Southern Louisiana’s people, open waters, and fishing experiences make for an epic adventure
I am just about to finish up the checklist with my son Troupe. He gets a real kick out of being the co-pilot on our trips. Process and procedure can be very important at times, and this is a great opportunity to continue to instill some of that in my son. “Fuel selector, left tank? Check. Mags on both? Check. Brakes? Check. Checklist complete,” he says after which he calls loudly, “Clear Prop.” The old girl—our 1955 F-35 Beechcraft Bonanza—cranks over only one time before the mags catch. She is as reliable as the river fog on a cold fall morning, and after a few coughs she is purring like a kitten ready to be called into action. Today we will fly to the Cape Fear Regional Jetport on the North Carolina coast to pickup our friend and fellow adventurer, Jimmy Chiarella. It’s early as we enter the runway and announce we are departing runway 8. In two short hours, we will have assembled the final member of our team for this adventure.
Gearing up for Louisiana
We are sitting under the Bonanza’s wing in row 98 of the vintage aircraft section at the EAA Airventure show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I am trying to reach a man named T-Mac, the owner of the Le Matidora Inn about 20 miles north of Venice, Louisiana. In looking at the aviation charts, there is a private runway there, and I am seeking permission to land. In speaking briefly with “Miss Ann,” the general manager of the facility, she tells me yes, but we will need a briefing from the owner before coming. As I inquire about the runway, he gives me the once over: what kind of plane, how much experience with short fields, how many passengers, and how much gear? That’s a lot of info just to get permission to land, but when he tells me there are power lines on either end of the short 2,000-foot runway, I understand that he is just concerned for my safety. I thank him and assure him we always consider safety first.
I knew I would err on the side of caution; we were going to get so much tuna that we would be too heavy for a short field departure. I rationalize that it would be easier to have a rental car anyway. As a father and a friend, I was doing the right thing being cautious, but for me personally, I really wanted the challenge. Another day, I mused.
Meeting A Riverboat Pilot
As we glide over the Smokies at around 8,000 feet, the pockets of fog in the low areas in North Carolina are mesmerizing. The air is smooth, and Troupe and I talk about how many ways we are going to fix the tuna we are certain to catch. Wrapped up in conversation we are turning base to final approach in no time at all. Wheels down and we roll up to the general aviation side of the airport to pick up Jimmy who, as always, is raring to go.
We arrive at the Le Matidora Inn and are pleased with the quality of the accommodations. Personally, I love this kind of place. Far less formal than a big hotel, there is a large community kitchen, pool table, and a swimming pool. The runway, which I elected not to use, goes right by the front door, is also a county road. This place has some real character, situated on what was once a large plantation just a few-minute-walk to the mighty Mississippi River. Traveling to do these stories often leads to interesting people, and this would be no exception. The man I spoke with on the phone turns out to be much more than an inn keeper. T-Mac is a riverboat pilot, general aviation pilot, cattle rancher, airboat pilot, hunter, and fisherman.
Riverboat pilots are a very exclusive group, a privilege passed from one generation to the next, but only for one person from each family. Each pilot is responsible for a section of the river, where they take control of these huge ocean-going ships—some 1,200 feet long—and guide them safely up the river to their final destination. T-Mac runs the section from the gulf to Venice.
Often these passages are made in the middle of the night in all kinds of weather. When you consider wind and current on top of the sheer size of these vessels, it is truly an impressive feat. T-Mac offers to take us on an airboat tour, an unexpected treat for sure, where he shows us old abandoned cemeteries, levies between the river and the wetlands, and the cattle that roam freely along the river over thousands of acres of lush vegetation. I can tell he’s gotten a huge kick out of telling me to watch out for the water moccasin when I step off the boat to look at an ancient tombstone. I personally find no humor in the comment at all.
At one stop along our tour, T-Mac talks about the great oil spill that caused many problems for the local economy and the “spillionaires” that popped up from helping with the cleanup. Big oil was forced to clean up the mess, and they paid incredible prices to get that done, thus creating overnight millionaires. On our offshore day, we visit the very rig that caused that spill.
Fishing for Monsters
It’s our first day of fishing and bull reds are on the menu. Today we are looking for a fight on light tackle. These redfish can easily reach 30 to 40 pounds with the state record coming in at 61 pounds. Our captain is cutting through a literal maze of small cuts and channels to shorten our run to the edge of the gulf, and we relax and enjoy the sunrise while he maneuvers. Catching these fish isn’t all that hard, provided you can find them, and that is where a really good guide can make a big difference.
The rig for redfishing is fairly simple. A popping cork simulates the clicking sound of a shrimp, with a three-to-five-foot leader underneath rigged with plastic baits or shrimp. Long casts and pounding the cork bring some nice fish throughout the day. I especially love when they explode right next to the boat. Troupe gets the first bull, and it makes me proud to see how he handles the fight. Jimmy also lands a couple of hogs, and I begin to feel left out. In the end, I get a few as well. Near the end of the day, we move closer in-shore and pick up a few small ones for the grill. The rebound of the redfish in the gulf—they were once so few that commercial fishing was completely restricted—has made for some incredibly fun fishing.
Day three: tuna time. We leave the dock just before
6 a.m. for a quick run to a small natural gas well where we catch our bait for the day on Sabiki rigs. Everyone pitches in to fill the livewell with various species of small bait up to about half a pound. Then there is nothing left to do but relax for a couple of hours while we run to open water in the hope of finding some incredible tuna. We fish hard that day; in fact, we make it all the way to the blue water, which seems to surprise our captain. Some days it just isn’t meant to be, so after about eight hours of trying for tuna, we opt to put a few amberjack in the boat to avoid coming back empty-handed. We fish over an oil rig that was long gone from the surface but still has some excellent structure on the bottom. We land a few quality ones and then call it a day.
Southern Louisiana has so much to offer that you really can’t go wrong picking this as a destination. Between the legendary food, the interesting people, and fishing that’s to die for, the area has it all.
As with all of our adventures this year, we rely on the folks at High Adventure Company to help us plan our outdoor experiences. If you’re interested in an adventure of a lifetime, we highly recommend John Burrell and his crew. If you want your adventure featured in Cityview, give me a call. We might just go with you.