Louisiana outdoor treasures: Gail’s and Charley’s

Gail Serigny Hayes started running Gail’s Bait Shop in the 70s. Sadly, Hurricane Ida destroyed the shop in 2021.

History of bait shops like Gail’s and Charley’s still live on

Storms, shifting demographics, age and location have taken a toll on most all the old places we Louisiana fishermen relied on for live bait to use for saltwater fishing and a variety of other tackle.

The first trips to Grand Isle near 60 years ago required catching your own live lures, and small croaker taking pieces of shrimp from a No. 4 hook in the cuts along the La. 1 was a sure-fire way to end up putting speckled trout on a surf stringer, then into the 48-quart Igloo for the trip home. Back then, the 48-quart was a big improvement over the smaller galvanized tin chests, and some folks measured their catches by how many 48-quart “boxes” they filled in a day.

Somewhere along the way, a family in Leeville believed fishermen traveling south on La. 1 would stop and save themselves time by buying live shrimp and cocahoe minnows. They were right.

That place was Gail’s Bait Shop. Ms. Gail worked her magic and most times there was enough live bait to go around, and if there wasn’t, there was fresh shrimp to entice strikes from redfish, drum and sheepshead — you always had to bring something home for the table, right?

Advance maybe 15 years and the sign along La. 1 right when you crossed the second bridge and saw the sign, “Town of Grand Isle,” (before you reached the Caminada Bay bridge), Charley’s Live Shrimp became a siren’s song for any live-shrimp trip.

Gail’s was a 362-day-a-year operation (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas & New Year’s Day), which made it a must for fall and winter journeys with cocahoe minnows into the Leeville and Fourchon marshes.

Charley’s was a spring, summer and early fall stop, but only when the inshore shrimp season was open because the crew spent most nights (on a falling tide) cast netting shrimp from Charley’s place at the end of the first lane on the left side of La. 1.

Those nights were spectacular. Two guys throwing 10-foot cast nets, then dumping the live jumpers with their green eyes, all the while trying to avoid the hands of two youngsters there to help fill the live tanks for early arrivals the next morning. Tanks filled meant it was time to enjoy a cold one and tell fish tales reserved for places like that back deck.

Charley’s was the first to go. A succession of hurricanes, the last Hurricane Ida’s hours-long, 220-mile-per-hour scouring, closed down Gail’s.

Those two places joined the many others from Katrina, Rita and other men’s and women’s names we wish we’d never learned, and joined the list Benny Grunch & The Bunch made famous in the music group’s legendary song, “Ain’t Dere No More.”

And, if you’ve never heard Benny and his group’s songs, then Google his name and you can hear Parts I and II and the extra “Temporarily Ain’t Dere No More,” along with his other New Orleans-themed hits. It’s a pleasant memory, just like trips to Gail’s and Charley’s.

They’re gone, but not forgotten.

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