My sister’s visits don’t come often enough to meet my need for close female companionship, but we take what we can get and cram every minute with as much life as we possibly can.
Saturday morning drew us out for a ride down the bayou when a phone call came from Bayou Fabio wanting to show us his big garfish.
This hard-working wetlander we lovingly nick- named Fabio, for all the obvious reasons, lives to fish and fishes to live–literally!
He is a commercial gar fisherman who makes his living and provides food for his plate from the marshes here. When he’s not doing this, he’s crabbing or fishing for redfish with a rod and reel. Often he has a marine pen in the water near this dock where he keeps marine life for his own enjoyment and that of his eight-year-old son.
In the above photo, just over Fabio’s left elbow, is the top of the cabin of a white boat where Fabio lays his head at night. He assured us the mosquitoes are only bad at sunset and just before sunrise–no need for screens or doors.
Just as we were leaving, his older brother and nephew pulled up in their boat, laden with pans (bayou speak for plastic crates) full of select blue crabs.
Townspeople special order these large crabs and are willing to pay the price for hand delivery of these blue delights. This crate will sell for $150. As you might have guessed, Fabio’s older brother is a commercial crabber. Tamer than his younger brother, Curt lives in town in a house with his wife and children.
Readied for a fishing charter that canceled the night before, my pontoon charter boat was waiting at the slip further up the bayou. One person’s change of plans is another person’s chance for opportunity, and we were ready–two sisters, separated by 300 miles, joined this day by a shared desire for whatever these wetlands held for us.
In the howling wind, we headed down a usually productive inlet only to find muddy water and slack tides–not the best fishing conditions. Not wanting to waste precious time, we braved the waves and headed across the brackish lake to our only living cypress grove and calmer, fresher waters.
Awakened that morning by a dream about bass being plentiful around the cypress knees, I decided to fish around them in search of those sweet-tasting green trout. Please don’t tell anyone, but I caught more submerged branches than actual fish–not something a prideful charter captain likes to admit.
Using the trolling motor, we inched our way under moss-drenched cypress and bright green swamp maples, enjoying every moment of this fine spring morning. With muddy waters and uncooperative fish, my sister soon swapped her rod and reel for a Nikon and a zoom lens, while I continued stubbornly casting into the silt-laden shallows.
As we rounded a curve in the bayou, our quiet commune was interrupted by loud voices. Trolling closer, we spied a small band of swamp dwellers telling stories on their dock. Just as we were greeting them, a mudboat came flying out of the swamp behind us.
It was two nutria hunters returning from a bounty hunt, and I recognized the one driving the boat. As they docked, he invited us to “get down”, which in bayou speak means get out of your boat and step down onto the land. Without hesitation, we accepted his invitation, curious to hear about the hunt. He said they only got six because the weather was getting too hot, adding that it was the last weekend of the nutria bounty hunt, anyway.
Commenting about watching us from a distance while we (unsuccessfully) bass fished, the one they called Earl wanted to, like all great fishermen, show us his catch of the morning–caught despite the high winds and chocolate water.
Adequately humbled, I couldn’t help but internally observe how diverse these waters are when only a couple miles separate the habitats of salt and freshwater species.
Soon, our hosts were gathered round their rickety glass table, (which in retrospect must have seen a million card games over the years), pulled up their chairs, and anteed up their quarters for a game they called “31”.
“Come on. Y’all wanna play some cards?”
“No, thanks. I don’t play cards. My great grandmother said they would burn my fingers” I replied with a grin. Quite honestly, neither one of us had ever heard of the game before.
“Well, y’all can watch and learn and anytime you want to jump in, just say so.”
With her keen intellect, LilSis caught on to the game quickly, but since neither of us had any hard, cold quarters, we would have to take a rain check on challenging these swamp fellers at their own game.
One of the swamp rats pointed out a redfish playing along the opposite bank. Grabbing the rod rigged with my favorite gold spoon, I made a couple quick casts from the dock, until my lure hung up on a submerged obstacle. At that moment, adding insult to injury, a boat came down the narrow bayou, and all I could do was hold my rod up to show them my line was hung.
Passing slowly under my line, they chuckled at my bad luck, or was it lack of skill? I thought maybe they would be gents and unhook it for me but no such luck. Are some men still chauvinistic when it comes to fisherwomen, or did they just have their own fish to catch?
This would be the last snag of the day for me. Try as I may, the hook would not turn loose of its sunken prey. Valiantly, the head nutria hunter stopped playing cards long enough to motor over in his mudboat to free its purchase.
Alas, the monofilament came up too easily, dancing freely in the wind, as though teasing me with nothing to weigh it down.
“Dog gone it!” I cursed at no one in particular. “That was my favorite spoon.”
At $4 a pop, stronger language might have been appropriate, but even though I’m a fisherman, I’m still a lady–at least in the presence of seasoned swamp dwellers who share their stories, cards, and food as quickly as their smiles.
Not wanting to wear out our welcome, we expressed our thanks and headed back the way we came. As we motored slowly past the spot where we had fished earlier, one more swamp dweller spied us with great interest and without apparent fear.
My heart leapt when I realized what I was seeing–a sight seldom seen in broad daylight in this particular swamp.
Quick on the draw, LilSis handed me the camera, loaded with the correct lens to seize the moment.
The Louisiana Wetland could not have graced us with a more meaningful end to a day laden with the richness of its inhabitants–a yellow crowned night heron.
As the heron sent us off with a brush of its wings, and the sillhouetes of our new swamp friends blurred in the background, we both heaved a sigh of utter contentment, expressions of a perfect ending to a perfect day in the Louisiana wetland.