Fly-fishing has some different faces to it, from the
pristine stream in the California mountains sneaking
up on eight inch golden trout, to bowing to the 150
pound tarpon making your heart stop by jumping twenty
feet in front of the boat. Offshore in 600 feet of water
offers yet another venue. Out there with the right mix
of boat, sun and crazy fishermen provided pure chaos for
us last week. We were fishing out of the mouth of the
Chaos, when things are out of control without a pattern,
is not all that hard to get into when the sea is the medium
and we are but mortals cast upon it. Part was caused by
trying to get four fishermen ready for a type of fishing
that only a couple had seen before. The rest was due to
the personalities of the fisherman and guides involved.
Add to this a stay at a new lodge (to us) south of New
Orleans with an eclectic staff, some crazy weather and
we had enough to achieve chaos.
We managed to get everybody to the lodge and put in a day
of fishing on the flats before the deep-sea adventure. We
do this often and the one new thing that happened on the
flats was a big alligator gar actually jumped into the boat
with one pair of fisherman. The story goes that somehow the
gar got surprised while napping and when he jumped, like
they will when scared, the boat was in the way. A gar like
this is one long muscle of a fish covered with slime and quite
smelly. This one just missed Unk's knee while he was standing
on the platform in front of the boat and landed face first in
David's lap. The front end of this five-foot long, fifty-pound
fish looks just like the namesake, an alligator's, teeth and all.
I heard all three sides to this story and they were all different,
depending on where you were in the boat when this preview of real
chaos took place. Unk did not come off the platform and Brian
stayed on the back tower. David and the fish were doing a
combination of an Irish Jig and break dancing around the center
of the boat. David got clear without getting hurt, but half his
head went bald on the spot. The fish beat the devil out of
everything it could reach but broke nothing. Brian came down
and subdued the monster by working a towel over the fish and
hoisting it out of the boat. It was a pure form of "catch and
release" but who was practicing it was not clear. Unk held his
position throughout the episode. His story was probably the
most accurate, but through three tellings I noted the fish
keeps getting bigger.
The first and second nights in the lodge proved quite an
improvement over our normal digs in the area since Katrina
messed up the place. I have slept in trucks, on floors and
in several trailers. Finding first class housing was really
nice. The Woodland Plantation, a "southern plantation," is
40 miles south of New Orleans. It was built in the 1840s and
restored in the 20th century by an interesting family from the
city. Look up the place, www.woodlandplantation.com. You step
back in history and enjoy some southern comfort style hospitality.
A man named Foster owns and runs the place and has a staff
of a dozen or so. There is a big house (original mansion),
a small house we stayed in and a church, plus some other
older buildings. The church was moved from somewhere south
of where it is now and converted into a bar and restaurant
with Foster living over the kitchen. It is called the "Spirit
House" and is just that. Foster lives over the kitchen so
that must make him the master spirit. He and his staff have
all the spirit you would ever need to get you laughing and
having fun. A lighted Southern Comfort sign is right in the
middle of the bar. When you look at a bottle of that gooey
liquor you see a painting of the "big house" from 1934 before
the river levies were added.
We had accepted the little house (sleeps six) for the four
of us and ended up deciding to take the meal package that
went with it for $30 more. We slid into the bar and the
food just started coming. Hors d'oeuvres of many types
come out while you socialize and consume adult beverages
before dinner. Some of the food you might recognize if
you have eaten in Louisiana much, but some was new to me
like crawfish pie, local sausages and shrimp fixed in toxic
hot sauces. If some fishermen bring in a fish to be prepared,
the crowd enjoys that too.
The bar had most every drink known to mankind and they made
some special Woodland drinks that I avoided after hearing
the amount of stuff in them. They took your dinner order
during this playtime and told you when to take a seat at
a table and to begin the "real" feasting. The salads,
entrees and desserts were excellent; much more than usual
on a fishing trip. Add to this a hot breakfast if you are
going out late enough for the staff to get going in the
morning, or continental fare placed in the room if leaving
very early. They also pack a simple lunch for you and your
guides to carry.
We survived the first and second nights with a day on the
flats before the day of chaos on the big boat. "Survived"
I say, as the drinks were mighty good and day two of fishing
started with a 0415 get up call. There was an hour drive to
meet the boat in Venice, the last town on the road down the
The boat was a 36-foot catamaran with twin 250-horsepower
four-stroke engines. There is only a center consul and
mass of space for four fly-casters to work, one at each
corner. Sonny was the captain with Brian acting as deck
hand. These two youngsters went to college to train for
the clergy and must have failed out to become fishing guides.
Brian usually runs his own flats boat. We fish with him
often. Sonny did start with a little prayer; that made me
worry about the ride ahead a bit.
Getting started, an undertaking of some magnitude in the
dark, was not an easy act with four guys rigging up at
least three rods apiece to put in holders under the rails.
Several of the team took enough stuff along to have
diverted to Cuba and stayed months without washing clothes.
Underway the boat ran silently out one of the many passes
at the end of the mighty Mississippi and into the gulf.
A big cat like this never pounds through the seas but
rocks fore and aft a bit. It is a comfortable ride. Nice
it was as we ran for about 90 minutes before the quest for
Our first spot to try was at the "dome" some 40 miles out.
This mound of bottom is a ten-acre patch 180 foot down with
600-foot water surrounding it. Every fish in the gulf seems
to pile up there to do fish-like things from breeding to
eating. To get the fish to the top, you add some fish pieces
to the water and the boat gets surrounded. I asked what was
first to be caught and the boys yelled, "big bonito." Most
of the rods selected where the 11 and 12 weights as a 10-15
pound tuna fish can do some mighty pulling. Unk was the first
to hook up, followed by Bill, and then the rest of us. The
water was thrashing with fish of all sorts eating the meal
offered, and each other. I had several of them to the boat,
as did David and Unk, while Bill was still fighting his first.
When Bill got his big fish in and then his second (another
long fight) he commented he was going to put away his nine-weight
and get a bigger rod. He didn't and soon had a big bull dolphin
fish take his fly and run off four fine jumps before just leaving
the scene with Bill unable to stop it with the small rod. Bill
started commenting that he was going to be "spooled" if the boat
did not follow the fish, and soon. Sonny thought it might be
a state record so all of us pulled lines out of the water and
we "followed" Bill's fish. It took him a long time to get it
in but finally he had a very nice bull dolphin in the boat
after an expert gaff job by Sonny. Pictures were taken and
the fish was invited either to a scale, for the record books,
or dinner at the spirit house.
Bill got a bigger rod then we all tried for some more of the
bulls. I had so many big bonitos on that I pulled it out of
their jaws if I saw them coming. Twice big dusky sharks took
the fish I was fighting making me work pretty hard to break
them off without breaking the rod. Meanwhile, David got the
rock music piped up on the radio and was singing along to
sixties and seventies rock music at the top of his lungs. He
was also trying to catch one of the many sharks now cruising
around the boat. Sonny would put a bonito on a rope and bring
the beasts up to the rail while David tried to drop the fly in
a mouth. He accomplished the task twice that I saw, but the
wire got cut each time. These were 300-400 pound fish so there
was little faith in any of us that even a 15-weight rod would
bring one to the boat. With the rope tied on a cleat with a
fish tied on one end, without a hook, the sharks would almost
pull the side of the boat apart. That would have made for a
nice meal if we all had to abandon ship as it sunk.
With David trying for the sharks, the rest of us were still
hauling in the bonito and hardtails. In the middle of the
singing, splashing, blood/gore on the deck and plain mayhem
we heard a resounding "crack" and looked around to see Unk
holding a three-piece rod, that was supposed to be a two-piece.
He was not able to hold the rod off the boat when a shark took
his bonito or, perhaps, the rod had a nick in it and gave up
the ghost. We could never really get the full story. When we
tired of this game I thought it had been a good day. We were
at this only an hour and it just before nine in the morning.
Having had enough of that fish infested area, we headed out
looking for other kinds of fish. All the time we were
running out from the shore, we were going by and through
big oil platforms, and I mean BIG. The deeper the water,
the bigger the legs and the platforms on them got. There
were hundreds of them within sight and we could only see
a few miles. It was reported over 90 of these were damaged
by Katrina and we saw some being rebuilt. Ninety would only
be a dent in the population. Someone asked if these were the
biggest and the answer was there were some, way out, that had
legs as big as these whole platforms.
On one big rig we got some nice snapper feeding and Bill got
a seven pound mangrove snapper, followed by a small black tip
shark, followed by a hook-up to a giant jack cravelle. The
last one broke itself off on a long run around the tower.
The shark landing was the highlight of this stop. It was
pulled into the boat to unhook and then "got away." David
treed himself on the bench having had some experience with
fish in a boat recently. Sonny and Brian tossed bean-bag
pillows on top of the fish and subdued it. It was another
"catch and release" were the catcher and releaser positions
were not fully assigned at the parting. Unk did a fine job
of staying out of the way once again. I was just to far away
to help up front.
We got several other types of fish this way and then went
looking for seaweed and more dolphin fish. Not finding much,
we ran back inshore to smaller wellheads and tied off so we
could chum up big fish from the structure below. Many more
snappers showed but nothing else. It seemed like we had been
fishing a month by 4 PM, and we headed in. The return route
took us about 15 miles up the big river from the southern
most pass. The day was pretty and water calm except when
passing outgoing tankers and freighters.
Dinner was late but the Spirit leader, Foster, did us fine.
He was the cook and bottle washer this evening and started
with shucking all the oysters we could handle before cooking
up two kinds of our fish for us. Some other fishermen, who
did not catch a thing, also got dinners off the big ones we
gave to the lodge.
In all, we had a grand time. I go "outside" to fish once a
year, probably because I forget I don't like that kind of
fishing very much. It is usually too rough and you cannot
see the fish you are after. This was different. I saw way
too many fish, had my line pulled on plenty, almost too much.
I will be a little less reticent to do this again...on this
kind of boat, and with this kind of crew. ~ Capt Scud Yates/July 2006/ email@example.com