Our boat left the dock early in the morning, destined for a Faulkner-esque expedition through the Louisiana marshes into Shell Island and Bastian Bay. My fever had mercifully broken three days previous, but I was still apprehensive about a fishing trip I was not quite sure I was physically ready to be a part of. As I pondered my decision, the curiosity swirling through my mind of the effects of the oil spill on the southern coasts of our sister state proved to be the over-riding incentive for me to take the voyage. So this is where the morning found me.
The trip had been planned, postponed, and then planned again many times during the previous two months, finally consummated in a phone call last Sunday night:
“Weather’s clear, we’re heading down to Sulphur tomorrow night. You coming down?”
“Yeah, I guess so. Fishing zones open?”
“Yes. All of our usual spots are available.”
“Catch and release, or do we get to keep ‘em?”
“You kiddin’ me? Cajuns can’t fathom that term.”
“Yesu anakupenda!” (Swahili for ‘Jesus Loves You!’)
A warm, humid breeze wafted in from the Gulf, and overhead the puffy cumulus clouds were threatening to calve into something sinister and foreboding before the morning sun had climbed to its zenith, if not sooner. We ended up fishing our boat in the surf, which though successful, was also most uncomfortable for one recently recovering from an illness. I made sure to constantly hydrate myself with water - by noon I had consumed six bottles total. At various times I stopped fishing long enough to take pictures with my camera, yet always returned promptly to the task at hand. Specks were abundant in the early hours, with Reds coming on strong as the sun burned the mists away, especially closer to the dense marsh grass. We limited out on the Reds, but we did not quite make it to that number with the Specks. All in all, it was a successful trip, and I’ll be frying fish over the weekend and experimenting with grilled redfish recipes I wrote down while interrogating the various guides as they cleaned our catch.
Although I enjoyed the trip, and sharing the fish in a family cook-out will mean even more to me, I’ll have to admit that one of my goals was to actually evaluate the coastline in that area to ascertain for myself how bad the oil spill damage is first hand. We were in an area very close to what could be considered ‘ground zero’ for oil coming ashore, more so than Gulf Shores, Pensacola, or even my beloved beaches of South Mississippi. I was expecting to see helicopters in a constant flight pattern above us, or at least a few hundred temporary BP employees in orange and yellow vests patrolling the shoreline. Most of all, I was expecting tar balls and dead marsh grass, oil soaked birds, and dead fish. These are the things I see on the evening news, reminding me daily that all is lost in the Gulf, both now and for several generations to come. I walked on a tiny sand island devoid of any vegetation (we’re talking seriously tiny) and we fished from our boats in the actual surf near Shell Island. I saw no tar balls. I saw no dead sea turtles or oil encrusted birds. Most importantly to me, I spent the morning pulling in a lot of fish; we all did. These are fish we will not be hesitant to consume later.
On the way back to the dock, in a bayou with dark water as smooth as liquid glass, I finally saw what I had expected to see from the beginning of my trip. Containment booms, massive lengths of them, were stretched taut as far as my eyes could see on both sides of the estuary. Although I still did not see oil within their confines, I know they had been placed there for a reason – a sort of dirty little secret hidden insidiously within an otherwise perfectly normal environment.
By most reports the leak will be permanently stopped within a few days or weeks, and clean up (corroborated by my own eye's witness) is being completed on schedule. There are the so-called plumes to contend with, I know, and things could suddenly get much worse than what I saw yesterday. Maybe not. Either way, there is a stigma of what we see on the evening news that has most of the world convinced the Gulf is dead and the Southern coastline is currently lying in a state of oil-stained ruin. My guide told me that despite the fishing we had experienced, and the fact that most of the zones had been reopened, his business was slow and almost nonexistent. That’s a shame. It shouldn’t be that way. The under-reported good should bear the same weight as the reported bad; at least that’s what I believe in my heart. But if you get the chance, take a trip down in the marsh. Visiting the small villages is a lot like stepping back in time, and of course, the fishing is excellent during this time of the year.
"He hath made every thing beautiful in His time: also He hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that G_d maketh from the beginning to the end." Ecclesiastes 3:11