TRAV­EL­ERS’ CHECKS

The News Herald (Willoughby, OH) - - Travel -

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.

PARIS WOLFE — THE NEWS-HER­ALD

Air­boat Tours by Arthur: Louisiana’s Ca­jun Bayou: Gary Mal­lory of Geneva casts into the bay in search of red­fish.

PARIS WOLFE — THE NEWS-HER­ALD

A fam­ily from France finds air­boat rides ex­otic and thrilling.

PARIS WOLFE — THE NEWS-HER­ALD

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