Sportsman’s Paradise Again

It’s truly is a “Sportsman’s Paradise” and once again south Louisiana didn’t disappoint. When I think back to the first time I experienced this little slice of heaven fishing along the Empire jetty, I had no idea what kind of profound effect the area would have on me. Years later I still come back to be immersed in the culture I’ve grown to love. I found my voice changing and I couldn’t help but revive the old Cajun slang that used to be as prevalent as my love for chicory coffee and a good bowl of hot gumbo. You can’t get that feeling anywhere but south Louisiana and it’s something that comes as natural as cheering at a baseball game or smiling at a newborn baby.

Since being stationed at Naval Air Station Belle Chase while in the Navy during the mid 90’s there was a history for me out in the marsh chasing redfish and speckled trout. We were old school back before GPS was a thing, and you had to learn the marsh by memory. When you were starting from scratch in a little 14 foot Montgomery Ward semi-v aluminum boat with a 25hp Johnson the learning process was a slow one. I’ll have to say this about my time in the Navy and being stationed in south Louisiana just after the height of the first Gulf War, it was pretty laid back. There was a golf course on base and golfing was one sport I love to play. Golf for me takes a close second to fishing and if there was a third it would have to be baseball or softball and playing on military softball leagues. The Naval Air Station had all that and much more. If I had a plug for the Navy it would be to join the Navy and request to be stationed at Belle Chase, Louisiana. It’s a tour you’ll never forget, especially if you are a sportsman and posses a profound love for fishing.

Bourgeois Fishing Charters

The best way to find anything these days is the internet and that’s how I ran across a fishing lodge by the name of Bourgeois Fishing Charters. I did my search on the internet by location and Bourgeois Fishing Charters was in the heart of where I wanted to go this time. I saw plenty of pictures on the website and when I called for more information the young lady on the other end of the line had the perfect voice to seal the deal. The lodge sounded first class and very accommodating, from the pictures I saw there was no way I was going to pass up this opportunity. We set up reservations for our fishing trip a few weeks in advance and planned the trip during the week days. Our thinking was less traffic at the camp so we could slide in and out for a quick lagniappe. My French is rusty but something told me that the definition of lagniappe may be the word I’m looking for when describing Bourgeois Fishing Charters.

The Cajun Vista Lodge

As soon as we crossed the Huey P Long bridge and hit the West Bank I felt right at home. I knew the lodge was only a short distance away and we were going to be right on time for the first of many meals provided by the cooking staff at the lodge. Both Lisa and I were amazed there were no locked doors and no keys to your room. You didn’t need to worry about theft because it didn’t exist at the lodge. It was a gated lodge but also deep in the heart of a community where everybody knows everybody and not much goes on without somebody knowing about it. They provide a worry-free friendly atmosphere at the lodge. The lodge itself has a deep history, its actually a converted plantation style schoolhouse from years past and I’m sure it is the definition of a historic site. Most certainly the room we slept in was the room that many children from the area had received their education. We deduced each of the rooms in the long hallway was a classroom, you could almost hear children playing in the hall through the old transom windows above the tall doorways to our rooms. There were so many things to look at and absorb, just one trip of 48 hours isn’t enough time to experience it all. In addition to all the relics on the wall, you are greeted and meant to feel at home by a staff that is as authentic as the lodge itself. I haven’t even got to the fishing ……..

Captain Theophile Bourgeois IV

Lisa and I arrived on Wednesday evening, we had just enough time for dinner and a hot shower before bed. Thursday morning wake up was early, breakfast at 5:00am and fishing at 6:00am. It was starting to get daylight around 6am, we were launching for our first day of fishing so we really didn’t get a chance to take the lodge all in till after our first fishing trip. After the first fishing trip Lisa and I had a chance to relax on the screened in porch under ceiling fans that provided the perfect breeze. While we were relaxing with a cold drink a pickup truck pulled up just outside the porch and a bearded man with two younger boys jumped out and said hello. One of the boys was dressed in a baseball uniform and they looked like they could be headed to a little league ball game. The bearded man came in the screen door, walking directly over to where we were sitting with a smile on his face and introduced himself as Theophile Bourgeois or “TJ” for short. Now the pronunciation of his name is a little tricky and just as tricky as my French but the best way to describe it is ‘toe-feel’ ‘booj-waa’. Believe me, I’ve had to work on the pronunciation for the last 500 miles of our journey since leaving the lodge but I think I’ve got it down now. The funny part is that when TJ first introduced himself I didn’t make the connection that he was the owner until a few minutes into our conversation. He had an instant attractive personality and he had a way of making you feel right at home. I could tell right away the lodge was his pride and joy and his primary objective was to make Lisa and I a memory we wouldn’t forget. We told him that we had some fishing friends and it would be pretty cool for a few of our friends to come back again with us for a visit in the fall. TJ was more than happy to share some options including non-fishing activities for a few of the wives if they wanted something a little different than fishing during our next visit. We chatted about the delicious food and a little bit about the history of the lodge before we parted ways and enjoyed our evening meal. It’s not often you get to meet the owner of a lodge but just like everything else, he was as natural and authentic as the lodge itself. If you look up the definition of the French name “Bourgeois” you’ll find it to represent the working class.

The Food

Each meal was prepared by local folks and it didn’t take Lisa and I long to warm up to the cooking staff. Tammy prepared most of our meals while we were there and she also shared some of the local history for us as well. She also shared some tips from her personal cooking recipes and her bread pudding was the best bread pudding I’ve ever tasted. I believe I’d make that 10 hour drive again just for the bread pudding and good conversations about cooking with Tammy. Every meal was included in our package and we also had a sack lunch and drinks with our fishing trip. I can’t say enough about the meals, every one was delicious.

Shrimp pasta, crab cakes, glazed brussels sprouts and bread
French bread pudding with bananas and a bourbon sauce
Crawfish Etouffee with asparagus and rolls
Soft shelled crabs with jambalaya and green beans
Potato salad and gumbo

The Fishing

For me, fishing in the marsh is a little different than the occasional visitor to the area. One of the main reasons I picked the lodge that we picked is because it is in the same area that I used to roam some 25-30 years ago. I have some very fond memories of the area and I spent days and days in the marsh chasing redfish. If you’re reading this story in my blog I’ll invite you to read another fishing story in my blog called “Man Camp” . Man Camp will give you plenty of background into my history with the marsh and a fishing camp on a little island out in the marsh. This is where myself and some of my Navy friends spent many long weekends while in a Navy F/A-18 Squadron at a nearby air base. I was much younger then and I learned a lot about fishing during my time in Louisiana.

Our guide for the fishing was Steven, a local to the area and very knowledgeable when it came to the same areas I once used to fish. My memory of the area is fading and the marsh is constantly changing but I still recognized some of the old camps still standing after years and years of weather. Steven introduced us to the popping cork technique for redfish along the grass lines. In the past I used an older version of a popping cork for speckled trout but on my more recent trips we used moving stuff like spoons and swimbaits. Water in the marsh was pretty muddy from recent rains wind and tidal movement so we concentrated on shrimp tipped jigs under popping corks. It didn’t take long for Lisa and I to get the hang of throwing popping corks and we soon realized the redfish were right up against the grass. The closer you got the cork to the grass the better your chances to catch a redfish. Lisa started us off with the first sizable redfish but just as we were netting it the hook pulled and the redfish disappeared back into the muddy water. A little later Lisa and Steven saw a redfish tailing in a little pool so Lisa made a perfect cast into the pool. The redfish turned on Lisa’s popping cork and grabbed the shrimp, the fight was on and Lisa made sure this big redfish didn’t escape the net with a strong hook set. The bigger redfish have a very hard and bony mouth so a stout hookset is a must with a jig type hook. Lisa kept the fish under constant pressure and before long she was posing with her first redfish in six years.

It wasn’t long after Lisa caught her fish I was bringing in my first redfish in 2 years. They were both very nice fish and we spent the morning catching redfish and catfish. We moved around the marsh and fished many of the bays, ponds and lakes I used to fish years ago. We spent our morning talking with Steven and learning more about the Louisiana culture as well as Steven’s personal experiences growing up in the area. Steven was a trooper when it came to helping me find some of my old stomping grounds in the marsh. Things had changed dramatically after I left, especially after a few hurricanes.

I don’t know which I enjoyed more, running and gunning our way through the marsh or the conversation about the history of the lodge and the local seafood industry in the area. I was able to relive some of my adventures in the marsh once again as we watched the big shrimp boats come and go through the canals crisscrossing the marsh. My intention was to bring back a few larger filets for a recipe called “redfish on the half shell” and some smaller redfish filets for fried or blackened. We were blessed to achieve catching both larger and smaller redfish during our stay. I was able to put our catch in a cooler and the lodge had an ice house where you can ice down your catch until you get ready to leave. Our neighbors here at the lake house have never tried redfish on the half shell and some other Cajun delights so tomorrow, Memorial Day we are going to prepare dinner for them. Our dinner will consist of a Crawfish Gumbo, Redfish on the half shell, grilled butterflied Shrimp, grilled asparagus and for dessert, a Louisiana French Bread Pudding with a warm Bourbon sauce (Thanks Tammy).

All in all, TJ, Tammy, Steven and the rest of the staff at Bourgeois Fishing Charters made our stay very relaxing and enjoyable. They also came through in fulfilling my passion for chasing redfish in the marsh and helping me relive those special moments I had while living in Southern Louisiana.

Give them a shout if you want an authentic Cajun style fishing experience http://Bourgeois Fishing Charters. I can promise you, you’re going to love it.

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