I have always succeeded in learning from handcuffs, jumping on wolves, diving or swimming.
In the mid-1990s I was interviewed for a magnetic crane operator job at a steel plant. I was ignorant.
The foreman asked me: “Hey, do you have any experience working with 5 ton steel plates?”.
“Aspak.” accepted. “However it gives me a chance and I will understand.”
“Yes, we will see. The boy we shot ran with a little steel to what was once the bathroom there.” he added, pointing from his office window toward a half-naked wall with an exposed sink, toilet and a row of closets.
Dave was the other crane operator and gave me a crash course at the control desk saying, “If a plate ever rings, the bell rings at the bottom. Otherwise they call the doctor.” He showed me what not to do by spinning a plate until the power line on the magnet split into the socket and all I could see was a blue sword holding the two lines together. “See?” Cried Dave. “This is controlled lightning.”
Fast forward a few days later and I was loading half with steel, stacking the plates inside a quarter-inch side tolerance so drivers could stay on the road without getting tickets. I liked that job, but I would be lying if I did not think that every day there could have been the last.
spontaneity. It’s a good way to shake things up from time to time.
And fishing is no different. Every fish I have followed, every fly they have eaten, every new water, produces a host of challenges – new ways to incorporate what lies beneath the surface.
So when the most refined half of our family (wife and daughter) got sick and withdrew from a planned vacation in New Orleans, I saw it as another opportunity to do a kick in the dark. Armed with several heavy rods, home-cooked crab flies and a 16-foot pang; My 13-year-old son and I took a step back. Beware of the wind, we arrived on the road trip – Michigan to Louisiana, in search of goldfish, black drum or whatever we could find.
Now, whenever you ask someone’s opinion on a DIY project, you will find some opponents. And in my experience you should never deny their advice, qualified or not. Sometimes random thoughts or a strange warning can make you reevaluate your game plan. And if those adversaries are qualified – take their words as gospel.
So before I walked across the Louisiana swamp, I asked about everyone’s logistics and two things kept coming out.
One, is great. You can probably squeeze Delaware and Rhode Island into the Mississippi delta. So finding productive water somewhere in the roughly 4,000 square miles and bypassing the rest can be like finding a 20-foot-tall dry hook, on a straw, on an island … in the swamp.
Second, the Mississippi Delta is literally a minefield filled with crab traps tied to draw lines, sunken boats – everything really sunk – logs, trees, logs, roofs, power lines and any other debris that Hurricane Ida left destroyed in the Gulf. months ago. In short, I knew that a wrong move on my part could mean a rescue call from Seatow or worse, much worse.
I had to play well. And to do that, I had to chop it up a bit with those who know. Enter Toni.
Tony’s and his family ran a locust business for generations that closed a few years ago. He knew the water. He also owned the cabin where we stayed. So as Tony and I started talking about bays and bays, he gave me some rescue tips: follow the crab lines. Now delving deeper into how one follows those crab lines, when and during what tides etc. would turn this into an explanatory essay. With some things you just have to hold on to your arms. But I do not recommend anyone to go down there blind. In fact, no BS, hiring a professional guide can be the difference between a great trip and the flight between life and death.
Needless to say, we took it slowly. So slow sometimes it seemed like we were going backwards.
But we had time.
The first day was all rainy. So we just did it in vain, looking for safe routes and scanning depth graphs. The second day was windy and the water was turbulent. Not useful when anything underground is dangerous to the hull and where the depth can go from 5 feet to one foot in a second. One wrong move and your bottom unit is lying on the bottom of your chest.
The third day did not offer much relief, but as we went on, we finally got our first look at a red tail. It was a long shot and the ship got stuck in the mud. Outside my son’s radius, I jumped from the boat into deep mud up to my thighs, climbing a small island to cast. Of course, as soon as he entered the range, the fish disappeared.
In addition to Tony and his ninja sailing tips, a local crab showed us the ropes (literally) and allowed us to help sort the crabs into the dock. He gave us more great intelligence. Nothing much in the way of catching fish and more than how not to catch a prop in a trap. And finally, a fellow fisherman from Michigan gave us some tips and some areas to focus our attention on. This latest information combined with everything else turned out to be the game change.
The fourth day made us move by motorbike 30 minutes from the start to fish the clear water protected from the wind and rain of all the previous days. Instead of looking for tails, we were looking at fish, upside down, 4 to 5 feet deep in the water column. It was not 10 to 15 feet of sight that we sometimes climb in the Michigan Great Lakes, but it was what I like to call GED: pretty good heck!
The goldfish, the black drum and the sheep head all came to the feast, only the latter did not succeed in the net. My advice for these fish? Leave your weight 8 at home. Connect your 6-7 foot steering 40-40-20 lb. These were big fish, 10 to 30 pounds plus. Fish that will cover a weight of 10 without a problem. And even with that lever, expect a 30. Fish to hit for 10 minutes at least an hour.
That was the fun part. Now back to reality.
DIY can easily be turned into DIE.
Risk / reward can be an adrenaline rush, inspiring and enjoyable all in one, but the element of a DIY trip like this is always hidden.
Going down to the Louisiana swamp waiting to perform it without an expert guide is, at best, a good wish. Even for an experienced captain elsewhere, it is madness. We had to research, trace, then go back for a few days just to make trails to the test grounds. We met some wonderful people along the way who out of kindness or out of complete pity offered sound advice. Without this and more than a little luck, a DIY fisherman’s first trip to the Delta could really be the last. Lose a lower unit, burst a hull, dive into the tide, and you’re done. This is not an ornament – it is a reality.
In fishing, sometimes you are lucky, sometimes you are good. And this time, oh man, we were lucky.