Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Fishing Cajun Style, Part 2

Camp Dilligas, Cameron Louisiana
It's hard to contain the excitement of a new fishing adventure and the friends you make on the way.  Last week was about the fish but it really was too much to say in one post so as Paul Harvey would say, "The rest of the story".  As you drive along the coast one can see the problem with hurricanes in this area, the land is a flat as a pancake and it really would not take much water to flood a large area.  The first picture is our headquarters for fishing Camp Dilligas, a house moved next to a point in the brackish waters on the south end of Calcasieu Lake, about 4.5 miles from the Gulf of Mexico.  Essentially the lake is at sea level as it is connected to the Gulf by a canal used by ocean going freighters.  These huge ships travel about 40 miles inland to Lake Charles, Louisiana to drop off and pick up a variety of things needing to be moved.  As you can see the house is set on concrete pilings at least 12 feet in the air.  Between the pilings are steel beams on which the house is secured to, I suspect the house sits about 6 feet above sea level so the water would have to come up 18 feet before any damage would occur.  Now if you look at the area and assume that it is pretty flat all the way to Lake Charles, that's a lot of water pushed up ahead of a hurricane. Driving through Cameron, Louisiana the High School is on pilings, the churches, the hospital, any building where it's critical to survive the storm surge, they are set at 18 feet above the level of the Gulf, which is higher than the previous ordinances for buildings in that area.  As stated before we left the area heading east on Hwy 82 and for miles there were simply concrete slabs with nothing attached, washed away as Hurricane Ike slammed the shore.  Just in case you were curious like I was when asking Robert what Dilligas means.....his response was Do I Look Like I Give a S_ _ _?     I guess that answered that.

Control Weir Separating the Lake from the Gulf.
At the fishing camp the best place to fish was off the docks that ran along the side of the channel where the weir, or what we would call a control dam was centered.  With the Gulf on one side and Calcasieu Lake on the other, the weir had 4 gates to help control the water flow between the two for either maintaining water level for navigation or flooding.  The picture shows the structure with a fence enclosing the gate controls as apparently there was a time when the Corps of Engineers decided to mess with the water levels just as the shrimp were coming into the areas.  Shrimping is very important to the local economy and preventing water from allowing the shrimpers to be successful wasn't very popular so they decided to take matters into their own hands, opening the gates and destroying the mechanisms for operating them.  Right or wrong, sometimes you do what you have to do.  The tides in this part of the country are quite tame and move about a foot every cycle.  As opposed to the Homer Alaska where they can mover 25 feet every cycle, it was hardly noticed.  The water would slowly run from right to left before turning around.  The best fishing was this side of the weir as our timing had the water flowing in our direction, perfect for the fish to congregate.   I suspect the water differential on either side was small yet there was a nice current.  Returning from our Saturday guided trip, we baited up and threw our lines into the sweet spot identified by Robert.  So I'm watching the water flow and soon it became still then started running the opposite way.  Well even in Alaska, slack tide lasts more than 2 minutes but wow, did that change fast.  Asking one of the locals about what just happened to the water level, he looked to our left and confirmed, "yep, a ship just passed, heading up the canal" as there was a huge ship moving north, about 2 miles away.  He went on to say the the displacement of these large ocean going freighters is enough to raise the water level such that the flow will reverse.  Sure enough as the ship headed further up the canal the water slacked then reversed itself.  Now my first reaction was those Cajun boys were messing with us snowbirds but I witnessed this at least 2 more times.  On the other side of the weir was a dock where in September and October the redfish push the shrimp up into the channel and it's a free for all.  One of things that make this place so special is the shrimp run where they took over 10,000 pounds of large shrimp right off the docks via cast nets.  On Sunday morning Robert's 14 year old grandson was throwing a 6 foot cast net off the dock, catching various small bait fish as he was practicing his throwing technique.  I've watched this before when we fished Key West and our guide stood on the bow of the boat and loaded up with bait using his cast net. There is certainly an art to throwing one of these as they tried to teach me.  Knowing how to use these nets is a right of passage and although I was pretty bad at it, i'm going to buy one and practice here on the Mississippi River for smallmouth bait.  Hopefully if I ever return, I'll be a better student of their ways.  Tied to the dock were a couple of crab traps and they pulled them up before we left on Sunday.  Both had around 15 pounds of blue crab in them as they emptied them into a basket and washed them off.  I am allergic to them as well as shrimp and crayfish so it sort of puts the limit on what I can eat however I am told they are fabulous.  You can see where they get their name, from the blue claws and feet with the female crabs having the orange tips on their claws.  You have to be impressed with all the color coming out of these waters, the crabs and redfish are simply beautiful.

The ability to change the water flow!
A basket of blue crabs.

My Buddy Joe
In the past I have talked about my friend Joe Stanfield and thought it would be good to say a few good things about him as he is truly one of those guys that fit something someone told me a long time ago. Friends are like stars, you don't always see them but you know they are always there.  We met in Cincinnati at least 20 years ago and for some reason he and I hit it off right from the start. Joe isn't necessarily the tallest person I know and we often talk about the weight both of us need to lose yet it's a lot tougher for him as his heart is so big, it has to fit somewhere!  He's definitely a southern gentlemen and I simply treasure the time I can spend with him, usually a couple of times a year at various conferences and trade events.  In 2011 Joe arranged to met our good friend Jim Cox and myself in Corpus Christi to fish reds with his old neighbor Butch.  Seems like anytime I'm with Joe it takes 2 weeks to wind down from the excitement and fun as my post Texas Reds from March of 2011 clearly shows.  He gives me crap all the time about my motorcycle then he goes ahead and buys himself an airplane!  Now if it had floats, maybe he'd be on to something, I could fly down then we could head down to the bayou as the plane would have plenty of room to land.  Maybe I'll have to start working on this with Joe.  Here in Minnesota it's still cold as Sunday night it was 0F again.  I did go ice fishing on Sunday to a lake I haven't been to in a while, Lake John by Annandale, MN.  Most of the snow is gone off the lakes but the ice is still over 36 inches thick as one could drive anywhere.  I drove out to a couple of the basin area without a single fish.  As I planned to move closer to shore there was the distant sound of an auger, someone else was on the lake.  Heading in that general direction, stopped about 100 yards from the guy and drilled 4 holes to vary the depth.  In the meantime he walks over, leaving his gear about 30 feet from where I was fishing and introduced himself.  It didn't take long to get comfortable with Chuck as he claimed his age at 73. I thought that was pretty impressive he walked all the way on the lake until he looked at me and said "It's nice to meet another old guy on the lake".  Well, I guess he said it all!  I loaded his stuff in the truck as we drove around looking for fish as 2 lines are always better than one but no such luck.  As the sun started to set I could sense he was getting cold so volunteered to go whenever he wanted.  We packed up and headed to shore, helped him unload and said thanks and goodbye.  I guess it was nice to see a couple of old guys spending the afternoon together.  It does make you think.

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