Why I Don’t Crab about Fishing in Louisiana


Louisiana crab boat passing us in the marshes.

In an earlier blog I wrote a piece about my adolescent carping about fishing and mentioned that even though as a kid I found fishing somewhat boring,  I took up the sport at different times later in my life.   Moving to Louisiana prompted one of those times I took up fishing again. I mention this because writing about crab Louie brought back memories for Ann and me about one of our first social events after we arrived in Louisiana fresh from the mountains of Colorado: a crab boil.  It was the catalyst that got me back into fishing.

Blue Crab

Louisiana blue crab

It all started when Al Bertrand, a senior LSU faculty member and a through-and-through Cajun, invited the new faculty to a crab boil at his house in Baton Rouge. We arrived to find in his back yard, with its expansive lawn extending down to a small bayou,  huge pots of boiling spicy water and baskets of live blue crabs he had trapped somewhere in the Louisiana marshlands the day before. It didn’t take us long to learn how to crack, clean, and eat the cooked crabs – and even identify the crabs’ gender. Like the crab Louie meal we are blogging about, the point of a Louisiana crab boil is as much about the social as it is about the meal itself. Teasing out the little treasures of meat from the shell and onto your plate is time consuming, but offers an ideal opportunity to chat and, if so inclined, drink lots of beer.   Even after consuming all we could eat we sat around and chattered away while picking out crabmeat from the remaining crab for later use.

So, when Al invited me to join him and some of his buddies for redfish and speckled trout fishing in the marshes of Terrebonne Parish I was quite excited. We went in a caravan of three pickups pulling three very cool bass boats. I had no idea of what to expect.

When we got to the boat launch Al asked a fisherman who was just pulling out his boat how the fishing was. The guy said something to the effect,  “Not that great. We only got one”. I wondered if coming all of this way for maybe one fish as worth all of the effort. It turned out that “one” in Louisiana fishing lingo was not the same “one” used in Colorado fishing (where there was a strict daily limit of 5 trout). The “one” referred to one ice-chest full of fish (to my knowledge there was no limit in Louisiana in 1975 – keep in mind that this was prior to Paul Prudhomme’s blackened redfish craze which had decimated the redfish population by 1988).   I have to say that I have never caught so many fish so fast before or since.  By the time we ended our day on the water each boat had filled at least two ice chests to overflowing with red fish and speckled trout.

Ice chest of S trout

I was hooked (along with line and sinker). This was not the sitting-on-the-bank-waiting- for-something- (anything!)-to- take-the-bait fishing like my childhood days at Puddingstone. Over the years my good friend and colleague Bill and I spent many a day motoring through the canals and bayous searching for fish.

Of course, it was not always smooth sailing.   Like the time two of my LSU colleagues and I were launching a borrowed bass boat at a boat ramp, trying to look like we knew what we were doing among the locals launching their boats. This required backing the boat trailer far enough into the water so the boat would float free and the person in the boat would start the motor and bring it to the shore while the trailer was being parked. On this particular occasion, just as the boat floated free of the trailer we discovered that the drain plug had not been inserted (and evidently was not in the boat) and the boat was slowly sinking (along with it’s mega-horsepower, mega-expensive engine).

Panic ensued; I raced to the pickup and trailer to see if I could back up it in time to get to the boat before it sank totally and my friends were frantically trying to pull it toward the ramp. Keep in mind, all three of us were PhD-wielding professors from the major research institution in Louisiana. In the midst of this chaos, a local fellow who had been calmly watching all of this drawled, “if you just swing the back of the boat around toward the shore the motor can’t go under water.” Although he did not preface his comment with “You idiots” we were pretty sure that was what he was thinking.


My dad fishing in one of the LSU Lakes

One of the side benefits of the Louisiana fishing scene was that Ann and I were able to entice my non-traveling dad to visit us in Louisiana by dangling the “you can fish” lure in front of him.  When my folks visited, he found his niche fishing in the lakes next to the LSU campus near our home; we would drop him off early in the morning and pick him up later in the day.  He didn’t catch many fish but was happy as a clam (oyster?).


Bags for crawfish somewhere in the Atchafalaya

Looking back, I think that the mystery and beauty of the Louisiana waterways made the fishing part of it almost seem secondary.  Even so, while fishing in the back regions of the Atchafalaya or the marshes I often vaguely felt that we were intruders in a world to which we didn’t belong. Seeing boats on the shore filled with sacks of crawfish or waving to families motoring by in their crab boats was cool but left an awkward, voyeuristic kind of embarrassment. It’s hard to explain. I often wonder if the tourists visiting Glen Ellen feel the same way when they see me out at my mail box as they drive by in their Avis rental cars on their way to wine tasting.

Outsider or not, my fishing excursions into the Louisiana marshes and water-ways were some of the most memorable experiences of my time in Louisiana. I have not been back to these haunts since moving to California. I know that hurricanes, global warming, and oil spills have all made their marks since then. I just hope that somehow that world continues to exist and outsiders are still just that – outsiders.

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