Fred Etienne Cormier was my dad and my hero. He taught me how to hunt, fish and grow a garden. He instilled in me a love and respect for all things natural, and a dedication to fight for a just cause.
Pop was born and raised in St. Martin Parish. During World War II, he served in the Army Air Corps as a tech sergeant with the 459th Bomb Group. He was shot down over Budapest on his 50th mission. Captured by the Germans, he spent 10 months as a POW and survived the "Black March" before being rescued.
After WWII, he settled back down in St. Martin Parish, met my mom and got married. Soon after, he went to work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where he retired as county executive director.
We lived on Bayou Teche. During my early youth, the bayou was a slow-moving water way, clear enough at times to catch enough bass, bream and catfish anytime we wanted to have dinner. Or just fish for fun.
But that didn't stop my dad from fishing other waters. His favorite spot was nearby Henderson Lake.
But when the Atchafalaya River was high, he'd head north to Central Louisiana waters or to the coast for speckled trout or even offshore fishing with his friends.
When September came around, the fishing gear was put away. If it had wings or fur, he hunted it. And as much as he disliked traveling outside Louisiana, if it involved whitewing doves, mule deer, or pheasants, it was on.
Starting in the late '60s, my dad began to earn recognition as one of the top outdoorsmen in Acadiana. He would go on to be a fixture at the Association of Louisiana Bass Clubs Top 6 tournaments and as huntmaster for two deer-hunting clubs. Public officials from all over fished and hunted with my dad.
And between all that, he raised and trailed some of the top beagles in the state.
Pop relished those trips with politicians. He was a staunch conservationist, and his fishing partners got an earful on a variety of topics from saving the Atchafalaya Basin to placing size and creel limits on sac-a-lait and speckled trout.
When his good buddy and neighbor Jesse Guidry was appointed secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries by Governor Dave Treen, they wasted no time in conspiring to get Florida bass stocked in Louisiana waters. Thanks to them and Bob Dennie, a "covert operation" put fingerlings in a few lakes. As they say, the rest is history.
There are many great stories with my dad.
During my teens, the two Lafayette television stations each had a weekly outdoors show. You couldn't watch either for a whole month without seeing at least one episode with Pop featured either fishing or hunting.
My dad had just been on an episode of Jay Allen's show one week when we met Jay at McGee's Landing that Saturday. We had just come in from a morning trip with 30 big bluegill and chiquapin in the box. We'd kept only the males and only those fish close to a pound.
Jay had been out filming for a bream feature, and they'd caught only a few small ones. He was reluctant to intrude on my dad two weeks in a row. Or perhaps he didn't like his show becoming "Fred Cormier Outdoors." Regardless, he just kept staring at those fish like a woman stares at chocolate.
So Pop offered to take him out, and suggested that Jay do all the fishing and I would be his cameraman. I got a quick lesson in how to use a video camera, and we were off. Jay got into some monster bream on ultralight tackle and had the time of his life.
To this day, I'm convinced that was the best-filmed outdoors segment of all time. Still waiting on my Emmy nomination.
Pop was like a drill sargeant in the boat. At times it could be stressful, but if you had the patience it paid off big time. He'd tell friends that we caught so many bass over 5 pounds that IBM had to start building computers just to keep count.
Ken Judice was my dad's favorite nephew. When Ken was in high school, Pop decided to tutor him as a bass fisherman.
We took Ken out on the first day of the weekend-long Jaycees Rodeo on Henderson Lake. At the time, it was the most-prestigious tournament in Southwest Louisiana.
Ken had a terrific backcast. Too bad he wasn't using a fly rod. I could tell it was frustrating Pop, but my dad remained calm as he continued to remind my cousin about hitting the release button on the reel too soon.
After one of his "backcasts," Ken started to reel in and felt something pulling back. After what seemed like an eternity, we netted a bass close to 5 pounds.
For the next three days, we watched as Ken's fish held at the top of the leaderboard. Only on the last hour of the last day, did it get beat out. My dad and I were so disappointed. But it gave Ken a lifelong enthusiasm for the sport.
Ken has gone on to be an outstanding fisherman — though I continually remind him he was born to fly cast.
My maternal grandfather was the fly fisherman. Anytime he came to fish with Pop, he'd bring along one fly rod.
Pop's response was always, "He's bringing a tree rod. That's all it's good for — catching trees."
His attitude towards fly fishing changed a little when I became really good at it. It changed a whole lot when his grandsons, Ira and Jacob, became really good at it. He even bragged about the time Jake out-fished him for sac-a-lait using a fly rod and a "marabou jig" (we call it a fluff butt).
I wish my dad was still here. There were yet many trips we never made.