Shrimp boats with their nets up head out to the Gulf of Mexico.
Matherne about his wildlife trophies — a nutria and an alligator large enough to swallow a short man — in his ramshackle office/gift shop. Matherne is a stereotypical Cajun who supplements his income with hunting and fishing. Among these pursuits is trapping nutria or “swamp rat,” an invasive species that is out-competing native wildlife in area habitat. Get him talking, and you’ll learn why the area is a hot sportsman destination.
Matherne provided earmuffs for our airboat ride, but vibrations from the boat’s big engine still made my inner ears tickle, and the noise gave me trouble perceiving sound in my left ear for 24 hours after the ride ended. The temperature was only 60 degrees during our cruise through the swamp, over the marsh and through moss-draped trees. That’s too cold for alligators, so I photographed herons, egrets and a bald eagle.
After lunch — gumbo, what else? — the day warmed up. So we rode to Grand Isle, Louisiana’s only occupied barrier island — and a place we’d heard about at a party in Ohio. Grand Isle is known for its fishing competitions, including the International Tarpon Rodeo held each July. The rodeo, which started in 1928, claims to be the oldest fishing tournament in the United States.
By now we had seen myriad houses elevated to survive high-water storm surges. The houses on both sides of the Grand Isle bridge weren’t your glamour homes from the eastern Gulf Coast. Many were little more than fishing shacks and trailers on stilts.
On the ride back to Southern Marsh RV Park, night fell, and so did the temperature. We were rethinking the fishing charter scheduled for morning because the October weather The Cajun Bayou is an ideal sportsman’s destination or a countryside visit during a trip to New Orleans. This is sugarcane country, and you’ll see it growing everywhere. Check out the rum it inspires at Donner-Peltier Distillery.
4262 LA Highway 90, Des Allemands, Louisiana, 800975-9345, airboattours. com.
24359 Highway 1, Leeville, Louisiana, 985-637-6074, bigdogbowfishing.com.
1635 St. Patrick St., Thibodaux, Louisiana, 985446-0002, dpdspirits.com.
985-537-5800, 877-5375800, lacajunbayou.com.
16816 LA Highway 3235, Cut Off, Louisiana, 985-325-4445, southernmarshrvpark.com.
401 Jackson St., Thibodaux, Louisiana, 985492-2505.
314 St. Mary Street, Thibodaux, Louisiana, 985-448-1375, nps. gov/jela/wetlands-acadiancultural-center.htm.
was unseasonably chilly. As Northerners, we didn’t anticipate drops in mercury. But we’d committed, so we stopped by Walmart at 10 p.m. for a visitor’s salt-water fishing license.
It was in the 40s at sunrise when we were to ride the motorcycle 26 miles to the charter boat. Fortunately, Captain Dan Bryan of Big Dog Bowfishing let us delay our start until the sunshine warmed the air. His wife, Angie DeBlieux, was less patient. She talked us into layering our warmest clothes and heading south as soon as the sun rose. When we arrived, she handed us large sweatshirts that she’d thoughtfully warmed in her clothes dryer. With the heated sweatshirts over our layers, we stepped gingerly into the shallow boat. Soon we were motoring into salty waters.
Bryan told us the “watermelon” smell of the watery environ was fish saliva on the water. I think he was testing my gullibility. A friendly guy, he also shared how he and DiBlieux were high school sweethearts who reunited on Facebook a few years ago.
Our mission was redfish, and we motored about the small islands casting along the shoreline where they hangout. I was more interested in perfecting my cast. I don’t know what I’d have done had I caught a real fish. In fact, after a while, I gave up and busied myself taking pictures of shrimp boats that look like the flying fantasy ships of James Christensen art.
My partner had no problem casting and was disappointed he didn’t reel any fish in our abbreviated tour. I guess we should have been ready at sunrise.
When we return someday, we’ll try Bryan’s newest activity, bowfishing, a nighttime sport. Bryan takes up to six passengers on an airboat outfitted with spotlights. Each fisherman has a bow and tethered arrow to shoot fish in the water. Likely targets will be redfish, flounder, alligator gar and drum.
While we were more interested in learning about bayou history and culture, those committed to fishing will find the bayou welcoming and generous.
Airboat Tours by Arthur: Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou: Gary Mallory of Geneva casts into the bay in search of redfish.
A family from France finds airboat rides exotic and thrilling.