Probing bluewater, scoping deer and nabbing gators

This big bass was caught by Dr. Bubba as he fished off the bank at a small lake on his hunting club.

Dr. “Bubba” Bonneval is living his best life

Growing up and living in the outdoors of Louisiana is a blessing that is often hard to describe. For those who truly love it, they never take it for granted. And it never gets old.

When one gets to enjoy it from one end of the state to the other, it’s just hard to describe.

“I grew up fishing and hunting and I took my children; now I’m taking their children and there’s nothing I’d rather be doing,” said Dr. “Bubba” Bonneval, who not only spent a lifetime in the outdoors, he also spent a lifetime helping people as a physician.

“My dad was a welder in Port Sulphur and he was an avid sports fisherman and hunter. He loved redfish, flounder and ducks,” Dr. Bonneval said. “When I was eight years old, he put me on a mangrove island with a .410 shotgun, a box of shells and a pirogue. No telling how many ducks I killed back in those days, but that’s how I learned how.  We also spent hours fishing together and it shaped my life.”

Bonneval relaxes in the woods at Somerset Hunting Club, soaking in the bounty of nature he enjoys all across the state of Louisiana.

Dr. Bonneval didn’t slow down as he grew older. In high school, he had a pair of beagles and they owned an 80 acre “briar patch with willow trees” and he spent as much time as he could chasing rabbits.

Life turns serious

Life turned serious for him after high school when he went through LSU in Baton Rouge then Medical School at LSU – New Orleans, a Fellowship in Boston and then a career in general surgery in Raceland and Galiano, where hurricanes had a huge impact on his career. Finally, after Ida, he decided not to fight it anymore, retired and moved to his fishing camp on Grand Isle and his deer camp in Tensas.

Dr. Bubba Bonneval has been making waves in the outdoors for a long time, as witnessed by this June 1987 Louisiana Sportsman featuring him and his tips for saltwater fishing. (Sportsman Cover courtesy Tigue Bonneval and Dick Robichaux, Jr.)

“I tell you, between hunting and fishing and spending time with my twelve grandchildren, I had more time off when I was working,” he said.

Through it all, Dr. Bonneval, is like many of the state’s veteran outdoorsmen. He’s enjoyed it all.

“I guess every sports fish that swims in Louisiana from the bluewater offshore to the ponds on the deer camp, I’ve been able to catch them over the years,” said the 76-year-old.

“My passion for years was going offshore,” he said. “When I first went to work, I bought a 23-foot Seacraft and in 1980, I started fishing yellowfin tuna. I was one of the few outboards out there, but we fished competitively and beat some of the best of the big diesels.”

Flying fish bait

Dr. Bonneval later upgraded to a bigger boat and recalls trip after trip out in the bluewater to fish tuna and dolphin. Sometimes they would stay overnight and come back in by the rigs catching amberjack, grouper and the like. One of his favorite memories was of flying fish that they would snare at night.

“If you got a flying fish to bait your hook with and put it behind the boat, it was a tuna hookup every time,” he said. “It was 100%. There’s nothing else I ever knew that was 100% hookup, but that was.”

He sold his boat, “The Surgeon General,” in 2005 and has pursued other outdoor sports, since. But those days offshore taught him two valuable lessons that he is always eager to pass along.

“No.1 and most important, fishing offshore taught me to never fish in weather that has a name,” he said. “And second, never go south with half a tank of gas. Never.”

This isn’t the first time his fishing prowess has been recognized in print, either. Dr. Bubba was featured on the cover of the June 1987 Louisiana Sportsman and in an article written by former Publisher Ann Taylor all about bluewater fishing.

Dr. Bubba couldn’t live in that part of the country without getting into chasing speckled trout and redfish, either.

“We did a lot of speckled trout fishing around the coast for years,” he said. “Speckled trout was always a lot of fun and good eating. But some of the most fun I ever had was on the North Lake Fishing Club lease where we had a huge area that was teeming with redfish. Catching redfish in shallow water is some kind of exciting.”

If you want to get into this type of fishing, it’s one of the easiest.

“You can always find good trout and redfish guides to take you fishing, not just to catch fish, but to learn about it,” he said. “It costs some money, but it is worth it. I got to do a lot of fishing with Capt. Keith Bergeron — Captain Herk — if you will. He runs the Pair-A-Dice Charters out of Grand Isle.

Turkey fever

Following Hurricane Ida when the roof blew off the Lady of the Sea Hospital in Galliano and the building was condemned, Dr. Bonneval decided to call it quits and join some of his old fishing buddies up north and he took up turkey and deer hunting.

Taking his grandkids for trophy deer like this one or teaching other people’s children has always been one of the joys of Bonneval’s life.

“I killed two turkeys in each of the first two seasons that I hunted up on Somerset,” he said. “I really liked it, but I got into deer hunting, too.”

That’s where he killed his first deer at the age of 56. Since then, he has harvested 30 deer, 17 with a bow.

“I enjoy gun hunting, but there’s something special about taking a deer with a bow,” he said. “There you are 25-30 yards away and you’ve got to be in the right spot. They don’t just come walking up to you. And you have to be a good shot. Taking a shot with a bow and arrow is not very forgiving.”

His best advice for beginning bowhunters is simple. Get with a reputable sporting goods dealer, get the right bow and arrows for you and practice, practice and practice some more. He shot every day for months before taking to the woods. He isn’t just a trophy deer hunter and doesn’t mind shooting a few culls along the way. But his biggest deer was a 10-point Boone and Crockett scored at 151.

“It was a perfect day,” he said. “I got a good shot, made a perfect bow shot and got to watch him fall. Bowhunting became my passion.”

Gator bait

What’s his favorite thing to do now? It might surprise you.

“Like I said, I’ve gotten to pretty much do it all, but what I love most right now is taking my grandchildren, and hopefully more young kids in the future, to go shoot a big old alligator,” he said.

Bonneval never met a fish he didn’t like across the state, including this big marsh redfish.

“We mostly hang hooks in sloughs and barpits that are deep and some in Grassy Lake,” he said. “We bait with chicken quarters and put most of our lines around the banks where we can run them in side-by-sides. We get 43 tags and we use them all. We also like to take some of the younger hunters and teach them about this. We start with gun safety and then safety concerning the alligators. And we teach them to respect the resource. Nothing goes to waste on the gators from the meat to the hide.”

Robert Coats, manager of the Somerset Hunting Club, was the original alligator hunter there, but Bonneval now does it.

“I learned everything I know about gator hunting from Robert Coats,” he said, re-emphasizing safety. That always comes first in any outdoor pursuit.

“We only have one gun and I maintain control with them on every gator,” he said. “We don’t do it like the Swamp People do for TV and shoot them splashing around going wild. We make sure we get them tired out and take a perfect shot every time.”

“All those trips I made when I was younger out on the bluewater, those weren’t just for me,” he said. I was carrying my children and passing on the tradition and the love and respect for the outdoors just like my dad did for me. That’s how it is passed on. I had a lot of friends whose parents didn’t hunt or fish and most of them never learned how, either. My dad put it in my blood and I had a passion for it. It’s something that lasts your entire lifetime.”

Today his three boys, Rene, Tigue, and Patrick, and his daughter, Telly, have all enjoyed the outdoors and they are doing it now with their children. Rene is a charter boat captain in Raceland; Tigue a real estate professional in Baton Rouge, Patrick a surgeon in Baton Rouge, and Telly is a former advertising professional and now full-time mom in New Orleans.

The doctor has one closing prescription that he recommends taking very seriously for your outdoor health and happiness.

“No matter what you choose to do, take the time to learn from somebody who already has experience and be willing to put in the time to learn to do it right,” he said. “And no matter how successful you are, enjoy it.”

About Kinny Haddox 591 Articles
Kinny Haddox has been writing magazine and newspaper articles about the outdoors in Louisiana for 45 years. He publishes a daily website, lakedarbonnelife.com and is a member of the Louisiana Chapter of the Outdoor Legends Hall of Fame. He and his wife, DiAnne, live in West Monroe.