Grand Isle Fish Fest

If you can take your mind off specks and reds, you’ll have a blast catching fish after fish at the near-shore Grand Isle rigs.

Darkness was closing in as we breached Grand Isle’s city limits, and Pelayo slowed down. In seconds, he slammed the brakes with a force that would have launched us through the windshield. Good thing for seatbelts, I thought while rubbing my neck.

The big tires gripped, and Pelayo’s king-cab truck jerked to a squealing, burnt-rubber stop — just in time to avoid a nasty collision with a running figure, who swung around, snarled ferociously at the windshield and banged the hood with both fists.

Both Pelayo and Chris were bellowing insults while frantically fumbling with their door handles.

“The locks!” Chris screamed as he fumbled to open his door. “You got ’em on auto!”

Pelayo was fumbling just as frantically on the driver side and splattering the dashboard with spittle as he raved at maximum decibel level. But I made no move to de-truck. I felt much safer inside the truck, especially now that the headlights fully revealed the figure still banging his fist on the hood and jerking his head up and down while matching Pelayo and Chris bellow for bellow. He was shirtless and sunburnt, with a shaved head and a neck the circumference of a minnow bucket. A tattoo covered half of it and extended halfway down a sweaty bicep that bulged like a balloon.

His eyes were wild as he started thrusting a balled fist at the figures behind the windshield, who seemed to lose some of their former urgency in getting out of the truck. But an explanation was clearly called for, and Pelayo and Chris finally got their doors opened, looked at each other, frowned, shrugged and stumbled out.

“Are you cra…??!!” Pelayo hadn’t finished his phrase when a female shriek issued from a camp on the opposite side of the road.

“Gus ain’t here!” some woman screamed. “I swear he ain’t!”

The brute jerked his head toward the shriek and seemed to lose all interest in Pelayo and Chris, meaning the emergency medics at Lady of the Sea Hospital in Galliano would be deprived of the opportunity of re-attaching their heads to their bodies. A skinny woman in hip-hugging cut-offs, a halter top and a straw cowboy hat had emerged from the camp’s door, and was shrieking from the dock at the brute.

“Gus ain’t here, I’m telling ya!”

“He AIN’T, huh??!” responded the brute. “Bul***t! I seen the slimy sucka’s boat docked up there. I’m gonna…!”

Now other people started screaming entreaties of various sorts from the opposite camp — the one from which the brute had issued to bolt across the highway.

“Forget it, Nick!” waved a pot-bellied guy in a Harley-Davidson T-shirt and Confederate flag bandanna. “Come on back, Nick! It ain’t worth it!”

This just seemed to further enrage Nick (the brute, apparently) who turned and started snarling something to his bearded chum. Then he jerked his head back around, started pointing at Pelayo who stiffened and balled his fists. But the brute suddenly nodded, turned and bolted toward the cowboy-hatted woman.

The camps in this area generally feature a long walkway from the road shoulder over water to the camp’s door. The brute hit it at top speed just as the woman slammed the door shut. He covered half the walkway with speed and dexterity to shame Deuce McAllister.

But these walkways were not designed to accommodate high-speed sprinting. A sprinter with his judgement and sense of balance altered by rage and/or beverages is particularly prone to …


Whack! SPLASH!! He hit the dock with his stomach and chin, rattling the boards from one end to the other, then rolled off into the shallow water, where he thrashed like a harpooned gator, while bellowing an unintelligible barrage of threats and curses.

This struck Pelayo and Chris as an opportune time to hastily proceed on our trip, and they scrambled back into the truck. But when Pelayo jerked his truck into gear and stomped it, he almost collided with the bearded guy in the Harley T-shirt, who simply dodged, nodded and waved us off.

Finally, we resumed our trip. Looking back, I could see more people scrambling out of the camp and crossing the road.

When we hung a right and rumbled onto the road behind Bridgeside Marina, we finally felt safe and started laughing — but a bit nervously. Doc Fontaine’s Uncle had a nice camp in the area that Doc had secured for the Labor Day weekend. We’d been invited to partake in a weekend of classic Grand Isle-style socializing, gorging, guzzling, crabbing and fishing.

Not that the broiling month of August is a particularly good month for the latter down here, especially with a howling west wind that was sure to muddy the surf and suck out the tides from the marshes behind the island. All agreed that fishing prospects for the weekend looked bleak. Consequently, much ground meat, chicken and pork chops had been brought along as substitutes for the dubious fish.

As usual for a Grand Isle weekend, many other activities would take up the slack from lousy fishing. I, on the other hand, had surveyed the same weather forecast, and was pumped for some serious fishing and a serious fish fry and grill-fest.

The bass notes from Rick James’ Superfreak whacked us before Pelayo had even turned off the engine in front of the camp. The entire camp from the roof to the heavy pilings seemed to vibrate from the thumping racket as we walked up the stairs.

“Geezum,” Chris snorted while whacking the door to make himself heard. “Wasn’t this supposed to be some kinda family-oriented weekend?”

Pelayo and I shrugged just as Trisha opened the door.

“Welcome!!” she yelled as a chorus of whoops and yells erupted from inside the spacious camp.

“About time!” yelled a florid-faced Doc, who, ever the gracious host, held a dripping beer in each hand while extending them toward his guests.

As we popped open the brewskies, Trisha — Doc’s girlfriend for going on a full year now — went back to center stage, hopping barefoot atop the heavy oak coffee table for a bit of pole-dancing without the pole. She was quickly joined by Artie’s wife, Nanette. Both gals wore bikini tops, and their movements made the straps move erratically, as the men whooped crazily. With every slip of the straps, the gals teasingly made as to further slip them off — then slipped them back into place.

“Saw that?” Chris smiled as we carried our bags down the hall to our rooms. “No tan lines.”

“What?” I asked.

“No tan lines on the girls — even under their bikini strap,” Chris laughed.

“Or even under the cleavage,” noted an observant Pelayo. “Doc and the other couples have been here since Thursday. Somehow and somewhere, they’ve been getting all-over tans. Looks like we got here too late.”

“Maybe not,” I added. “They seem in pretty frisky moods. This weekend could turn interesting.”

We knew that Doc had several nephews on hand for the weekend, and Artie had brought his son, T- Buzz.

“Where’s the munchkins?” Chris asked Doc as we made our way back to the den.

“They’re out on the beach. They say they’re fishing. But they’re just goofing off, having fun with the flounder gigs, making fires and stuff. Fishing ain’t been worth a damn with this strong west wind. No point in even getting up early tomorrow. The wind will be howling — and from the west. So let’s whoop it up tonight and sleep in tomorrow.”

And we did just that. Near 11 a.m., I finally pulled myself from bed, nodded meekly while walking past Doc and the gang sipping their coffees on the camp’s porch, and strolled over near the marina, where T-Buzz, little Nickie and little Kim were fishing and throwing the cast net off an adjacent dock.

“We’re trying to catch crab bait,” said T-Buzz as he hauled in the castnet full of shiny, wiggling pogies. “But I keep catching these shiners. These are too small for crab nets.”

“Don’t you DARE throw ’em back!” I howled while reaching down for their bucket. “Dump those suckers right in the bucket!”

“For what?” he frowned.

“For bait,” I said. “For when we go fishing later.”

“But they’ll be dead in seconds!” laughed T-Buzz.

“No problemo,” I smiled. “We’ll use ’em dead, out at the rigs this afternoon when the wind dies. Y’all ready for nonstop fishing?” I said looking around and nodding. “And for a dy-no-mite fish fry tonight?”

“We haven’t been catching ANYTHING!” wailed Nickie.

“I don’t even wanna go fishing anymore.” added Kim. “It’s so hot and nothing’s biting. We’ve gone twice, with live shrimp and everything, and ain’t caught squat!”

“We’ll catch much more than squat this evening when we fish the rigs, believe me.”

“The rigs?” squinted Kim.

“But it’s so rough,” T-Buzz said, pointing around him.

“It’ll calm down this evening,” I said in a professorial tone. “Mark my words. Then we’ll go out just a few miles, and y’all will have a blast cranking in fish after fish. Watch — and wait right here.”

I went inside the marina and bought a few packs of shad rigs (the old kind with the tiny hooks) along with a bag of ice.

“Here,” and I started clipping off their huge circle hooks (on which they’d caught nothing from the dock) and replacing them with the little shad rigs. I tipped them with the red, reeking, half-rotten shrimp they had on the dock, and cast out. In seconds, the tapping started. I set the hook, quickly hauled in a little pinfish, handed the pole to T-Buzz, and dumped the ice in the bucket.

“Y’all put on these other shad rigs, and fill the bucket with everything you catch — except the hardheads and oysterfish. All of it will be great rig bait for this afternoon.”

“See that!” I proclaimed from the camp porch around 4 p.m. while pointing to the flag atop the gazebo. “Told ya! Barely moving, practically flaccid!”

Earlier it had been flapping frantically. A weatherman could explain it scientifically. But all I know is that if during the summer the wind starts out heavy from the west, or even slightly southwest, in the early to mid a.m. hours along our coast, it usually dies down by afternoon.

“You’re simply a genius, Hom-Boy-Da!” smirked Artie after a hearty chug. “What would we do without ya?”

“Now THAT’S funny!” squealed Nanette while pouring herself another margarita. “Just last night I also correctly predicted a flaccid object — and nobody called ME a genius!”

Trisha squealed with mirth, and the gals high-fived.

“More nachos?” Doc blurted while jumping from his chair. “Come on, Artie, let’s prepare another batch.”

And they both went inside, where they joined Chris slaving away in the kitchen.

So it was up to Pelayo and me to take the kids fishing. They deserved it, amply holding up their end of the bargain. They came back with a bucket full of little pogies, pinfish, channel mullet and croakers — all dead, but freshly so.

The Gulf was undulated by gentle swells as we cleared Caminada Pass and headed for the first rigs we saw, barely five miles out. In 20 minutes, the rig hook clanged on a platform in about 50-foot depths, and I started chunking out handfuls of little dead pogies as the kids unlimbered their medium spinning rods. We’d made 3-foot shock-leaders with 40-pound-test atop the 1/4-ounce jigheads, and these we now baited with little dead pogies, barely 3 inches long.

“I got ONE!” yelled T-Buzz before I’d even yanked my rod from the holder.

“Me TOO!” howled Kim from beside him.

After a ferocious flurry of runs mixed with some surface thrashing, I heaved T-Buzz’s Spanish aboard, and he quickly rebaited with a little pogie.

“Watch those teeth!” I howled, then saw Kim grimacing and holding on for dear life as his spool was still emptying.

“WOW!” was all Kim managed to yell between his clenched teeth until I finally swung aboard his bluefish.

“Another Spanish here!” Pelayo roared from the bow while pointing at Nickie.

Then T-Buzz’s reel started singing again, and his pole almost flew from his grip. His face was sweat-beaded and contorted as he duked it out with another chunky Spanish.

Complete bedlam reigned in our boat. In 30 minutes, we had nine fish aboard, and had two lines snapped — always a feature of this type of fishing.

I baited up a 1/4-ounce jighead with half a shrimp, tossed it near the piling, let it sink a bit and by the time I flipped the bail, had my drag screaming and pole tip in the water. Out came a gorgeous pompano.

Pelayo followed suit, and hauled in a nice triggerfish (insert boning knife right alongside soft section of skin alongside dorsal fin and continue downward to extract gorgeous fillet.)

Nickie followed suit with shrimp, and was soon battling a big spadefish. Our boat was surrounded by ravenous fish, most of them visible through the calm, green water.

Then came a mangrove, which smacked a little dead pinfish. The bigger mangroves prefer live bait, but these small ones were content with whole, freshly-dead pogies and pinfish.

Pogies, croakers and pinfish cast away from the rig quickly yielded the savage strikes and frantic runs of Spanish and blues, along with the occasional small shark. Those cast inside the rig were smacked by small mangroves. Jigheads tipped with shrimp and dropped close to the rig pilings yielded triggerfish, pompano and spadefish.

The sun was angling westward, and the murderous mid-day heat had waned. The current was slack and the water a gorgeous dark-green with fish visible all around the boat. Reels were screaming and kids were whooping nonstop. There’s one thing adolescent boys can’t get too much of — action. And here we had it nonstop.

The fried fillets of the blues and Spanish were gobbled greedily that very night. The firm fillets of triggerfish, pompano and spadefish went on the grill, and vanished as quickly to as loud a chorus of “YUMS!”

Not a speck or red was served, and we feasted like royalty, even enticing a ravenous crowd from the neighboring camps to the repast. Almost to a person, they thought themselves gorging on red snapper and specks.

The kids zonked out early that night from all the action. So even some of the neighbors, grateful for the scrumptious meal, joined in the pole-dancing. But these gorgeous gals — as Chris pointed out — all had tan lines.