Guiding Light

Some days, guides put clients on easy limits of fish without even trying. Other days, they really earn their money.

Most men go to sleep at night and dream of Cindy Crawford.

You dream of Charlie Tuna.

Most men get up early, work a hard 40 hours a week and sleep late on Saturday.

You get up early, work a hard 40 hours a week and get up even earlier on Saturday.Most men drive their families to an altar on Sunday to worship God.

You drive your buddies to a landing, and see God in the sunrise and the way the wind tickles the tips of the marsh grass. Oh, and your altar looks surprisingly similar to a center-console bay boat.

Most men have hobbies. You have a passion.

So you’re thinking of leaving the rat race behind, huh? You want to chuck it out the window of your Suburban as it’s towing your boat during another pre-dawn trip to your favorite fishing destination.

You’ve heard the old axiom many times. Heck, it’s become your motto: “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

You love to fish, so why not get paid for it? You’re seriously considering becoming a fishing guide.

It’s not a bad calling. Many anglers are right at this very moment making a respectable living motoring neophytes and self-proclaimed experts to their prime fishing holes.

But are you really up for the task?

Read on to find out.

Artificial Reefs

Capt. Tim Ursin has a hook for a hand, but he never seems to have trouble holding onto his fishing rods.

Some of his clients, however, aren’t quite so careful.

“I know I’ve got four or five rods out at Battledore Reef,” the veteran Shell Beach guide said.

On one trip, Ursin had an elderly lady who was struggling to put a fish in the boat.

“No matter what she did, she couldn’t catch a fish,” he said. “So I hooked one on my favorite 7 1/2-foot rod, and I handed it to her.”

It wasn’t in her hands long when a shark took advantage of the situation, engulfed the trout, and with a mighty swipe of its tail, headed out to sea — Ursin’s rod in tow.

On another trip to Battledore, Ursin brought a new rod for one of his regular customers.

“We were catching fish on every cast, and after each fish, this guy would lay the rod on the gunwale,” Ursin said. “I told him, ‘Man, why don’t you lay that rod in the boat. It’s liable to fall overboard.’

“Sure enough, after the next fish, he laid the rod on the gunwale, and it fell in.”

Ursin just shook his head.

“The guy asked me, ‘How much did that rod cost?’ I told him it was $200. He reached into his wallet and pulled out two $100 bills.”

A client on another trip — this time to Lake Amedee — wasn’t quite so generous.

“He was a regular client,” Ursin said. “He would always bring his dog. The dog would go crazy whenever a fish was caught. He would run up and lick the fish, and after he licked the fish, he was fine. He’d go back and lay down.”

Well, on one particular trip, in addition to the dog, the client brought a brand-new 8 1/2-foot rod. That’s right, an 8 1/2-foot rod.

“You should have seen this thing,” Ursin said. “It looked like a telephone pole.”

The guide and his client were having a good day catching trout along the shoreline of Lake Amedee when Ursin’s day took a sudden turn for the worse.

“He got a bite and set the hook,” Ursin said of his client. “The rod hit me square in the face, and knocked my prescription glasses into the water.”

The client apologized, but didn’t offer to replace the glasses.

“That $300 trip cost me a $300 pair of glasses,” Ursin said.

Muddy Misadventure

Capt. Brian Epstein has been guiding Louisiana residents and out-of-towners to Delacroix’s ample trout and redfish stocks for nearly a decade.

In that time, he’s had some great days where he could “one-stop shop” and return to the dock by 9 a.m. with easy limits for his clients.

He’s had other outings that weren’t quite so enjoyable.

One was during a chilly February day five years ago immediately following a big blow that pushed the marsh water into the Gulf.

Epstein had two middle-aged couples down from Canada.

“These were family people,” he said. “They weren’t hard-core fishermen.”

The couples chartered Epstein to catch redfish and speckled trout, and to get the “Louisiana marsh experience.”

That’s precisely what they got.

“It was typical late-winter fishing,” Epstein said. “We caught three or four fish in each spot. The action wasn’t great, but it was consistent.”

After one particular spot petered out, Epstein moseyed down False River, aiming toward another honeyhole that had been delivering a few fish for him.

But he’d never arrive there.

“I turned one cut too soon, and I knew instantly I had made a mistake,” he said. “I could see that there was no water in this pond, but I was committed. There was nothing I could do but try to run through it.”

The strategy didn’t work. A short distance into the pond, the boat tilted on its side, and the motor balked.

“We were high and dry,” Epstein said.

The guide surveyed the situation, and figured that if he could get the boat back a few yards, there was enough water for it to float. But getting there would be the problem.

Despite the fact that it was February — and despite the fact he had two women on the boat — Epstein stripped down to his underwear and eased over the gunwale.

“I immediately sank up to my knees,” he said. “I realized there was no way I was going to be able to move without spreading my weight around, like you do up north when you’re on thin ice.”

So the guide got on his hands and knees in the wet muck, and tried to pull the boat with the bow line between his clenched teeth.

“I felt like if I could just get the bow around, I’d be in good shape,” he said. “I had the people shift their weight every time I pulled.

“But it didn’t work. I didn’t move the boat an inch.”

Epstein decided to change strategies. He climbed back in the boat with his lips blue and his pale skin covered with methane-scented marsh mud.

“I had a 225 (horsepower outboard), so I tried to just power-horse it off (the flat),” he said. “That covered the boat and the rest of us with mud. We had the sensation that we were moving a couple of inches, but every time I’d let off the power, the boat would fall back to where it was.”

Epstein was now starting to get concerned.

“In situations like that, the pressure is unbelievable,” he said. “You’ve got these people on the boat who trusted you to know what you’re doing, and they’re all looking at you to get them out of this.

“I knew the only thing that would help would be to get the weight off the boat, but I couldn’t say that.

“Finally, one of the guys says, ‘We need to get the weight off the boat.’ I said, ‘No, no, we can’t do that.’ But I was glad he said it.”

They agreed that he and Epstein would get off first, and see if they could move the boat together.

They did, but it was tough sledding.

“It took us about an hour, but we finally got it floating,” Epstein said. “I drove back out to False River, got myself a little cleaned up, and said, ‘Alright, now let’s go catch some fish.’

“The men were O.K. with that, but the ladies said, ‘No way. Take us back to the dock.’”

Man Overboard

When Capt. Kirk Stansel was a boy, he saw sights reserved only for anglers fortunate enough to live within driving distance of Louisiana’s pre-eminent trophy trout lake.

Leg-length trout that would cause eyes to pop and jaws to drop for anglers along other coasts of the country were a regular part of the young Stansel’s summers.

Now grown up, Stansel will admit he’s jaded.

But clearly, jaded or not, it’s been during his two-plus decades of guiding anglers to Calcasieu Lake’s oversized trout that Stansel’s seen his most bizarre sights on the popular water body.

Many of the clients Stansel and the other guides at Hackberry Rod and Gun Club take out for a day on the water are hard-core fishermen who re-tie lures after every fish, check and re-check knots and make precision casts where the guides recommend.

Other clients go to great lengths to squeeze as much fun as they can into the limited hours of their mini vacation.

For some reason, you get a bunch of grown men, give them lodging for the night away from their wives and a trip on a boat they don’t have to run, and all of a sudden they become little boys.

“The best stories are usually alcohol-related,” Stansel said.

Two, in particular, really stand out in his mind.

On one, Stansel had some clients at the Old Jetties on the south side of the lake.

“We were on the north side of the jetties, so I had to position the boat right up close to the rocks,” Stansel said.

One of the clients, a 63-year-old man from Houston, had been hitting the vodka and tonic hard since the trip began.

Stansel kept a close eye on him, but when the guide, who was on the bow, turned to make a cast, he heard a big splash toward the back of the boat.

The tipsy angler had fallen overboard.

“We pulled him back in,” Stansel said. “He’s lucky he wasn’t on the front of the boat, or he would have hit those rocks.”

Though the air was fairly chilly, Stansel and the rest of the clients continued to fish — and catch fish.

Over the next few hours, the lush dried out — his clothes, that is. He continued to hit the sauce with the same vigor and passion.

Finally, it was time to head back in. The clients found their seats, the drunkard selecting a spot forward of the console.

Stansel put the boat on plane, and began the relaxing run back to his lodge.

Most of the run was just that — relaxing — but just before the cut to the lodge, the boozer, in some vain attempt to be funny, hurled his drink over his shoulder.

It hit Stansel squarely in the face.

“He nearly drowned me with his vodka and tonic,” Stansel said. “Getting hit in the face with anything when you’re going 40 miles an hour hurts.

“It really (ticked) me off.”

Another incident was less painful but just as incredible.

After a hard day fishing, Stansel was motoring his boat alongside his brother Guy, who had a group of drinkers on his boat.

“One of the guys on his boat — a great big fella — had been drinking margaritas all day,” Stansel said.

The tequila apparently had had its desired effect, and the guy was feeling no pain.

During the boat ride back to the lodge, the inebriated angler stood up, walked toward the front of the boat, jumped in the air, and did a cannonball on his now-empty 48-quart Igloo.

“He just splintered the thing,” Stansel said.

Incredulous, Guy Stansel dropped the boat to idle speed to check on the angler. He had no choice but to laugh once he realized the action had been intentional and the client was O.K.

“But it gets better,” Kirk Stansel said. “About a mile further along, the guy stands up and jumps out of the boat — 40 miles an hour into the water.”

Just another tequila sunrise.

EDITOR’S NOTE — I applaud the guides who participated in this story for being good sports and laughing at some of their misadventures.

Capt. Brian Epstein can be reached at (504) 488-5581; Capt. Tim Ursin at (985) 643-5905; Capt. Kirk Stansel at (337) 762-3391.

About Todd Masson 746 Articles
Todd Masson has covered outdoors in Louisiana for a quarter century, and is host of the Marsh Man Masson channel on YouTube.