It seems that there is a requirement of being
an outdoors writer: You can't be one until you
pen one of those, "What fishing means to me,"
Practically all of what I write about fishing - from
the serious and contemplative to the misadventures
and fiascoes - essentially answers this question.
However, I do not want to be considered derelict
in my duties.
I sat down and thought about how I'd like to express
myself on the subject. Of course, it's nearly impossible
not to desire to imitate Robert Traver's wonderful
"Testament of a Fisherman." Imitation is, after all,
the sincerest form of flattery. But if I'm going to
earn my wings, I have to be original.
Perhaps I never really considered the question,
"What fishing means to me," since fishing has
always been an integral part of my life, save
for a decade or so which was perhaps the darkest
part of my existence thus far. I have fished since
I can remember such things, and considering a life
of not fishing leaves me despondent and melancholy.
It would be tempting to use McManus' wonderful line,
"I fish, therefore I am," and though it might be true,
plagiarism does not get us into heaven.
When my father passed away, my spiritual brother,
who dad adopted in the Indian way upon meeting at
a gathering of indigenous nations somewhere, gave
us a story to add to our memories of the old man.
He said that dad reminded him of his natural father,
and he imagined that there was a meeting taking place
in heaven that day.
"Thanks for taking care of that boy all these years,"
the one would say.
"No problem," replies the other. "How's the fishing?"
Perhaps a truer testament to a fisherman even
than Traver. I think, often, about Nick Stouff,
because I am fishing the same waters we fished
together all our lives.
When I cast into those waters, there is an optical
illusion that makes the line seem to jut off at an
unnatural angle from its intersection with the
surface. Below the surface of those waters, waters
my people have touched for eight thousand years,
I can imagine, then, that where my line suddenly
lances off oddly, unnaturally, it is passing a gate,
a door, into a world gone by. Beneath the bright
sun and cool breeze, my line is connecting me with
eight millennia of ancestors and stories.
There is a row of old cypress pilings running across
the cove which was once the central religious center
of our entire nation. Dad warned me about them every
time we passed that way. "Got to watch out for those
pilings," he always said. "You can't see 'em, but
they'll take the bottom out of the boat."
Last year, when the water was extremely low, the row
of pilings was visible for the first time in my memory.
I coasted up next to one of the pilings and touched it,
touched a century of history. A hundred years of ghosts.
Could I feel the tearing of a logging saw through the
trunk of thousand-year-old timber? Probably not, but
I'd like to think so.
The sweat from humid brows, the blood from battered
fingers has long been washed from the grain of the
pilings by the murky water of the cove, by seasons
of forgetfulness and tides of disbelief. The next
day when I returned, the water had risen and they
were invisible again, submerged to where the things
which lie beneath persist, whether we are aware of
them or not.
Back of Grand Avoille Cove, there is a canal called
Sawmill Bayou. At its mouth, there are one thousand
cypress and tupelo logs sunken. When the logging
industry collapsed on Black Tuesday, they left
that entire harvest there and the logging industry
in Louisiana largely expired. Gradually those logs
sank, and when the water is low, I can see them in
neat rows, huge trunks of priceless "sinker" cypress.
When the water is high, I know that they hold bluegill
and bass, and when I cast to them, I know that the
snags are many.
Farther north, on Lake Fausse Pointe, I know that
before the Atchafalaya Basin Protection Levee was
built as a result of the great flood of 1927, there
were two islands dividing Fausse Point from Grande
Lake: Big Pass and Little Pass. Jean Lafitte, the
infamous pirate, would flee up the river, circle
around Big Pass with the authorities close behind,
then escape into Peach Coulee, a natural canal on
the north shore of the lake. When my father fished
here, before the levee was complete, Lake Fausse
Pointe would turn brackish some times of the year,
and they'd catch dog sharks and lemon sharks. A
tarpon once jumped over the bow of his pirogue when
he startled it coming around the southern point of
I know that the east bank of Peach Coulee is an
Indian mound, and for mysterious reasons, the Indians
of historical times feared that place. The Acadians,
whether hearing the Indians stories or experiencing
some of their own, also avoided it. I know that, in
my lifetime, anyone who built a camp on Peach Coulee
lost it to fire. I know that the bass sometimes gang
up far deep in Peach Coulee along the grass lines,
and no spirits trouble me, as long as I offer tobacco
to the mound.
It was in another small canal off the lake that I
pursued bluegill in my father's wooden bateau a
few seasons ago, and heard it: A whistling,
accompanied by a sound rather like if you were beating
on a hollow log with a tree limb. There was a crashing
in the wood ashore, and though I could see nothing, it
drew nearer, that dreadful whistling and pounding and
snapping of trees and branches. I eased the old bateau
out of the canal carefully, quietly. I know what I
heard that day. My father's people called it "Neka-sama,"
and it was to be feared. It passed from west to east
each year, whistling and thumping as it went, and
would reach out from fire to snatch children into
the flames. I do not speak its name on the lake,
for to do so might be to invoke it.
I know that a Chitimacha family was tending to
their daily chores on the lake shore when a white
deer came out of the woods. Though it was forbidden,
they killed and ate the animal. Then, one by one,
they seemed to go into a trance and walked into
the lake. The lake then spit them back out as
balls of fire, which can still be seen over the
treeline at night today. I have seen these lights
many times, circling, lost, abandoned and never,
ever at peace.
If I cross the levee to the north side of the basin
and put my boat over at the launch, I know that the
shell under my feet is the remains of a massive
village, flattened early this century to allow
fishermen like me easy access to Grande Lake. I
know that it was at this village that the Spanish
arrived for the first time, making their way up
the Atchafalaya River in their galleons to this
spot, where the chief of my people forbid them
to come ashore. They tried to do so anyway, and
were soundly beaten back. Allying themselves with
a neighboring hostile tribe, the Spanish returned
and began the first of many wars which would lead
to the near extinction of my people over the
centuries to follow.
Once on the water, as I make my way to Taylor's Point
to make the turn toward Buffalo Cove where the
sac-au-lait are usually running in the spring, I
know that my mother's sister and her husband drowned
on this lake a few years before I was born. They
found their boat, undisturbed, adrift, so quiet
and peaceful it seemed awaiting their return. My
father and uncle found their bodies floating not
So it is, I suppose, that this is what fishing
means to me. It is sport, yes, it is relaxation
and it is rewarding. I search for its prizes and
trophies. But in the end, if I did not fish, I
would still be here, touching native waters. There
are things that should not be forgotten, although
they largely are, and I am among the few who remember.
Why do I fish? After all I've just said, I still
don't know, really. Why do I breathe? Why does my
heart beat? Why do I float through black water canals,
under cypress canopies, brave water moccasins and
cottonmouths, searching for things no longer believed
Because sometimes it doesn't really matter if you
believe in something or not, so long as something
believes in you. ~ Roger