When Mike invited me to join the Fish Village team on a scouting trip to South Louisiana for a new travel destination to add to his roster, at first a part of me scoffed, but I also knew I would be joining old friends in a relaxed atmosphere for great food and inappropriate laughter. My reply was instant, “I’m in”, but we were going to fish for redfish, something I’ve done since Madonna was hot and INXS was topping the charts. Admittedly, I’ve never fished Louisiana. I grew up in the Tampa Bay area. The formula for redfish was simple enough; deep edges of the pass jetties lining the west coast, sandy potholes in three foot deep grass flats, and at the Skyway bridge over the mouth of Tampa Bay. In addition, there were some special places I would focus on during the cooler months such as dead end, mud filled canals. My fish trip math was elementary: November (cold) + Mud (Louisiana has a ton) = jambalaya + boudin + crawfish + beer + tired of smiling. I wasn’t going for the fishing.
Yes I said mud. The trip from Navarre was easy enough; West on I-10, then South on LA23. Following the GPS, it guided me to drive atop one of the levy’s for about a quarter mile and I was amazed at the view. To my right was a picturesque sunset over a sea of marshy grasslands, dotted by cuts and pools with such precise randomness it more resembled an endless maze of entropy than a serene ecosystem thriving with biodiversity. Just one more right hand turn, a short slow jaunt down a potholed gravel road and I was at the camp. Stepping out of the truck I immediately felt my body doing the out of the shower on wet tile shuffle and had to stabilize myself. Mud…thick, greyish black, Land Before Time ancestral pool kinda stuff, “Dey see you on dat levy and you gone git a ticket ya hear?” Welcome to Louisiana.
The next couple of days were rinse and repeat, and I didn’t catch a fish. We were socked in with a hard 25mph North-Northeast wind and since we were on the West side of the Mississippi, most of the water pushed itself out of the marsh area. Combine that, with the fact that I was learning for once in a long time I had no idea what I was doing. My hubris blinded me on the trip. So did the mud. And about now you are probably wondering why I am so focused on it. That’s because it dictates everything you do. It stains the water. Everything is brown. It also limits your movements. If you get too shallow and get stuck, plan on sinking well over your knees and sludging your way to deeper water where you’re still going to sink forever. And in the back of my head all I can hear is people talking about sight fishing reds in Louisiana. I had to figure out how.The trick was technology. Reviewing Google map satellite images allowed me to find pooled areas that were protected from the influence of wind, wave, and tidal flow. Unlike jetties, grass flats, and bridges, these weren’t places you could just drop a pin and pedal too. A Google map isn’t exactly up to date right at this very moment. Especially considering the Louisiana marsh is severely impacted by hurricanes, subsequent erosion, and a loss of habit compounded by the altered hydrology caused by dams, levies and oil pipeline intrusions into those wetlands. Instead, it was more like find the labyrinths entrance, hope it’s there and has enough water to explore. I found mine and it did. I stood in the kayak for a moment to survey where I was going and there was no clear path after the first turn. That’s because the thin, beige grasses are three-ish feet tall and look almost continuous. Granted there are some small clearings visible inside, but getting from here to there wasn’t going to be as easy as I originally thought.
The deeper I travelled the clearer the water became and in an instant, a large bloom of mud would appear next to me; I was spooking fish. I stood again and noticed the density of the grass was less. I could see paths and started polling with my paddle. I had gone through so many twists and turns, and gone left when I could have gone right. I had no idea how I had gotten in there or how exactly I would get out, but I knew I could. I also know I couldn’t take you back to where I was, but there are fish there. The water is crystal clear and only 6-8 inches deep and redfish are sleeping and sunning themselves. You just have to explore, stalk, and cast perfectly.
This old dog, completely uninterested in the fishery, felt the spine chill from a hunt that had long been forgotten. The whole experience was unexpected. I understand the allure of Louisiana redfish and look forward to doing it again.