This kinda stuff doesn't always play well in ritzy "gated communities," and any moment we expected the neighbors (the few, that is, who hadn't been invited) to call the cops. They were already on Doc's case for parking his boat in the driveway. No doubt these neighbors could hear Keith Richards' every lick and Mick's every snarl from their bathrooms, even while showering and with the fan on.
The gals were all pink-cheeked from the wine stacked on Doc's backyard gazebo, and had just started swaying their hips to the Stones' slashing rhythm. Most were dressed to kill in tight slacks, and becoming increasingly affectionate with every pouring of wine.
The crawfish were finished boiling and soaking up the spicy brew, amidst a ton of new potatoes, whole garlic, celery and corn. The burgers were sizzling on the grill. Doc's entire backyard was filled with these wonderful aromas, sights and sounds. The stage was set for a rollicking evening.
But a sudden mood shift was working its way through the crowd. Frowns and snide comments soon predominated. Those were venison burgers sizzling and smoking away on Doc's $2,000 barbecue pit. And sure, the stainless-steel contraption was certainly pretty, but it made the burgers "taste no better than had they emerged from coat hangers over a willow fire on a Pass-a-Loutre campout."
Pelayo's comment had started the ugliness. Doc's girlfriend-of-the-week, Trisha, had overheard the wise-crack, and quickly telegraphed it into Doc's ear, who'd just driven up with Wes in his golf cart. Now Pelayo, between cackles, started commenting on their dapper linkster attire. The spate of ugliness threatened to sideswipe and trample an entire evening of looming boisterousness, good cheer and fun.
"Don't get me wrong, Doc!" Pelayo roared while looking around with a demented grin. "Those burgers'll still be good! Ain't no beatin' dem SIX-POINT burgers! But don't let any juice drip on dem pants!"
Good lord, I thought while watching him hoot the phrase right into Priscilla's (Yoko's) face. Here we go! For two years running, we'd wrangled (through Artie) an invite to her and her husband Wes' (Doug Neidermeir's) deer lease — the one with the strict 6-point antler restrictions. And two years running, we'd come home with oodles of venison — though we saw nothing even approaching six points. The butchering, packaging and transportation of all this luscious protein involved much resourcefulness. And despite our best efforts, not all of it went undetected by Wes and Yoko's leasemates.
"Don't see many of the guests complaining about small antlers!" Pelayo whooped right into Yoko's face. "Hell no! They piggin out! Can't eat 'dem horns, Priscilla!'"
Artie was roaring with mirth from poolside, keeping a discreet distance from Wes, who winced and frowned through Pelayo's impromptu oration. Artie had good reason to keep his distance. Our lust for delicious venison — and what we thought was his partnership in the acquisition of same — had cost him his membership in the Six-Point club. First they slapped him with a fine, then booted him out. Artie then took a sledgehammer and chainsaw to six stands. He'd built them, after all. It seemed perfectly proper.
The ugliness somehow evaporated as we dug into the steaming pile of crawfish, and everyone's mood brightened. Only one short outburst from the gals about the cost of gasoline — and hence, recent fishing trips — marred the remainder of the evening.
Alas, the following morning we picked the perfect place. Launching at Bayou Bienvenue, we headed up to the juncture of the Intracoastal and MRGO, then hung a right at the Hot Water slip. Nothing to it. A hop, skip and jump.
Going east from here along the Intracoastal to the mouth of Bayou Thomas, there's a levee on the north but a sliver of broken marsh with several washouts connecting it to the Intracoastal on the south.
For some reason these ponds, lagoons and the connecting passes have provided us with some pretty decent summer fishing over the years. For some reason — and to our immense delight — flounder show up in our box with great regularity when fishing this area. In light of recent gasoline prices, the short car ride and short boat ride involved in getting here make the spot all the more appealing. A decent morning's sleep doesn't hurt either.
For some reason, wigeon grass and milfoil grow well in this area, making a fine habitat for little crabs, minnows and shrimp, and naturally for the creatures that feast upon them — trout, reds, flounder, sheepshead and puppy drum.
Think about it. When did the Delacroix/Pointe a la Hache area bounce back big time as a fishing area?
With the opening of the Caernarvon diversion project, that's when. Nothing could be more obvious. And I don't mean just the bass fishing in the northwest region near the source of the river water. I mean the trout action from Pointe Fienne to Bay Gardene and all points north, south and in between. The growth of grass did it. Period.
Interestingly, this sliver of marsh just south of the Intracoastal Canal benefits from a freshwater diversion project of its own — though it's not labeled as such. I refer to a pumping station that pumps out fresh water from the Bayou Sauvage NWR right into the Intracoastal smack in the middle of this area.
I'm no biologist — much less an environmentalist — but it seems obvious that this accounts for the grass growth in the area, the consequent proliferation of creatures that hide and feed in that grass, and the resulting presence of the creatures that feast upon them. These latter are the apex predators that empty our spools, bend our rods and fill our boxes. That is, when we show up and replace them as the genuine apex predators.
This pumping station offers bank fishermen access to the Intracoastal. And on the other side — as I mentioned — lies the lush Bayou Sauvage NWR. It's a gorgeous area — but it was much more gorgeous when we could blast easy limits of ducks in the place. Pelayo and I recently drove through it to reminisce.
Peeking through green willows and red speckled maples, a bayou appeared. We pulled over and walked to the water's edge. An egret in his elegant spring plumage seemed perturbed, spread his wings and flapped off. Enchanted, we walked over to the bank, and the water was beautifully dark and clear, the stumps and leaves visible 3 feet under the surface. Unlike at Caernarvon and Davis Pond, this isn't roiled Mississippi River water the pumping station pours into the marsh. It's mostly dark " root-beer" water, as we call it.
Two turtles tumbled in from a half submerged log. A small snake slithered from the lilies on the bank and traced an undulating path across the surface to the other side. Peering along the opposite bank, Pelayo pointed out two bank fishermen on white buckets with cane poles in hand.
Here was the beauty, serenity and utter charm of South Louisiana's landscape in a nutshell. Tourists from around the country — actually, the world — take our swamp tours to behold such scenes. They return to Birmingham, Berlin and Budapest with gushy descriptions of Louisiana for the relatives and friends at home.
Our lips curled with an involuntary smile at the serene panorama and ambience.
"SNAKE!" someone shouted. "OH LAWD!! A SNAKE!"
Wild shrieks shattered the stillness, and we looked over as cane poles went into action as clubs, switches and mallets. With wild, bulging eyes, their handlers flailed the water into a white froth.
"KILL IT! OH LAWD!!-- KILL IT! I GOT HIM!"
The foot-long ribbon snake succumbed to the pummeling. It writhed in agony, and finally sunk.
A bass, gar or choupique probably inhaled him before he hit the bottom.
It was a little past noon when Pelayo and I turned right into a washout just past the pumping station, and started idling toward a turn in the lagoon where the water dropped down to 5 feet. We planned for this late start. The high tide was at 12:30 p.m., and we wanted to fish with it high and falling.
We edged the boat onto the shoreline, and I cast out with a whole dead shrimp threaded on a long-shanked hook from tail to head. Seems I can fool trout into thinking it's a live shrimp this way. No weights either, except two little split shots. I just lobbed the sucker out, and let it go with the slight current. I put the pole in the holder, and turned as Pelayo cast toward the middle with a freelined cocaho.
Considering the savings in gas, we felt we could splurge on live bait, a real asset in this area. But we prefer minnows, which are much hardier than shrimp and seem a favorite of the local flounder.
Not two minutes had passed when I noticed my rod tip twitching. I grabbed it, felt the twitching shift to a steady pressure and rared back.
"Whooah, yeah!" erupted from my throat as my rod dipped into a gorgeous bend.
But he wasn't hitting the surface.
"No school speck here, my man!" I laughed as I pumped away at the reel. Still, he wasn't hitting the surface.
"You're right!" Pelayo smirked, "It ain't a speck. It's got hardhead or sailcat written all over it!"
"Not a chance," I countered.
This fish was lunging sharply, back and forth. Catfish are different, even the big ones. With them, it's a steady pressure. This guy was going back and forth, much like a bluegill or lakerunner — but a 5-pound one.
Sure enough. His stripes were soon visible through the clearish water.
"Sheepshead, podnuh!" I yelled triumphantly while dipping the net under him. "And a chunky one."
I caught two more on dead shrimp in the next 10 minutes (and no hardheads) until Pelayo whooped, and I heard the surface thrash. I jerked my head just in time to see the tell-tale mouth and gill-rattle of a just-hooked flounder. Pelayo hauled him aboard and held him up for display. No doormat, but some superb eating was in the offing.
As usual the, flounder liked the freelined cocaho.
"THAT'S HIM!" I howled, after putting on a popping cork for the principle of the thing. I just love watching them disappear in a swirl. My pole soon doubled, and I felt that gratifying pressure as a nice wake cut through the grass near the shoreline.
I was forced to tighten the drag and start horsing as the fish became entangled in the grass. Finally, I horsed him free, and he shot out on another exhilarating run — this time toward the middle of the lagoon. I was in heaven while holding my pole high overhead. No mistaking it. Even Pelayo knew I was latched onto a red, monarch of the shallows. We didn't have to announce it. We both knew. There's just no mistaking it.
No scale on board, but I estimated 8 pounds. Pelayo estimated 4. As usual, we quickly hooked into another — Pelayo this time with a cocaho. These medium-sized ones always seem to hang out in pairs or trios. And I love that deep copper color they get in this dark water.
We hit another bend in the lagoon, and my dead shrimp yielded two nice bull croakers and a white trout. Nothing huge, but the ideal size for some delicious eating after frying them whole, with the skin garlicky, lemony and crispy, with the white meat underneath scrumptious and juicy.
Next we drifted through a shallow lagoon (2-3 feet) with shad rigs and beetles under popping corks, and swung aboard a dozen school specks for our 45 minutes of popping. Not bad.
We fished three different washouts/lagoons not a mile apart, and ended up with 23 fish by 5:30. It was a bona fide box-a-mixed — breakfast croakers, schools specks, flounder, sheepshead and reds. Nothing close to limits, but we had a blast and hadn't burnt much gas.
Cocahoes, we freelined. Dead shrimp we threaded whole on a long-shanked hook or used to sweeten up our beetles and shad rigs under corks.
The croakers and flounder and sheepshead were generally deep in the middle. The trout were shallow and on the ledges.
Nothing to fishing this area. It's close, convenient and productive. It's amazing how often we overlook it as we head elsewhere.