, Fabio and Kim made a good trade.  She brought him three neck pieces (necklaces) in exchange for a five-gallon-bucketful of freshly-harvested garfish scales.

As I watched the two making the trade, I wondered if Native Americans were always so generous.  I suspect they were.

Kim and the garfish scales traveled west to hot, arid New Mexico, where she bleached them and laid them out to dry, just as she was told.  They couldn’t dry fast enough, her hands anxious to give life to the creations forming in her mind. Having already mastered  bead work, she was anxious to see how she could combine the two and what the end result would be.

Above is what I believe to be the first beaded piece she attempted.  The Native American style of this piece is very befitting.

Which brings this story to a close and to the last thing I would like to share with you about this circle of life–from fish to refinery.  Kim now has a site called Louisiana Wetland Treasures where you can read more about the creature and the creations.  Kim has opened her jewelry store at Etsy, where you can see more of her unique designs, and she has chosen to launch her jewelry design here.

So, folks, bring on those comments! Kim and I both would love to hear what you think about the whole process and her designs.

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  1. Wow…thank ye for sharing this enlightening piece of ecological and cultural education! What a great meeting between Fabio’s culture and traditions and Kim’s art…who would expect such beautiful designs from fish scales? LOL

    Of course the fact these fish are largely unchanged from prehistoric times makes the whole story – and the jewelry – even more interesting.

  2. This is very cool! I think I must have me one of the necklaces!! BW, Fabio, Kim–where else could this happen but on the Bayou!!

  3. This is a great use of the scales. I really hope it turns out to be very profitable for Kim. I’m partial to the one with the leather. Judging from the amount of scales in that basket, I’d say someone is going to be very busy for quite some time. I’ve seen Redfish scales used in different crafts, but never Gar. Do you know if the Houmas used these scales for anything other than arrowheads?

  4. Love the look of the native American look of the second piece. I can picture it around Bayou Fabio’s neck. Wonder if there’s anyone who could tell Kim what those old arrows looked like? Going to Etsy to see what else she’s made!

  5. An absolutely wonderful and riveting and educational post, BW. My hope is for Kim to have undreamed-of success with this venture; may I embed this post’s link in my comments around the web? I want everyone to find out about Fabio and the harvesting of gar scales!

    Jumping over to Kim’s site right now. Thank you all again and great pics.

    P.S. The beaded neckpiece is stunning but I really like the wire work on the first set.

  6. This absolutely fascinated me!! I had no idea a gar was useful for ANYTHING! Talk about an ugly duckling turning into a swan! I’m jumpiing to her Etsy site now!

  7. Neat. I want a necklace and some scales for fly tying.

    That guy is pretty cool as are the rest of the bayou crew.

    Happy Fourth and Fifth. And remember Jim Morrison on the 3rd.

  8. What a beautiful way to utilize something most would consider a nuisance. I love the necklace/earring set!
    And, I am no stranger to cleaning gar. My mom taught all of her kids how to clean them. They taste great fried and she canned the meat and used it like canned salmon.
    Us kids used the scales that were under our cleaning area to cut strings, scratch out “important” messages on rocks and other crazy, kid things. I think we all have scars from the edges of them.
    I am heading over to check out her site.

  9. I am in love with that man!! 🙂 What a wonderful example of humanity and true love of the nature around him. I wish we had MILLIONS more like BF.. what a treasure he is! As for Native Americans – we could have learned more from them than we will ever know. Love you BW and having a necklace like that would be an HONOR!!!!! hugs to you all!

  10. Ok, you know I only buy jewelry that is hand crafted by Native American designers (maybe you didn’t, but you do now) and I can say I absolutely have to have a piece of her jewelry even if she doesn’t fit into the typical category I buy from! I have a Zuni friend who makes most of my jewelry because he knows me so well and knows my spirit and each piece is an original and true to both of our spirits. I have jewelry from all over the country, any time I go to a reservation I pick up something to take a piece of those people with me on my travels. I cant wait to go see her store!

    1. I went to her site and I’ve already ordered! I think I found where a lot of my Christmas shopping will be done too!

      1. I AM excited about this sale! Thanks so much MrsCoach! I have always been a fan of Native American jewelry. I have quite a few pieces in my own collection. I’m probably the furthest there is from being Native. My blonde hair is evidence of that but I feel Native at heart.

        1. Native is a state of mind, not a hair color! If you like great jewelry I have a guy at Zuni pueblo I can get you in touch with!

          1. I got my jewelry the next day!!!!! I absolutely LOVE it! Thanks Kim for the extra earrings—my daughter has already claimed them for herself. They were even better than I expected.

  11. WOW! I am so impressed with that jewelry. Who would have thought Gar scales???? I will be over at her site very soon. Now where did I put my credit card?

  12. Each step of this has such value: the process of collecting the gar fish (and I want the next step with those crazy-looking things… I don’t know if I’ve seen gar fish on a menu? How do you prepare a gar fish?), the brilliance of using nature to clean the scales (maggots have a bit of ‘yuck’ but wow, the synergy!), and the trade. The creativity of the jewelry just launches the whole thing into a wonderful Louisiana treasure! Thank you for sharing!!!

    1. We skinned them, cut them into steaks, dredged them in a mixture of flour & cornmeal & seasoning and deep fried them.

      Didn’t cook them when we canned them. Just packed the raw fish with salt and a small amount of water and into the pressure cooker for the recommended time in moms old Kerr canning book.

  13. Wow, combining fish scales with red coral and blue turquoise is terrific. If you have a taste for Navajo jewelry, and I do, any one of these pieces would be a great addition to my collection.

    Congratulations on starting Louisiana’s Treasures.

    1. Kim, make sure you make one with a leather strap long enough for a man. I have a friend who is a Creek Indian, who would appreciate one of these. Let me know!

  14. I absolutely love this idea and the beaded piece is beautiful. I also happen to think alligator gar are marvelous with their ancient, prehistoric look. Best of luck with your new shop!

  15. Checked out Etsy. Some really nice pieces up for sale. I’ll go back soon with my credit card handy.

  16. Just stunning! I’ve been fasinated with gar fish since the 70’s when I went gar fishing with my late, first husband. And I’ve always adored American Indian art and jewelry. What a natural concept to combine both artistically. I hope Kim sells the heck out of her creations. Bayou Fabio is a breath of fresh air in these times of much greed. Bless him.

  17. I am absolutely in awe. I have childhood memories of garfish touching me while I would swim and how much they would freak me out. My brothers would make up horror stories that would send me screaming out the water, especially after we caught a few and I saw what those things really looked like!
    What fantastic works of art from such a nasty looking childhood horror! Maybe I’ll have sweet dreams of jewelry instead of nightmares of those prehistoric fish!

  18. I don’t know who to admire more, Bayou Fabio and his wonderful bayou life and talents, or your friend Kim with her beautiful jewelry creations. It would be wonderful to have such a personal piece of jewelry, knowing that each of the two individuals, who live so far apart, had a combined hand in the making of such a fine piece of jewelry.

  19. I noticed Bayou Fabio in one of the photos wearing a necklace. Did Kim make it for him, or was seeing his necklace her inspiration?

    1. She made it from the first batch I gave her ( as in story) and she gave it to him upon arrival, along with two others. I wanted to post a closeup of him wearing it, but it was out of focus, so I deleted it from the post . Great observation, though!

  20. Did you grow up with the nursery rhyme called “What little boys are made of”? The poem says they’re made of “snips and snails and puppy dog tails”. (The girls, of course, are “sugar and spice and everything nice”.)

    I think there’s a bayou version, too. Scutes and scales and crawdaddy tails – that’s what little bayou boys and girls are made of!

    I never imagined the gar that eat my baby ducks could contribute to such a lovely craft. Fabio reminds me of Varnish John – I’ll bet they would get along famously.
    It’s a wonderful story, and beautiful, evocative jewelry. Just great.

  21. This is one of hte coolest stories I’ve ever read online. You truly do associate with some ofthe most interesting people on the planet, Wendy.

    I’m going to look into getting a piece or 2 for my wife.


  22. Wow – these are beautiful! Just in case I don’t win the drawing (lol!) I followed the links to the page that shows the pieces for sale – so glad I did – my daughter will love one of these for her birthday and it’s great to find something really unique!

  23. Well, we only have 21 individual comments, and I have a another post waiting in the wings. We just need 9 more people to have a contest, folks. BW

  24. Love the story and PICTURES of Bayou Fabio! Interesting process from beginning to end in fabulous jewelry! Love my necklace!
    Hi Wendy!

  25. A (formerly) Minnesota girl, marrried to a Louisiana man, making cajun jewelry out of ancient (kinda) sea life, inspiried by the New Mexico desert – how universal can you get ?

  26. Interesting story! Didn’t realize it was such a long process to get the scales so clean and white.

  27. I enjoyed the story of how Kim is using the gar scales for jewelry. This is a great story of recycling and bartering between Kim and Bayou. Aloha, Aiko

  28. hey BW just found your wesite. Its cool! I’m overehere in Duson, but was raised with the the everglades as my backyard in Florida.(Hence-Swampwitch). MY EJ took me to the marsh the first time I got homesick and it worked a treat. Spend as much time out there as can!
    When I was a kid in FL I made jewelry from purchased garfish scales. Made flowers and stuff for earrings and pendants. your article took me back. I have been picking up GF scales found on shore when crabbing at the weirs and putting them away til I get a bunch and will make some earrings just to see if I remember how. I love your site and will be back. Right now I’m making pepper jelly and tomorrow I start on thr figs. will be busy a while with that-fig tree is loaded . lol have a good one BW. bye from swampwitch

  29. BW – am I watching a program on NGC that has Bayou Fabio all over it? I swear it’s him!! A whole very interesting program about Garfish on right now. So am I right? Is it BF leading these people around that I’m watching?

    1. Yes, you are ABSOLUTELY RIGHT! And I do believe it is your first time comment here at Bayou Woman, am I right? Did you notice he is the only one that needed subscripts? If I had known with enough notice, I would have posted the show here. So, for those who missed it, I’m sure NATGEO will run it again. It’s a Monster Fish episode about the alligator garfish. Hey, how did you find this blog? BW

  30. Hey BW, long time lurker, just remembered this post and was fascinated. Eating dinner, watching NATGEO and the caught a side profile of BF. I stopped eating and said “That’s BF!!” and my hubby said “Huh?” so I went over and pulled up this post. I said “I swear that’s the same guy, that’s BF!!”
    I’ve been reading you at least a year now. Devastated when the oil spill happened, came straight to you for the real updates. Keep up the good work. My father was a fisheries biologist and long time supporter of environmental conservation for salmon in N. California. People like you are my kind of people!! Someday our family will come stay at Camp Dularge and you can teach us more about that area 🙂

    1. Oh, now, that is just a very cool story! Imagine that. Sitting there on a boring Monday night, watching educational TV, eating dinner, and all of a sudden it’s BAYOU FABIO ON TV!!! OMG!!! CAN IT BE? LOL! I bet Hubby thought you were nuts! I can’t believe you recognized him from the photos. Kudos to the memory of your father and his work, Mikey. You are welcome at Camp Dularge, and I’ll keep the rope lights on for ya! BW

  31. Any way you can Get me in touch w Fabio? I do a bit of primitive archey up here in N Alabama and would love a bucket of those scales!

    1. Hi, Primitive One, and welcome to the bayou. I could possibly do that, however, most of the scales are much too small to use as arrow points!! How many would you want to experiment with? I can see if I have any larger ones and send them to you. Send me a reply in the comment box at the bottom of one of my pages so we can be in email contact, okay?

  32. BW
    Thank you for sharing this with the world. I would really love to have some way to contact BF I am in need of a supply of natural products from the bayou from a true professional sportsman. I’m located in H-town so some what local. Please please please help me out.

  33. Hi: I’m preparing a talk for the San Diego Tropical Fish Society on fish scales (evolution, varieties, uses). I have plenty of booklearning, but some actual gar scales would add a new dimension to my talk. I’m below the poverty level, and the society is non-profit, so I can’t afford much, but I would appreciate whatever you could give/sell me. A variety would be nice (finished, unfinished, colored, uncolored). Any other varieties of scales might also be useful (you mentioned redfish). I can’t guarantee it, but you may even catch the eye of a prospective customer or two. The usual audiences are from 25 to 75 people. I would also like your permission to reprint this page of yours.

    1. Hi Bill. What an interesting project. I do not have any redfish scales, as they don’t keep well unfinished. I do have some garfish scales that have only been bleached but not colored that I use for demostration. I don’t sell garfish scales, and I apologize if my article led you to think that. Good luck with your project.