Piscatorial Green, Gold, and Blue
New Orleans is famous for a few things like Bourbon Street, the Bacchanalian human debauchery that is Mardi Gras, Zydeco music, boiled crayfish, and the brother pirates Lafitte. Rumor has it that somewhere in the swamplands south of New Orleans the Brothers Lafitte stashed their gold away and every once in awhile after a good storm, hidden gold will wash ashore in the backwater tidelands around the city of Lafitte. So, the search begins.
Theophile (pronounced toe-FILL) Bourgeois, like his accent, is back bayou Cajun through and through, an expert finding Lafitte’s treasure, and a practical joker.
If Theophile says, “hey, the drinks are in that ice chest.”
You should say, “No thank you. I had a drink early.”
Then ask your fishing buddy to grab you a drink. Make sure it is one of your buddies that has wronged you in some way and you need to exact some type of quick, innocent retribution.
Ice chest surprises aside Theophile’s Bourgeois Fishing Charters is, however, no joke. Theophile’s Cajun Vista, the launching pad for bayou excursions in search of Lafitte’s gold, is a century old schoolhouse that was refurbished after Hurricane Katrina which wiped out most of the surrounding neighborhood. The Vista is cozy, well appointed, and is the perfect resting place between a morning and afternoon prospecting run.
“We’ll get ya up at 4:30 or 5:00 and get out on the water come in for a quick lunch and nap, and then hit the water again.”
So starts a typical day at the Cajun Vista.
Bourgeois’s operation runs a typical guide cadre of twenty-five boats and some of the most experienced and professional guides in the delta. He runs his staff like a well-oiled, fish finding team of piscatorial warriors. With the hum of his 250hp Mercury as a backdrop, cell phone beeps preceded staccato voices calling out hot positions.
“Fish on. Reds on the Point at six feet,” Captain Chris Pike’s French induced Cajun twang reports. Pike held the illustrious honor of the youngest guide in the region for a number of years starting at the ripe old age of nineteen and after five years with Bourgeois Charters, he is an old, experienced salt and a hell of a duck guide to boot.
Another captain interjects, “Trout on the South Rigs.”
The twist and turns of the Delta basin are a structural angler’s wildest dreams come true. Each turn and twist offers an opportunity to fish another point structure and all the banks drop off offering edges for the wariest reds to cruise. And although the water is very much tannin stained, the relative shallowness, 1 to 3 feet along the edges, it still offers incredible sight casting opportunities for reds and trout. One simply has to adjust to instead of casting to the actual sight of the fish to the slightest movement. If you think sight casting to a tailing red or to a flash of blue-silver flashing across a blonde sand pocket in gin-clear water is a rush, try looking for a contra ripple or watch a ripping V-wake ply down a long rock groin outcropping. The blow-ups are just as spectacular and can, at times, even offer more of a thrill than actually watching the fish turn and approach your lure-the surprise takes your breathe.
“Sounds like we got our pick today. What’s your poison? Reds, trout, or largemouth,” Bourgeois asks.
Remembering an embarrassing moment back on the porch with a non-descript icebox I am hesitant to take the bait on the largemouth.
“Yeah! Right! Largemouth.”
“Seriously, man. We can catch largemouth bass right in sight of the New Orleans skyline.”
Lafitte is roughly three miles south of Lake Salvador off the Barataria Bay Waterway and just as the delta offers a multitude of types of structure-points, gravel to sand, mud to gravel, submerged reefs and sunken barges that service the hundreds of miles of pipeline and rigs that dot the delta-Salvador offers thousand of century old cypress trees, sawgrass reeds, and typical fresh water structure. The thought of unique, cross salinity slam sounded appealing.
“Alright. I’ll bite. Let’s catch some largemouth.”
Bourgeois spun the twenty-four foot Champion northward and we sped through the labyrinthine complex of canals and cuts at white-knuckled speed. One deft left hand turn through a dogleg that would make Augusta National jealous and the canal opened into a vast, humidity-hazed lake right in front of us. And as promised, like a phoenix rising through the caloric heat waves of a blistering June Louisiana summer day, New Orleans glimmered and danced in the distance.
“Let’s try that cypress stand over there.”
We make our way along the rolling shoreline tossing Zara Super Spook Jr.s to lolling bass under the hanging limbs of cypress. The peaceful sauna bath we are fishing is interrupted and we wave at an airboat of tourists as they buzz by with bobbing heads and ridiculously oversized and beaten earmuffs mindlessly waving and unaware of the idyllic scene they are disturbing.
“You know, they come down here to see an alligator or two and feel the ambience of this place but they don’t get it,” Bourgeois laments, “it is a catch-22. It’s the uniqueness of this canal system that allows us to fish for trout, reds, and bass. But it is disappearing.”
Bourgeois and Pike are witnessing exactly what all sportsmen are seeing in their local waters. The bayou delta is losing roughly 500 acres of marsh and shoreline a year through saltwater intrusion, wind and rain erosion, and lack of silt replacement from the diverted Mississippi River. Pork belly surplus and irresponsible resource management is threatening the survival of one of the few remaining truly wild coastal areas in the United States.
“It’s sad. When my kids are my age this may not be here,” Bourgeois says.
The cheerful banter dies down with the dire prognostication and the focus becomes fishing. The Captain catches a few largemouth and the inward reflection quickly wears off. You see Captain Bourgeois is a type A personality and although he tempers it with his good and proper Cajun upbringing he is always chattering about fish, his wife, his kids, alligator wrestling, or food.
“Hey man. We’re having crawfish for dinner. How’s bout we get some reds to go with’em?” He says.
Like his racing personality, he guns the heftily powered Champion and we motor back through the maze of canals.
“This rock wall is like a red fish highway.” He says.
I have to squint into the setting sun to catch where the disembodied voice is coming from. We work the east/west groin and only see a few rafts of scattered mullet. We whistle off a few eighties tunes in an impromptu name that tune game as the sunsets somewhere behind the lengthening shadows of Naw Lean’s towers and as the gloaming of the evening takes the edges off the dying heat. Bourgeois is still faithfully working the red and white Spook he caught the last largemouth with in Salvador, as the first V-wake appears 100 yards away.
“Here they come,” he screams!
Right behind the first wake appears another one. We wait. Rods pointed at 45-degree angles ready for launch. We wait. In unison, we cast towards separate wakes and in a lazy Louisiana backwater canal in the mosquito buzzing heaven a cacophony of duel explosions break the water as our search for Lafitte’s gold comes to an end.