Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Southern Comfort – Part Five

Part four is over by dare.

Now this is the Louisiana party I was looking for. Didn't find it. Came close....

Our day three plan while in Louisiana was to travel into the swamps and experience that Cajun culture and absorb as much of it as possible during our short stay.

Heading out from our N.O. home base we traveled west and crossed the big river at the Huey P. Long bridge. We hopped on SR90 and continued west through scrubby looking sugar cane farmland. There were truckstops and mini-marts at each intersection. Our destination was to tour a triangle bounded by Raceland, Houma and Thibodaux, LA in LaFourche Parrish.

Along the way cars and pickups were parked along the divided highway where it neared a swamp and people were walking around nearby with long poles and nets. I assumed they were catching crawfish, which were in season.

Arriving in Thibodaux what we saw was not what we expected. The long stretch of road heading north into town followed a canal northward. Residences along the canals had boats and boat docks. The canal led to southern brackish waters and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico. Upon arrival Thibodaux looked like a western suburb of Chicago. Large, newly built custom homes in gated communities circled the town. Strip malls with Subways, Arby’s, Taco Bells and the like were closer to town.

Then I found what I was looking for. It was a small store south of Thibodaux named The Bourgeois Meat Market. The sign out front said all I needed to know. Their slogan “Miracles In Meat” will forever be etched in my mind. Without a planned route to explore the back country we needed local advice and the butchers of Bourgeois were more than willing to help. First I purchased some fresh Cajun beef jerky at $20. per lb to break the ice, the jerky was the real deal too unlike that bagged tasteless leather sold in mini-marts. Then we asked the fellow where we could find a back road to photograph rustic Cajun cyprus tree swampland. While describing directions in the thickest of Cajun accents he drew a map on a piece of butcher paper with a grease pencil.

After mentioning to him that we saw a lot of folks on the roadside who appeared to be catching crawfish he smiled and said it was “a way of life down here”. We thanked him and headed west.

That delicious pound of jerky didn’t last ten minutes in the car as we followed his unmarked map. This is what we were looking for, a lonely two-laner with swamp on either side. The water level was noticeably low. It was a desolate span with gated oil pipeline dirt access roads heading off into the swamp on either side. Up ahead was a parked car on the side of the road. As we neared the car it became obvious this was a lone craw-fisherman. As I slowed down I swear she turned and said to me, “Don’t stop, he could kill us”. I laughed out loud and stopped anyway.

When this gentleman approached our groovy tourist rent-a-car I asked out the window what he was catching and he said, “crawfish, what else?” I got out with the camera and he gave me a lesson in catching crawfish, no questions asked.

He used over thirty small 2’x2’ nets held together on each corner by spring steel wires joined at the top. Tied to the top loop was a day-glo ribbon for easy identification in the reflective swampy earth tones. The center of the net contained a clamp that held a piece of fresh cow spleen, for bait. My new buddy (we’ll call him Boudreaux) walked me along the road with a long pole he used to grab the net loop and pulled one net up. Sure enough it had crawfish chomping on fresh cow spleen. These little buggers would not let go of that cow spleen bait, Boudreaux had to pull them off. The swamp water was quite low, 12” deep near the road where all his nets were placed. There was no need for waders or knee-boots, the nets were within easy reach of his pole.

Crawdadding, or whatever it’s called, takes only a fishing license and minimum equipment and effort. There is no limit on size or amount of crawfish taken. Boudreaux told me that they’re just fine after freezing and he uses a vacuum sealer to bag them. Smart. He claimed he has a large freezer in his garage that he uses only to store crawfish, crab, redfish and other game. Good eats. Cheap eats.

Boudreaux told me these dads were on the small side but that in a few weeks their size would double. He had his large Igloo cooler half-filled within an hour before we arrived on the scene.

Oh, and Boudreaux was no ordinary Cajun. He happened to be an off-duty Terrebonne Parrish deputy sheriff and on the swat team. He was the friendliest person one would expect to meet in a dense and remote Louisiana swamp. We talked a while about fishing and hunting. We bonded. He told me that in a month or so he would be traveling south of Houma on weekends where freshwater meets saltwater from the gulf. There he would be catching coolers full of blue crabs.

Crawfish IS a way of life in south Louisiana. Even the local potato chip company sells crawfish flavored chips.

They tasted like gumbo to me. Not that it is a bad thing.

The Louisiana license plate contains the slogan ‘Sportsman’s Paradise’.
It’s definitely that and so much more.


Dan from Madison said...

Awesome! I remember driving through Houma several years ago and remembering how destitute that place was. Grinding poverty.

One thing you don't mention is the pace down there - it is incredibly slow and relaxing when you get out of NO itself. At first it drove me nuts but I learned to enjoy it and let it happen. Time is valued differently there than here.

sk8 said...

looks like fun. Both to catch and eat.