View Full Version : Random fishing camp remembrances: The last trip.

07-11-2010, 04:39 AM
As often happens when I am home, something tonight made me think not just of the old days on Bayou Cook, but of specific events. Most of you here have no memory of the stories I once wrote regarding the halcyon days of my youth on the bayou. Given a few glasses of wine and an extended period of front porch sitting, an endeavour I am still participating in at this moment, I thought I would perhaps regale you all with this quaint memory.

It is amazing what we store in our brains. I can take a trip back in time to almost every event. The more I think about what I remember on the surface, more and more details become evident. I remember the sights, smells, and feelings I experienced. I've often been encouraged to put these stories into a book, but I don't have that high of an opinion of it all. I think we could all do this given a little free time. Thankfully I have the Summer, just as I had back then.

It was July of 1997. A day previous I had sat at 7am in a bar on St, Charles Avenue by the name of Igor's. Bar, gameroom, grill, and laundromat, Igor's is a New Orleans treasure. I can't think of how many fantastic adventures began there. The bars I worked in usually closed around 5-6am. After work, you'd look for a place where you could wind down with others in your profession and have a little fun telling stories and sharing commiserations from the night before. On this particular Sunday morning, I sat there having my first beer and listened to everyone's complaints of big checks and small tips. I stared at the rapidly sun filling avenue outside the door. Joggers running by, families headed to church in their finest. I thought to myself how nice it must be out on the bayou on a day like today. I sipped my beer, stood up and said, "Who wants to go fishing?" 8 hands shot into the smoky air, and the trip began.

My dad's boat was nestled in a nice boat shed down in Empire, so I didn't need to worry about trailering it all the way down the river. I did however need a vehicle to get it the 3 blocks or so to the Delta Marina. Back then my everyday vehicle was my '54 Chevy Bel Air. Something would need to be procured. Amongst the crew's daily stable of transportation was a bicycle, a Ford Taurus, a Geo Metro, a Jeep CJ and various other useless vehicles. Nothing was a match for my dad's boat. So we all piled into the Bel Air and headed to my parent's house on the outskirts of New Orleans.

My dad was not at all upset at my awakening him. He only wished that he could go with us, but he had to teach a class on Monday. He graciously exchanged my car keys for his truck keys and sent us on our way. 6 in the cab and 3 in the bed, we, this motley crew, lit out for the Delta. It didn't take me long to figure out that I was with a bunch of greenhorns. Not one of the idjits had a fishing license. Unhappily this caused a half hour of rigamarole at the bait shop. By the time we got to the boat shed, it was 10am. The heat of the day was pounding on us as we hooked up the Ugly Mudda, a 24 foot flatbottom aluminum monstrosity my dad had acquired from his noted shipbuilder friend, Harold Halter.

As we got to the Delta Marina, the ever dependable Jimmy Martinez hooked up the hoist and launched the Mudda with great care, ****y Hingle inside went to great lengths to satiate our order for what must have been 30 cases of beer. Not one thought had been given to food, but we would have just enough beer for the trip, and that was all that mattered to this collection of bouncers, bar-backs, and bartenders. Iced up and beers in hand, I fired up the twin 75 Mercs and we made for Bay Adams. A cacaphony of questions were met patiently with answers as we made the 20 minute ride to my favorite place on Earth.

We arrived as we always did and the feeling I always had as we pulled up to the dock was with me. It was a feeling of great expectations melded with avarice and satisfaction. I suppose if I were to describe it to you, it's similar to seeing a girl you like, the butterflies you get, smiling at her and having her smile back at you. It was as if a magnetic attraction was nearing satisfaction. This was "The Camp", or as the guys on the bayou called it, "The Pastel Palace". 3 rooms, shotgun construction out of an amalgam of creosote pilings, plywood, cypress planks, and a tin roof. She was built by the Red Cross in 1969, and acquired by my father from an aging oysterman in 1970. It was what most would call a shack. To me it was finer than the grandest palaces of Europe or the most opulent plantation homes of the South. It was my Versailles. It was my Tara.

The crew was put to work unloading, sweeping coon ****, opening windows, and when all that was done . . . . we went to sleep. Sure you might find that strange, but for folks that show up at work for 8pm and get off at 6am, it's only natural to sack out at noon. The nap would not last long as the heat of the day and the dearth of a breeze began to make sleep impossible. I finally crawled from the sheets, so dampened by sweat and proclaimed it looked like a good day to hit the beach.

Out from Bayou Cook and across Bay Bastian lay Shell Island. A true barrier island, with a fine beach and good fishing, became the place for us until the heat of the day began to recede. While the greenhorns frolicked in the surf, I, as usual, walked the length of the island's shore, looking for lost treasures. When you own a fishing camp, you learn to be a scavenger. Almost anything you need can be found on the beach at Shell Island. On this particular day, I acquired a massive 16 inch diameter, 23 foot long piling as well as a 50 foot length of 2 inch diameter rope. How does one person move such items to a boat? I rolled the piling into the water and attached the rope. I remember feeling like Robinson Crusoe as I pulled the train behind me. When I got close enough, help arrived. I remember being amazed what 9 people could do with a piling that one could not hope to do alone. We got the piling and rope back to the camp as the tide ebbed.

We had a weak point in our dock, and I wasted no time putting my newly found booty to use. I picked the spot and hammered a pipe through the shell crust, working it in a circular motion to make a hole for the piling. As I stood in the water with one other guy helping me to guide it, 7 others manhandled the piling into position. Following my instructions, everything went like clockwork and the piling was driven down to the river sand deep beneath. It was the perfect length. I secured the piling with 2 nails, thinking I would come back later to make a more secure attachment. There was fishing to be done.

One of the most wonderful things about where our camp was was the trout fishing. On an outgoing tide, the water would pour out of Bayou Cook into Bay Bastain. The mouth of the bayou was very deep, about 30 feet, but just past the mouth was an oyster reef. The specks would pile up on the shelf waiting for the bait. We'd simply anchor there and catch all we wanted. This was a daily thing, as dependable as a Rolex. So I put us there and rigged everyone up. We had just enough rigs to go around. 4 on the bow, 2 on the roof, and 3 in the stern. We caught well over 200 keepers and the guys were beyond blown away with this experience. For almost all of them it was the first time they had ever been fishing.

With the sun hanging heavy on the horizon, we headed the 200 yards back to the camp. Of course I was the only one who knew how to clean a fish or cook, so I spent the entire evening doing so. Remember earlier I mentioned that nobody had thought to bring any food? We'd all be there 3 days and all we had to eat came from the water. I did grilled and fried trout for supper and we all tied one on something aweful. There being very little breeze that night, we would have suffered to sleep, but as most were sufficiently pickled, it became less of an issue. Folks slept where they fell, some in beds, some on the floor, one on the porch. He had a close encounter with a coon and came inside in a rather animated fashion late in the night.

As I always did back then, I awoke with the sun. The promise of the Summer day was written across the sky as the orb peaked just above the horizon. In the distance I could hear screaming outboards, which told me I was late as usual. In theory, having a fishing camp should allow you to hit the fishing grounds before everyone, yet the previous evening's shenanigans almost always led to a later than desired start to the fishing. I quietly gathered what I would need for a day in the marsh, stepping over the sleeping bodies strewn about the floor in each room. I hastily assembled what some people may or may not have considered a breakfast and lunch.

The playmate loaded with a 6 pack of Dixie, a trout sandwich, and the requisite dead shrimp was placed precariously on the shell pile as I withdrew the ancient and porous pirogue from its strorage rack beneath the camp. Doing so was an inherently noisy enterprise, yet I tried to keep the decibels to a minimum, knowing that I did not want to disturb the future hangover victims upstairs. As quietly as possible, I dragged the old pirogue across the shells to its launching point. She was a grand craft, probably built sometime in the early 1970's. Age and use had hobbled her, but she was a dependable shallow water craft. I had dubbed her the "C.S.S. Hunley" after the first submarine in history to sink an enemy ship. With others at the helm, she often sank. You had to pay attention. She leaked much like a collander, but that was easlily remedied by a Mardi Gras cup. I'll never forget the Hunley. She was a magnificent boat.

I launched her and quickly headed to my favorite redfish spot. Given the ease with which trout were acquired, I knew we'd have no problem reaching our 9 man limit by the time we left. Redfish were a quarry not so easily brought to gunwale. This was the hunt I relished. Just me in a pirogue with my grandfather's old fiberglass rod, a Penn reel, and a shad rig (speck rig) under a cork with dead shrimp. It took me no time at all to find my targets. The marsh surrounding the camp was teaming with reds and sheepshead. I was very selective regarding keepers. 16 inches being the lower limit in La., I resolved to keep no fish larger than 18 inches. Any bigger than that and they just aren't as succulent.

The limit at that time being 10 fish per person, I reckoned I could catch my limit and head back to the camp to see if anyone had woken up. I quickly had 5 or 6 in the box that were just in my personal slot range. Then I had the experience which made the trip memorable. I spied a red feeding on a flat, with his back halfway out of the water. This was a situation for a gold spoon, so I quickly rigged up for it. (Only a few weeks before I had shot a red on this very flat with my M1 from the porch of the camp. I don't think such things are legal any more.) It took me 3 casts, then the battle was on. This was not a fish that was in my slot range, he was easlily a 29-32 incher.

He ran into deeper water, then inexplicably ran back into the shallows. What happened next was beyond my comprehension. As I fought the fish and he struggled across the flat, I realized he was headed for a gut on the other side of the flat. I pulled my anchor up so that I wouldn't be caught on the island if he made it around the bend. Just then a coon ran out from the marsh. The SOB ran out to the red, grabbed it, and took off into the marsh grass. Meanwhile I'm pulling as hard as I can with my 12 lb. test and I can't gain anything. The coon took the fish deep into the grass and ZAP. My line snapped.

Now folks, I see people on here every day complaining about potlickers, but has anyone else had a terrestrial mammal steal a fish straight off your line? I wasn't going to keep the fish anyway, but the dad-gum coon also made off with my spoon. I had never before in my life had anything like this happen to me. At that time I was 24 years old and I'd been fishing those marshes alone since I was 7. I just couldn't believe it. In many ways I still can't.

I fulfilled my limit and headed back to the camp. I told the story, and the guys I was with were kind of "ho-hum" about it as if this sort of thing must happen all the time. So I was left to whine about it by my lonesome. Yet the trip continued. I put the others on many fish and we even made a trip offshore. There are many more memories from this trip, but my story is already too long.

When it came time to leave, I brought down the flag and noticed it was tattered. I packed it in my bag so that my grandmother could repair it. As we pulled away the next day. I did as I always did since I was a little boy. I said, "Goodbye Camp, we'll see you next trip." Of course everyone looked at me as if I must be crazy. We'd all had such a wonderful trip, everyone wanted to do it again the following week.

Alas this was the last trip. On July 18th, a small category 1 hurricane by the name of Danny would take my paradise away. I would be 10 years without a camp. I visited again this past Winter and oddly enough the only piling left from the old dock is the one we drove that last trip. The flag was saved, but all else was lost. You see that flag in my avatar.

So there's a piece of life on Bayou Cook. It would not be the end of my times there. Others whom we had as guests over the years had bought camps on the bayou and had us as our guests afterwards. Katrina washed them all away. I still visit our pilings, and I always shed a tear for all that once was. This Summer I cannot visit due to the spill. http://www.2coolfishing.com/ttmbforum/images/smilies/frown.gif Thankfully I have my memories, and I can always visit them, gleaning every detail I ever witnessed. This was a blessing from God. He giveth and He taketh away. In my case He has seen fit to give me a second chance. Count your blessings folks.

As my signature always says, "From 1970-1997, true heaven on Earth existed on the banks of Bayou Cook. "Hey Dad, Thanks for buying the Camp."

Here's a couple of pics.

07-11-2010, 07:28 AM
Ain't but one thing ta be said,

07-11-2010, 08:21 AM
Great story

07-11-2010, 08:56 AM
Awesome story ! Glad u shared that with us !

07-11-2010, 09:25 AM
good story, I enjoyed reading it!

07-11-2010, 09:29 AM
Thanks for sharing such a great story and ever lasting memory of your life.

Country Boy
07-11-2010, 10:30 AM
nice article to read, sounds like you had some great times there, sorry to see it's gone, at least you still have the memories to enjoy.

swamp snorkler
07-11-2010, 11:00 AM
Great read, keep em coming. You are a very good writer.

07-11-2010, 11:17 AM
Very nice story, it's always sad to loose such a great place with so many memory's. On another note talk about some land loss.......................

07-11-2010, 11:18 AM
That's an awesome story!

meaux fishing
07-11-2010, 11:18 AM
Sandy, thanks for the story. Maybe we can get out there this winter again. Hopefully all the water will be open by then.

07-11-2010, 11:32 AM
Good story, well written. Tell us another one,

07-11-2010, 11:50 AM
cool story! I love reading stories like this. tell us some more!

07-11-2010, 02:35 PM
wow coach, i'm speechless!

that was the best story i've read in some time now, felt like I was there.

maybe others will add some of their favorite memories also.

07-11-2010, 02:58 PM
wow coach, i'm speechless!

that was the best story i've read in some time now, felt like I was there.

maybe others will add some of their favorite memories also.

i could post stories all day long and none of them would read like this one. Guess that is why i did so bad in english.

great story

07-11-2010, 04:08 PM
Thanks much y'all. By the time I finished it, I was certain that it was so long that nobody would want to read it. I was almost afraid to log on today and see everyone complain about how darn long it was. I tend to be very wordy. I love to write about the old camp and many of my old stories are on 2cool. I just rarely have the time to do so anymore, especially since Ike. Thank goodness for Summer vacation.

It was pretty emotional the day I took that old flag to my new camp and raised it for the first time in 10 years. It was the only thing from the old camp that survived.

07-11-2010, 07:14 PM
Awesome story, coach!
Funny thing is my uncle had a camp in Empire, I spent many summer nights trying to sleep in the heat. It is funny, the entire time your there everyone complains about the heat,no shower, shady generator yet the next weekend the same folks are back at the same camp complaining about the same things.
I thought shell Island was the only fishing spot in the world until I was nearly 15 years old. Every morning and evening we would go there. View changed every year and you knew at some point, with the rapid rate of coastal erosion, shell island would simply be GPS coordinates. It wasn't long after that we "thought" we were beyond the island. We were actually on the island in 6 inch of water. The horn on the Evinrude 120 was broke and we burned the motor up.
I also remember fishing at night under the lights off of his neighbors dock. My brother and I would stay up all night catching trout, at first sign of daylight we were heading to shell island.
I drank my first beer in Empire, got stuck by my first catfish and loved bringing friends who never fished to show them what it was about.
Before I get too long winded myself, August 1995, myself, my brother and my cousin decided to go to "The Camp" (as we also called it). My grandmaw being the typical grandmaw she is gave us a pack of Mckenzie cinnamon rolls to take with us. None of us felt like taking them b/c as usual we would eat the fish we caught, but how do you tell granny "no" we don't want the cinnamon rolls you bought us. So i stuck them in my backpack to satisfy her. We were in my cousins 16' flat. We hadn't even got out of view from Delta Marina when the sky opened up. Finished the drive to "The camp" in a storm, finally made it dripping wet. The rain finally stopped, leaving us about hour of daylight left. After we unloaded the bare essentials we headed for the island. An hour later, now dark, we don't have a fish in the boat. I am ok with not catching fish, the problem was, we now didn't have dinner for the night. After several failed ideas, and several even worse attemps to catch dinner at night, we all remembered grandmaw taking care of us. There we were, sitting in "The camp", still wet, the lights going on and off, argueing over who gets to sleep next to the window(that was the only spot with an even remote breeze) eating grandmaws McKenzies cinnamon rolls.
Sadly,the camp is now going, ironically, so is Mckenzies. But grandmaw is still here, and that is plenty enough for me.

07-11-2010, 08:57 PM
Great story!!

07-11-2010, 09:26 PM
Man, great story Cody! I still had the camp when I coached you in '96. We'd have had a lot to talk about on that old couch in the locker room if I'd have known you fished out there. Shell Island near Grand Bayou Pass is still there, but the pass is silted in now. Which place was y'all's and was it on Bayou Cook? Here's a map of where we were. Forgive the poor labelling. I'm new at that sort of thing. You get the idea.

07-11-2010, 10:51 PM
Both great stories......
Coach .....you have a little Ruark in you there brother.

We've had a place on Blind River for now close to 50 years. Actually my grandfather and great uncle sold it in 1984 because those two old farts could not settle an argument.

It was gone. We were crushed, but all too young, starting families and just plain broke.
Then the Lord blessed us with the chance to buy it back ten years ago.

The fishing is awful there, but the memories are the same.

Can't even count the PBR's that handed to my grandfather there, and always got the first sip. Smoked a few there as well.

Played Bou-Ray for kitchen matches there with my grandmother and great Aunt.
We still catch blue grab there.......but the fish are slim.

My kids are swinging off the same tree I did when I was a young puck.
My son at twelve can drive a boat better than most grownups can drive a car.

The smell of that swamp makes my brain ease........
I've been blessed enough have guys from all over the country. No one leaves there the same.......

I really like the winter there.......the hounds of winter on the Blind River as we call them. (a sting song) But there is nothing like that little wood stove and cooking a hen and andouille gumbo there.

Thanks for story man.......I think I have an idea how important the place was to who you are today.

07-11-2010, 11:17 PM
I want a camp out of manchac pass, close to home and one of my favorite places to fish. I'm hope the oil doesn't ever get to it.

07-12-2010, 08:51 AM
There are a couple for sale there now! but not cheap..........my first cousin has one on the pass. An absolutely beautiful place to spend the evening.

07-14-2010, 10:11 AM
Awesome read. You are an excellent writer. Made me almost feel like i was there. Keep the stories coming!!!!

07-15-2010, 11:04 AM
great article. Had a camp in Grand isle for 20 years and it was taken out by Katrina. It was an older trailer, but as you said about yours "it was Versailles and Tara." I felt the same about my place. Had many a great time and the memories are forever embedded in my brain. Many fish and beer were caught and consumed there. I dream of the place damn near every night. I haven't been down this summer either because of the spill, but maybe now I can get there before school starts and store some more memories.

Great story and imagery. I can definitely relate to it.

07-15-2010, 05:53 PM
My uncles camp was on Bayou cook as well. Between Bay Adams and Bastian Bay.

07-15-2010, 09:40 PM
Cody, you gotta help me nail down which one it was. Was it at the mouth coming in from Halfmoon Bay, where the Hi-Tide and Fort Ivy were? Or was it in either of the bends, like where the Checkerboard Square was? Gotta help me pinpoint it in my memory.

07-15-2010, 10:03 PM
great article. Had a camp in Grand isle for 20 years and it was taken out by Katrina. It was an older trailer, but as you said about yours "it was Versailles and Tara." I felt the same about my place. Had many a great time and the memories are forever embedded in my brain. Many fish and beer were caught and consumed there. I dream of the place damn near every night. I haven't been down this summer either because of the spill, but maybe now I can get there before school starts and store some more memories.

Great story and imagery. I can definitely relate to it.
I was a guest many times at casa garcia . I have to say that it made enough of an impression on me that in my will it states that when i pass on that i will be cremated and my ashes are to be scattered on the second sand bar off the beach in grand isle.
soup bone has agreed to do the honors and garfish , since you are one of the ones that helped make the memories i hope that you and your lil bro will do me the favor of being there also. Just put a picture up on the new wall of shame . where ever it happens to be.

07-16-2010, 08:19 AM
It was pretty emotional the day I took that old flag to my new camp and raised it for the first time in 10 years. It was the only thing from the old camp that survived.

Yep, I had the picture of me under that flag as my wallpaper for a while. ;)

07-16-2010, 08:53 PM
Hey Coach, great read and I agree with the others you have a gift with words.

Like you, my fondest childhood memories hail from Empire taking refuge in a camp located on the east side of Bay Adams. Not really “refuge” as the location of the camp allowed for electricity and a big water tank out back that held rain water called a sin strum (sp) for bathing.
Although I fished those waters well into the 80”s my fondest memories are from the early 70’s probably due to the many first fisihing experiences in my life.
The camp was owned by a successful Gretna business man and a member of our church. We enjoyed week long summer vacations and many weekend fishing excursions any chance my dad could get a “fill in” as he was the minister of our church. Dad taught me how to ski in Bay Adams when I was seven yrs old and as I remember I wasn't a fast learner but dad mustered enough patients to get the job done.
Dad restored an old Aluminum V hull Starcraft powered by a 40 hp evinrude. “our invincible ship” called “Miss Tip”. Family joke was responsible for the name. We would even venture out the Grand Bayou pass into the G.O.M. to the nearest rig called the Green Monster a double plat formed producing well that held a variety of inshore fish. A "rig hook" an aluminum 1½” pipe shaped like a question mark would hang over the bow while the roped end was secured somehow to the transom. The aluminum question mark would be deployed around one of the rig’s cross bars and tied to our bow holding us while we fished. Dad, a Yankee from Mn armed with limited fishing gear, would remove the cork off our spinning combos and tether a snap on weight just above the double “shag rig” and send it down counting one Mississippi, two Mississippi till the bait hit the bottom. As I remember it took until 60 Mississippi to hit the bottom then start reeling slowly till the bite found our frozen shrimp. A lil math and my dad had the combination to how many Mississippi's to find the bite then had us all repeat after him. Usually didn’t take long to fill the box and by late morning we were heading back towards Grand Bayou pass.
In hind site, I would never repeat that venture in a 16 ft Star craft with 3 of my kids but dad was weather cautious and I never remembered the gulf being nothing but flat.
Once inside the pass we would hit a point on the west side of Bay Bastian. My dad would name this point "Tommy's point" after my brother but can't remember why. We would then head to Bayou Cook if our fish boxes needed topping as it was always a producer then found our way back across Bay Adams to “the camp.”
Someone mentioned empire launch where your boat was lowered in the water by straps. Back then, the launch operator was called “squeaky” by all his friends and customers due to his high pitched voice and seemed like he really enjoyed his job. I would never address him because I thought it would be rude coming from kid and never new his real name. Later in the 80’s the same business man built a new camp on Happy Jack canal so I never returned to the Empire camp nor launch.
Sometimes, I wonder what happened to squeaky, but maybe someone here can satisfy my curiosity.

Again, Thanks for the great story and a reminder from a time and place that will only exist in our memories.


07-16-2010, 09:54 PM
Jimmy, your story was great too! All parts of it had me nodding my head. You must have passed by our camp every time you went out of Grand Bayou Pass. We were the last camp on the left before you hit Bay Bastian. It was pink for a short time (the paint was free), and then green forever.

I have no recollection of Squeaky. Perhaps he worked at Battistella's Marina on the other canal, the one across the draw bridge.

07-16-2010, 11:37 PM

From my recollection of the launch, we had to cross over a small shell levy with a boat yard just on the other side...First time my dad approached the levy, he parked our wood panel station wagon at the foot of the levy ...no joke! and walked up to the top of levy to ensure he wasn't about to splash our wagon on the other side as all you could see were the tops of the boats on approach...lol, then we proceeded through the boat yard which I thought was pretty cool to see fishermen making repairs to those old wooden hauls as we proceeded to the marina...

We would pass Diamond Island from Bay Adams and hit Meyers Canal and pop out into Grand Bayou and turn left towards the Pass...I remember the string of camps as we approached Bay Bastian on the left and pink does stick out but maybe power of suggestion is speaking...I remember a fellow with the last name Lutz also had a camp along that stretch...

Also, remember that big decrepid camp in the mouth Bay Bastian near the pass with no land around it? I use to imagine how nice it must have been when newly constructed every time we passed it....Great view of the Pass..I once heard a story that an oil company had constructed it back in 50's...

As for Squeaky, I hope all is well and I know he lived a good life down in Empire..


07-17-2010, 01:14 AM
If you hit Meyers Canal to Grand Bayou, you bypassed Bayou Cook. The camp at the mouth of Grand Bayou and Bay Bastian had been many things, most notably a DANCE HALL! My grandmother had stories of ROWING there to dance when she was a teenager.

When the structure of that place was gone, after some storm or another, we went out there and cut the pilings down. We floated them back to our place and jacked up the back of our camp with them. Those pilings are still there.

You definitely went into the Delta Marina. The only operator I can ever remember was Jimmy Martinez, though I'm sure Squeaky was his predecessor.

07-17-2010, 01:49 AM
Only if we could go back in time to the dance hall days....must've been something to see....I think when it's clear I'll have to trailer my boat over or hire a guide for a trip down memory lane. Has been way too long...What's the passage to the gulf from Grand Bayou/Bay Bastian these days?

Squeaky error was in the early / mid 70's....not sure about Matinez time...I believe you referenced 90's...so may it's the reverse of tenure...