“God, Family and Fishing, son, and don’t you ever forget it.”
Growing up on the outskirts of New Orleans, little did I know that these 3 words would outline my life. My father's family mission statement aimed at priority targeted life's simplicities - I heard these often.
Having two older siblings and a loving mother, I can tell you FAMILY came easy, but as for the other two they were synonymous. Every weekend, outside of playing baseball, I’d witness God’s love for the world by a glowing orange sun peeking over the horizon. Clouds in every make and model distorted beams of light, cascading shades in every color imaginable. After witnessing dozens of these on the Louisiana Delta it was hard to question the existence of a Higher power, so the only thing left to do was make a few casts.
In 1995, my Dad and I fished a lot. Aside from preparing for high school, the memory that stands out the most was the chalkboard next to the boat that kept track of our catch totals for the year - insanely enough it would teeter near 13,000 trout before years end. Fishing wasn’t a facet of life at that time, it WAS life. You see, years earlier my dad, after an extended absence from fishing, decided to buy a 16’ Weld Craft Aluminum boat, aptly named “Git’ Da’ Net!” - and as it turns out, we said that a lot.
As for the trout? Gene pools from across the southeastern part of the state took a beating from Git Da Net and the Bush Boys. Shell Beach to Shell Island, Myrtle Grove to Mozambique point, Abu Garcia 5600 CI’s lined with 12lb Ande Clear Blue became the perfect tools for our artificial arsenal. Never letting up, sunrises on the West side of river would accompany a sunset on the East, split by a short ferry ride in West Point a La Hache. As a 13 year old, Heaven was Earth and Fishing was God. If the trout scales lining my sneakers weren’t enough of a reminder, the sting on my thumb and index finger from all the teeth marks hopefully came in a close second.
One such trip that stands out from that year was an overnight trip out of Empire, Louisiana. Like many times before, our intent was to fish the row of passes from Bastain Island to Bay Long. These series of 6 passes during the summer months provided a spawning safe haven to an extremely large biomass of speckled trout. Depending on the moon phase and the tidal influence, fish would roam the bars and ledges looking for calories in advance of reproducing in the higher saline waters of the Gulf. From Late April to September, the boat had one directional heading when it left the skids. Wading rings and boxes rested underneath our boots tucked nicely against the front windshield. Camoflauged oyster stakes and crab trap floats tested your cognitive ability while navigating the pitch dark bays. A whisper of quick prayer was either asking for safety from the many hazards left by the oil and gas industry, or sincerest thanks for being able to fish the most productive waters in the lower 48. This trip was a little different though - my older brother was in town.
My brother Cary is 10 years older than me. His experience and fondness of the Louisiana Delta was very similar to mine growing up and probably even more so. Memories of my grandparents camp in Cocadrie, Louisiana framed his love affair for the estuary. He and our older sister would spend lots of time on or near the water. Whether it was shivering under the front bow after catching endless amounts of redfish or experiencing the “ice chest” tallies of trout - he saw the fishery through a completely different lens.
Despite our differences in age we are close. From boxing with kitchen mitts in our Old Metairie home to playing “5 and dive” football in the front yard, he was everything I could ask for in an older brother. Sadly though, like most things in life, time moves on and so do our aspirations. After graduating High School, I never saw my brother much. He was either in the Pacific Northwest working at Glacier and Olympic National Park, or in Alaska working at a salmon canning factory. Aside from earning an Architectural degree from LSU, he traveled much of the country following the Grateful Dead. Crates of recorded live shows came from the tapes he produced on a handheld walkman. In the background, the iconic sound of Jerry Garcia’s vocals bled through the audio of the crowd as he sang Sugar Magnolia to Bob Weir’s iconic guitar.
Even though that was worlds away, somehow, August 9th, 1995 the stars aligned and my dad and his 2 boys waded the surf just outside of Chaland Pass in Empire. What started out as a finicky bite, turned to an absolute onslaught. Trout, every cast, fell for a purple and white cocahoe minnow on a tandem rig. The fishing was so good, my brother and I would try to see if we could “throw” our fish into our wading baskets. With success rates teetering around 1 out of every 8, we still managed to keep our 50 trout. It was endless and the action never let up. My dad laughed and my brother grinned with every hookset. It was truly my fathers family motto transformed into real life - a fishing family, together experiencing an other worldly bite.
Now, distanced by 25 years, that memory has transcended the course of time. Although neither of us live near New Orleans, we take solace knowing that our bond as family is stronger than ever. On a day cherry picked by the Man himself, we experienced the bountiful goodness we can only hope awaits us when we pass those pearly gates.
Until then, though, Fishing, as it always has, earmarks the memories in our life. This one just so happened to be the day Jerry Garcia died.