Fishing family pulls up stakes, moves from Louisiana to Alabama

Long-time owners of Big Lake Guide Service set up shop 350 miles east after spending 35 years putting Louisiana anglers on plenty of fish.

For three members of the Poe family, all highly regarded charter captains, it’s been business as usual the past several months as they scout around to find speckled trout and redfish, help clients catch those and other fish and enhance their reputation built since the mid-1980s.

Mary Poe was part of Big Lake Guide Service out of Sweet Lake for 35 years before moving to Alabama in January.

Jeff Poe, his wife, Mary, and their son, Nick, are enjoying every minute, as always. Their passion for saltwater fishing remains unbridled, and it’s good to great right now.

But on May 11, the Poes — who for 35 years owned and operated Big Lake Guide Service from their home in Sweet Lake near Calcasieu Lake — had to go to town to get their respective driver’s licenses as residents of Alabama. 

Say what? Alabama? 

The Poes — including Nick, his wife, Kimmie, and their son, Cooper, moved from southwestern Louisiana to Dauphine Island, Ala., a month after the calendar turned over to 2020. Nick Poe opened Reel Gypsy Fishing, and his parents are helping as fishing guides, Jeff Poe said.

Jeff Poe, 61, sold Big Lake Guide Service to Grosse Savanne Lodge in Lake Charles. 

An Alabama native, he said the couple vacationed last summer at Dauphin Island. They “pretty much” made the decision to move, his wife said.

“We love this place,” Mary Poe said.

Bittersweet feelings

How poignant are the consequences of leaving a demanding, successful business behind?

Jeff Poe totes a big stringer of specks in an old flier for his well-known guide business.

“Yesterday was probably the first Mother’s Day spent with her in 35 years; I was always fishing,” Jeff Poe said.

Let that sink in. Plus the fact that Mary Poe isn’t cooking multiple-course meals almost daily like she did for guests at their old lodge along the shoreline of Big Lake.

“There are restaurants here,” she said, happily, ready for them to reopen after coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

“I spent half my life cooking down there, and cleaning,” she said.

The Poes married in 1984, four years after Jeff moved to Louisiana to work one season as a duck hunting guide — but wound up relocating. The Poes opened Big Lake Guide Service in 1985.

Someone recently told the Poes how much they meant to the Sportsman’s Paradise.

“Louisiana meant a lot to us, too,” Jeff Poe said. “I mean, we’re going to miss it, without a doubt. We’re happy to be here but sad to leave at the same time. It’s a bittersweet thing. You hate uprooting yourself and your family. 

“We’re sure some old customers will come over here and fish with us. We’ve made friends, not just clients, people in the neighborhood.”

Louisiana Sportsman was integral to their success, they said.

“It was easy to work with somebody you like, put it that way,” Jeff Poe said. “(They) were always very helpful.

“It was a great place for us to advertise Big Lake because the Louisiana Sportsman, everybody reads the Louisiana Sportsman magazine,” Mary Poe said. “It’s the No. 1 magazine out there. It helped us greatly through our 35-year journey.”

A fishing legacy

Because of their fishing expertise, the Poes were expert sources for many stories over the past 3½ decades. They helped anglers catch fish even if those anglers didn’t get in a boat with them.

Jeff Poe (right) and his son, Nick, admire a flounder that Jeff caught.

That was important to Jeff Poe, who said, “Well, we always tried to make it accurate with technique and boat handling. The magazine over the years, it’s been your source for outdoors news.”

Fittingly, Jeff and Mary Poe were on the magazine’s cover four times. Naturally, they had hands full of speckled trout.

Mary Poe is a Lake Charles native who fished Calcasieu Lake from the day she could hold a fishing pole to the day she moved this past January. Nevertheless, she was all in for the big move.

Mary Poe and her son, Nick, pose for a photo on the water with a big speckled trout caught on Calcasieu Lake many years ago.

“I’m always up for a challenge. Sometimes you’ve just got to move on. Jeff agrees,” she said. “Well, I mean, we were ready for a change. I’m sort of ready to semi-retire.”

The future

There’s a little more to it, also involving change, behind their decision. Jeff Poe was feeling uneasy about a few issues in southwest Louisiana.

“With all the changes coming to Lake Charles. I’m not sure where all that’s going,” he said, referring to industrialization along the Calcasieu Ship Channel. “I felt there’s a few things going on in Lake Charles and Cameron, all the LNGs (liquified natural gas) coming, and I was concerned about it.

“I felt this area has a lot more emphasis on tourism, more emphasis on the environment, and I’m not an environmentalist. They still have some development, but we still will be able to enjoy our lifestyle.”

That explains the background music for an almost 10-minute video put together by Nick Poe for their Facebook page. Blues guitarist and Baton Rouge native Tab Benoit’s “A Whole Lotta Soul” lyrics include the lines:

“What’s the matter with the place we live in? 

Did Mother Nature get it wrong? 

A rusted delta in the name of changing

And dig it ‘til it’s dead and gone

Oh, what you gonna tell the children?

What you gonna tell the trees?

What you gonna tell the spirit?

When the heart of the bayou bleed?”

The video can be seen at www.facebook.com/biglakegs/videos/233309694337160.

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Don Shoopman
About Don Shoopman 364 Articles
Don Shoopman fishes for freshwater and saltwater species mostly in and around the Atchafalaya Basin and Vermilion Bay. He moved to the Sportsman’s Paradise in 1976, and he and his wife June live in New Iberia. They have two grown sons.

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