Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

July 3rd, 2006

Foiled Again
By Roger Stouff

Though the freshwater fisheries here along the coast of Louisiana have largely crashed and burned in the wake of the last hurricane season, saltwater fishing has been absolutely phenomenal.

I'm not equipped with the right vessel to make such trips and rely largely on the invitation of others, so I haven't had the chance to capitalize on this redfish and speckled trout bonanza this year. I have also been somewhat snakebit when it comes to my briny quarry: Five trips under my belt, and I have yet to catch a single one of them.

A pal of mine took pity on me and invited me recently to a Saturday morning trip to a location called Point au Fer, an hour's boat ride from the intersection of the Atchafalaya River and the Intracoastal Canal at Berwick, Louisiana. Certainly I leaped at the opportunity.

I could barely sleep the night before. Lamon had warned me that there'd be a chance of north winds at ten, maybe fifteen miles per hour, not the greatest situation at all, but then, it might only be five miles per hour which wasn't bad. The anticipation was palatable. I got up at four in the morning, chugged some coffee and threw my gear into the truck to rush to town and meet Lamon by five. We took off for Berwick with a big aluminum bateau in tow and by daybreak were in the water.

It was an awesome ride right at sunrise, the great fireball of the sun cutting through the early morning haze over our left shoulders as we sped down the Atchafalaya, the "long river" in the Choctaw tongue. But the wind started popping us when we got to the bay and I was disappointed to realize that I'd be baitcasting rather than fly fishing. I had taken along my #7 bamboo rod by Harry Boyd which still hasn't seen the action it deserves due to the freshwater crash, and a backup graphite. That's right, I took a graphite nine-foot #8 St. Croix Legend Ultra as backup to my Boyd Rod Co. bamboo, that should tell you where the primary rod ranks!

But the wind was just too high and the boat was bouncing too much, and I'm just not a good enough caster to rest easy that I won't put a #6 Clouser in my ear. So pardon me for writing a bait-casting column. The best laid plans of mice and fishermen, you know. My trip to Montana made me realize that I needed practice casting in wind and I have been doing so, but this wind was, over a dozen miles of open water, magnified seemingly accordingly.

So we were fishing frozen shrimp on heavy hooks weighted to sink to the bottom. Lamon said he'd try to find me a spot to fish out of the wind. Point au Fer is a low island made up of rangia clamshell, one of the few surviving such islands and reefs that once lined and protected the Louisiana coast from storms such as we saw last season. These shell reefs were dredged for the value of their materials and most of the money pocketed by corrupt Louisiana politicians.

These magnificent reefs of shell are worked by wind and surf into fine shards of clam shell along the edges, white or faintly flesh-colored, and from a distance look like sandy beaches. I could imagine, had the wind not been so brutal, walking along those shell reefs casting a Pink Charlie or such into the slack water in search of bull reds.

It was tough finding some calm water, and tougher finding clean water. Even when we did all I caught was hardheads, catfish of the brine, and a croaker, an aptly named relation of the redfish that literally croaked at me in irritation.

Somewhere along the line, though, I started to get an, "Oh, boy," feeling. I've been sailing in a twenty-two foot sailboat in three to four foot seas. I've ridden nearly twelve miles offshore in a good chop on the back of a jetski with Lamon to fish another shell reef. I've been in the bay two or three other times, including my Fly Fishing America television shoot.

But this time, I got that, "Oh, boy," feeling. It started in the stomach and kinda oozed out from there, up my spine, into my chest and head and throat. Every sway up and plummet down of the boat, though not drastic by any stretch of the imagination, seemed to leave my stomach at the higher altitude.

"I don't think I'm cut out for this," I told my host right before flinging off my hat and hanging my head over the side of the boat.

It's no small embarrassment for a man who has been in a boat since he was old enough to sit up straight, who has written a book regarding boats and fishing, writes a column for the largest fly fishing website on the planet and has appeared on not one but two episodes of a fishing television be reduced to hanging over the side of an aluminum boat somewhere an hour south of Berwick, Louisiana.

Remarkably, I felt a lot better and we fished hard. We finally got into some fish. Lamon caught a great twelve pounder and released him to fight another day, kept a good eating-sized one. I continued to catch hardheads. The wind did not let up, and, off behind us, a black wall of thunderhead was deserving of close scrutiny.

Then I got a different kind of hit, and I didn't know what I was into, but it hit hard and bent my baitcasting rod over.

"Whatcha got there?" the skipper asked.

"I dunno," I said, but the mere act of fighting it was making my stomach feel queasy again.

I fought it closer to the boat and finally the thing on the end of my line surfaced.

"It's a zebra," I said, thinking perhaps my illness went far deeper than I initially suspected.

"It's a black drum," Lamon said.

"Oh," I agreed, relieved that my sanity was at least marginally more healthy than my equilibrium. I released the striped fellow back to the bay. "Looks like a little convict," I thought.

I did manage one redfish, about eight inches long, the proverbial "rat red", before I suddenly felt the need to check the waterline of the boat again for accuracy. By this time the black thunderhead behind us had engulfed several offshore oil rigs between the storm and ourselves, and Lamon said it was high time to high tail it.

On the way home I did feel the need to make sure that the waterline of the boat was accurate while under power. I'm just a conscientious fellow like that.

"I really appreciate you taking me out," I said after the inspection was done. "I don't think I'm cut out for it," I added sadly. Maybe, he said, another time with light and variable winds instead. I'd be willing to try, but next time, I'm going to get hypnotized for motion sickness. Or acupuncture. Something... ~ Roger

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