It was December of 2014 and John Kumiski and I were fresh off a seven day trip in the Florida Everglades when we asked each other, “Where to next?” Home was the obvious plan of actions but where would our adventure take us in 2015? It didn’t take very long to decide after 2015 was underway and John asked if I had ever been to Louisiana. Sure, I’ve driven through it and spent New Year’s Eve there when I was 16 (a totally different type of adventure) but fishing? Nope. “Let’s go.” While John did 95% of the planning, I did the driving in my Nissan.
I left my house around 2:30am on Saturday, Nov 28th. After picking John up in the Orlando area, we were off and made it to the Reel Livin Fishing Lodge in Empire, LA. We were quickly greeted by Carol LaCompte (owner/operator) and Herman Demoll (right-hand man) with some serious Louisiana hospitality. Big fresh oysters were shucked by Carol as we started to make ourselves at home for our three night stay. Reel Livin Lodge is located on 6.5 acres on the safe side of a levee. The other side is marsh where redfish are readily available. It sleeps around 20 guests and Carol treated us like kings. I was expecting to lose a few pounds this trip but I quickly realized that wasn’t going to happen. Grilled oysters, blackened redfish and gumbo made its way to our bellies to cap the long day off.
Local kayak fishing guide Brian Sherman with Kayak Venice, LA, met us on Sunday. Together with Carol, we took to the Venice marsh. It didn’t take very long before I was hooked into my first LA red. That one red would later turn into many more including trout (specs as they are called in LA). The weather was a good 7 out of 10 for the day and everyone caught multiple fish. Between the fun day, new friends and hospitality, we could have packed and went home that night and I would have been happy. Dinner for the night was cooked by Herman and consisted of fried trout, oysters, softshell crab, jambalaya and green beans. Herman and I shared stories of our very similar pasts that we have both been fortunate to overcome.
Sunday I had noticed a dead cypress forest and really wanted to paddle to it but that wasn’t on the agenda. To my luck, we launched right into it on Monday and it put a huge smile on my face. Such an incredible row of cypress trees that have died over the years due to salt intrusion. I could only imagine how cool it was to paddle beneath these monsters while still living. The stumps and bases all held fish and I managed to hook a small flounder just minutes after getting in the water. Weather on this day reached a 9 out of 10 and gave us the ability to push further than the day before. This would all lead to a banner day of fishing. At the furthest point, John managed to hook the best red of the trip. He caught another right after which would have topped the first but the hook was no match for the fish. Fishing was great, laughter was great, new friends were great, but the day had passed and the sun was setting so we made a dash to the trucks. Brian proved to be a genuine fella and a great guide. Dinner was redfish pizza by Carol accompanied with other things I could not pronounce and still can’t.
Tuesday we slept in a bit to catch up on rest. I was still missing sleep from the drive and Carol had breakfast ready at 5am the last two mornings so extra ZZZ’s were nice. After having breakfast we packed and said bye to Carol before our three hour drive to Cocodrie, LA. I meet a lot of people on my travels and Carol is definitely one I will never forget and hope to see again. The lodge, his hospitality and kindness were all spot on.
Before our destination to Coco Marina, a request to stop by the Houma Visitors Center was granted. They had nice lunch boxes full of goodies for John and me. It was a nice welcoming gift. After the stop we moved on to Cocodrie where we found what looked to be a ghost town. Upon visiting the marina office, John found a note that said our room was open and to make ourselves at home. I was not aware seasons are big here and during the offseason, NOBODY is around. We dropped our things and launched the boats directly under our room. Most of the homes in the area are on high risers for floods and these small efficiencies had boat slips underneath. A local guide was supposed to meet us but the world must have had other plans for him. We were two knowledgeable anglers so we checked the map and worked our magic. Points and passes are always great places to fish if you lack local knowledge. That’s what we did but productive would not be on the menu for the evening. Some small trout and reds were all we caught. I watched a large black drum inhale a helpless fluttering blue crab only 5’ from me and that would be the highlight of my day. Unfortunately I did not have a hook in said blue crab and it wasn’t pickin’ up what I was puttin’ down.
Wednesday was here and so were the winds, big winds. We decided not to fish in the morning and visit the giant building next to the marina. It’s a place called LUMCON (Louisiana University Marine Consortium) and was a great place to kill some time and learn a little. A nice young intern named Hannah showed us around and even took us into the collections room.
Being that this is the slow season, most EVERYTHING is closed. The prior night we found a restaurant called Tradewinds up the street from our residence and it was about the only place open. We ate there both nights but on this night we asked a few questions about fishing. John did happen to have a writing assignment and we didn’t have much to go on in this location so when in doubt, ask questions. The manager dropped a name and business card and told us to contact the gal. I finished my shrimp Po’boy, John slurped down his turtle soup and we headed home to call Bebe. We were able to get a small amount of fishing done that resulted in one small red on one of my hooks. There were no hard feelings towards the fish because it was ugly out.
Thursday we were scheduled to leave for Grand Isle State Park but after checking the weather, we decided to stay at CoCo Marina one more night because it had beds and heat. We took advantage of this additional windy day and met Bebe at her home around 6:30am. From there we took a ride in her boat, the Minnow Dancer. It was windy and cold, VERY cold. Bebe had some spots where she often caught great fish so she took us around to scout them in hopes that we could paddle to the areas later. Hope ended up being just that, hope. With some chunks of mullet and live mud minnows, she hit her good spots but nothing was found but a pair of hardhead catfish. As we approached a point at high speed, I noticed two animals standing on the rocks. With eyes locked onto us, two large coyotes watched as we went screaming around the bend. Unfortunately I only had my phone camera so there is no proof of this awesome memory. As some would be extremely disappointed by this day, I’m highly grateful. We took Bebe out for lunch which turned into a lead for John’s project which turned into dinner later at Bebe’s house with her husband, Vic. The day was such a great piece of the LA puzzle John and I were assembling.
With the coldest night behind us, we headed to the campground of Grand Isle. On the way there I was feeling that the fish may be coming out of their frozen lockjaw state of mind. Coming off a couple poor days of fishing, we needed a fresh start. I never have figured out how life has a way of presenting itself to me but right before we rolled into Grand Isle, a large shrimp boat with the name “Hope” on the bow, floated by us in the oncoming canal. There were many boats that floated by but this would be the only one that stuck out. The rest of the trip would play out however the universe wanted but I suddenly knew that whatever steps it took, we would be good.
We setup camp and took to the water. We had plans to meet another guide in this area but unfortunately he was unable to meet us. However, Capt Danny Wray with Calmwater Charters was more than helpful via phone and pointed us in the direction we needed. Still a bit cool and windy, we launched our kayaks with about 5 hours to kill before sundown. Right off the bat I found a flounder and from there we caught more fish. The area we fished was loaded with small coves and creeks so I used my GPS to navigate us safely without getting lost. No monsters were captured but it was a great sign of productivity. We paddled back to the truck through the marsh with an orange background as the sun went down.
JK and I took these photos not knowing the other one was doing the same thing.
Saturday the sun came out and the winds died down just a small bit. We got an early start and this would be beneficial considering the first decent day of sight fishing was now available. John was able to push himself around while standing, plucking off reds with any color fly he wanted. I was able to spot fish from the high position in my BG2 which gave me a great upper hand. Sometimes I was even able to stand for a short bit to spot fish prior to casting. Standing in my boat has been work in progress but it’s far from graceful. It ended up being a quality over quantity day with some memorable sight casting executions. As if paddling around in this beautiful marsh wasn’t memorable enough.
Saturday night while watching shooting stars and listening to John’s plethora of astronomy knowledge, we had a decision to make. Our plan was to head home on Monday but Sunday offered a few knocks of opportunity. Weather would be windy and cloudy, not great for sight fishing. Sunday would also offer less traffic. We both weren’t eager to fish the predicted conditions in the same area we were in Saturday so the decision was made to head home. So far we had an excellent trip and if we were responsible gamblers, we were quitting while we were ahead. We left Grand Isle around 7:30am and after dropping John off, I was home at 10:30pm. Just under 2000 miles later, we were done but again the trip home was full of ideas on our next adventure. There will always be new water waiting for us at some location.
I got a lot out of this trip. It was very manageable because of gas prices and I ate a total of three shrimp Po’boy’s. While that means little to the majority of our nation, it means a lot to the people of LA. Cheap gas has LA in a depression and local shrimpers can’t afford to shrimp because we buy product from other areas at a cheaper rate. These things didn’t occur to me until I learned firsthand from locals. In a consumer world, the big dog is always going to eat the small dog, eventually. I feel it’s the struggle we all live between values and luxuries. My values gained during this trip include new friends, ideas, inspiration and memories.
Special thanks to the following people.
Capt Carol LaCompte-Reel Livin Fishing
Capt Brian Sherman-Kayak Venice LA
Capt Danny Wray- Calmwater Charters
CoCo Marina-CoCo Marina
Because we got home safe and sound a day early, my clutch went out on Monday. Many thanks to my friend Bill Sellers and B.C. Towing along with my Guardian Angels for not letting it go out while in LA.