This week’s angling trek took me down Highway 27 through Grand Lake, the Cameron Prairie National Reserve, and across the Gibbstown Bridge into Miami Corporation’s 25,000 acre Big Burn marsh. My former students Dwayne Dubard and Todd Gorman (Lagrange High School class of ’88) had decided to quit teasing me with pictures on Facebook of the fish they’d caught and actually take this old coot fishing. The Big Burn is only 20 minutes from their south-of-Lake Charles homes, part of the blessing of living in Louisiana’s Sportsman’s Paradise.
It was truly a sentimental journey for me. While I was in McNeese State University’s graduate school from ’73 to ’79 and even before the common use of trolling motors, I used to push pole my major professor, Dr. Joe Gray Taylor, across the lily pad marsh. There, we discussed the various aspects of Southern US history while he fished for bass. Boring to most of you I know, but to me, it was an I-don’t-care-how-long-I-have-to push-pole delight.
The road at the Burn’s northwest launch hadn’t gotten any better since back in that day, but the launch had certainly improved. We had no more roared down the trail five minutes before Dwayne shut his Tohatsu outboard down and dropped anchor along a line of cat tails and openings in the lily pads. Seems some serious brim fishing was about to ensue. The lures du jour were brim hooks or beetle spins with cold worm teasers and red cork bobbers.
Todd and Dwayne set the landing chairs fore and aft and I assumed my perch on the ice chest. Oh, they tried to be polite to their aged guest and give up a chair but I was there mostly to share their joy, take pictures and write about it. Besides, as y’all well know, I have always had to depend on cooperative fish to hook themselves as my reaction time is still that of a long-deceased zombie.
We were casting into the open areas between the lily pads. Being a purist of sorts, I was using my old green and black beetle spin sans the worm teaser. With a whoop and on his first cast, Todd hooked and landed a nice red-breasted brim. I no more had time to pop the top of the ice chest for Todd’s brim than Dwayne let out a yelp and hauled in a chinquapin brim to add to our catch. The fishing fete was on.
Dwayne and Todd worked their corks and teased back at the brim who weren’t as eager as the first suckers that jerked their corks under and ended up in the ice chest. Meanwhile, I actually caught a too-small-to-keep bass as my non-contribution to the catch. That was enough for Todd to rip into the tackle box and take out one of the plastics with the appropriate shape, odor, and color-alterable lure of the day. It just bemuses me to watch some angler add the eau de garlic, gulp, mullet, etc., then pour on the color-manipulating oil so as to fit the fish’s mood. That done, the bait that just moments before had been a mere piece of plastic has been so altered it has become a fish-irresistible buffet de lure. That’s the assumption anyway, and damn if it doesn’t work.
So, it was now Todd tossing his buffet bait, me beetle spinning with a cold worm teaser, and Dwayne cork, worm and hook jerking himself into filet heaven most of the time. However, there were variations on those themes. Seems there was a contest going on between Todd and Dwayne as to who could land the smallest brim or bass between keepers. I was a shoe-in for the fewest keepers. As to the award for biggest fish, there was to be no challenge. The fish stretched from razor sharp teeth to tail in the ice chest after a fish and angler exhausting fight. My very own keeper–you guessed it–a garfish.
Our first hot spot played out, Dwayne cranked the Tohatsu and we headed off to what he called “The Deep Hole.” It was along the trail near a No Wake zone and looked truly promising, open and free of weeds. Todd and Dwayne began to pull in goggle-eye and sac-a-lait, and I even pulled out a keeper or two. We even fell into the old pattern of Todd tossing buffets, me beetle-spin worming, and Dwayne cork-hook jerking away.
The day had been full of tales, quips, and humorous critiques of angling techniques. I don’t know which of the dynamic duo asked this of me first, but they actually requested that I be sure and mention and thank their wives. Say what? In all my years afield, this was a first. And unprompted, they had chimed in. I don’t really know if this was the cleverest of manipulative ploys but dammed if they didn’t seem sincere. So, my heartfelt thanks for the loan of your husbands Angie Dubard and Tiffany Gorman. The guys made for an angling first with that truly humble request. My trips afield are always an epiphany but their request made it into what will be another Sentimental Journey.