Swamp Boys Get Lost on a Louisiana Bayou – A Fish Tale from Uncle George May 22, 2011

Joe and I entered the Ronald McDonald House West Monroe Louisiana Big Bass Tournament to be held on May 21, 2011. We carefully made all of the plans to catch the largest bass and win a truck or a boat. We made the plans although neither of had ever fished much for bass, we like fishing for perch and brim. We told the astonished fishing experts at Toledo Tackle that it would be beginner’s luck. We got all of the right fishing reports on hot spots from Toledo Tackle and West Monroe Coney Island and decided on Joe Bob’s landing off Bayou D’Arbonne. The fishing experts at Academy sold us the best Cadillac Spinning rods although we confessed we preferred Zebco rods to avoid backlash. Then we purchased over $200 worth of the recommended baits from Toledo and Academy. The warning signs started on the previous Sunday May 15 when Angie, Joe, Aaron, and I made a trail run of fishing from Joe Bob’s landing. We picked up minnows, crickets, and worms and headed for the boat dock. Joe backed the boat into the water and Angie started the motor. Unfortunately the motor would not go into gear because the linkage was messed up. We had a difficult time loading the boat back onto the trailer with trolling motor and paddles. We got the boat repaired and were ready for the tournament the next Saturday morning at 0530AM.

That Saturday morning Joe and I woke up with the back yard roosters at 0400AM to find severe thunderstorms and lightning flashes all over the sky. We already had the boat loaded on the trailer so we decided to drive into West Monroe, have a McDonalds Sausage biscuit, and drive to the weigh in station at Ike Hamilton’s EXPO Center, where we expected to receive news that a rain date had been announced for the tournament. The tournament was not rained out but we learned of another great spot in the flooded soybean fields off D’Arbonne Bayou Wildlife Refuge. Joe and I decided to go back home and take a nap until the thunderstorms cleared up. We did not figure that winning trucks or boats were worth getting struck by lightning on the water in an aluminum boat.

We arrived at the boat dock at 1PM and set the GPS for the boat dock. This is where the fish tale really starts to get fishy. Joe backed the trailer into the water as I stood and held the rope. The boat did not come off the trailer. Then Joe and I tried to push the boat off the trailer and it would not budge. A guy waiting patiently for us to clear out so he could fish came over and reminded Joe that he needed to take the winch strap off the boat. Then we went left down Bayou D’Arbonne about 100 yards and turned right down an old pipeline, and entered the massive flooded bean field. We saw huge fish we assumed to be bass leaping out of the water turning summersaults in the air. We just knew we were going to catch one and win the tournament. Later the game wardens informed us that these fish were not bass, but were massive carp.

Joe and I made our first official cast with our new Cadillac spinning rods at 1:30PM and both instantly received severe backlashes. Luckily we also brought our trusted rusted Zebco rods. My next cast went 30 yards and hung high into a tree standing in the flooded bean field. I yanked the line and the bait with 3 sets of treble hooks caught me just under the right arm pit. Joe had to cut it out with a pocket knife. We fished all over the bean fields until 3PM and it reminded me of why I never enjoyed bass fishing-cast and crank, cast and crank. I much prefer relaxing waiting patiently for the cork to go under-A jerk at one end of the line waiting for a jerk at the other end. We did not get a single strike on any of the baits. At 3 we decided we should find the boat dock and fish around there until dark. The final weigh in was 3PM but we decided to keep fishing to find the fish for tomorrows trip. The GPS was geared to highway and not marine. We could not find the highlighted route. Even the recalculating did not work. We headed down one trail after another all dead ends into thickets. We saw at least 2 alligators 6 feet or better. We could see them eyeballing us and licking their chops for supper. I was born on the Louisiana Bayou and had fished with gators most of my life. I knew that they were just watching us hoping we would throw them a marshmallow or some of our minnows. I am used to fighting off gators with a boat paddle as they chase my cork and minnow back to the boat. But Joe, being a certified Yankee and a city slicker had never seen an alligator in the wild. I could tell he was frightened.

I knew we were lost and lost real good. We could not find solid land anywhere. I started thinking about Jesus and what he said about I am the way, the truth, and the life. I prayed, Lord show me the way. I have faith like a mustard seed, but was surprised to see a boat dock appear out of the thicket. However it was the wrong boat dock. Hind sight is 20/20; we should have got that fisherman at the dock to drive us to our truck. But we had plenty of daylight left and I thought we had plenty of gas. The fisherman gave us good directions and we headed north, only to get lost again in the flooded bean fields.  Somehow again we arrived at the same boat dock we had visited an hour before. Another fisherman sent us south this time. This is when we got lost again. The real trouble started when we ran out of gas. I had faith in Jesus and felt he would send someone to rescue us, but on his time scale, teaching me the lessons about patience.

 

I started using the trolling motor hoping that we were at least in some stream that would not end up in yet another dead end thicket. I started thinking about the Lord's Prayer- The Lord is my Shepherd and prayed at least help us find dry land so we can build a fire to fight off the mosquitoes. My trolling motor is rather difficult to operate for long periods of time. My foot started cramping after about a mile and I tried to push the button with my fingers. I let Joe take over the trolling motor while I started making emergency calls with Joe's cell phone. However Joe accidentally put the trolling motor on automatic and we rode around in circles for a while, so I resumed command and let Joe make the calls. We were lucky to have a cell phone that worked. As usual I left my phone plugged into the battery charger by my computer. Usually Joe forgets to charge his phone and the battery is always dead. It was a miracle that we got any reception out there in the swamp with the gators, who were praying Lord send us some more tourist, the last were delicious.

We started making calls at dark to Angie. Bugs were after us, giant Louisiana State Bird mosquitoes, hungry gators and sneaky snakes. It was cloudy and dark. Although I had my hearing aids in, I could not hear as well as Joe. He kept saying listen and I strained to hear. "What is it?", I asked. "Another gator," he replied.  We heard rumbles and hoped it was the rescue boat, but it turned out to be an airplane. I shined a flashlight on it hoping they could see us, but they did not. I was wishing we had a flare, like the ones I issued out in my survival training job back in the US Air Force. The flares looked like a ball point pen with a switch on them for releasing the flare that shot up half a mile.

Angie was disappointed when we called her, because she and the boys had already purchased tickets for a movie. I convinced her that she needed to abandon the theater and come rescue us. She found our truck at the boat dock and started blowing her horn. We could not hear it because somehow we had traveled 2 miles from the boat dock. Angie called us on our cell phone and convinced us to call 911 so they could peg our location.

The Union Parish Sheriff Office and the Union Parish Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) game wardens began responding to our calls at 6:30PM, although most of their staff was involved in the Mississippi River flood. The Union Parish deputies met Angie at the boat dock and stayed with her long after the game wardens arrived with a rescue boat. The deputies used blow horns and called us several times to see if we could hear the horns. But we could not hear them. LDWF Wardens David Harrelson and Mike Jones bravely set out to rescue us using a small John Boat. At 10PM we heard the wonderful sound of their boat motor somewhere out there in the vast darkness of the swamp. Then we could see their spotlights illuminating making circles in the tree tops about 500 yards away. I wished I had remembered to put the flares in the boat. The wardens took their boat out of hearing range. They called us on the cell phone and we informed them that they had passed close by. They returned to their previous location and called us again. We got them to circle their light over the trees slowly and informed them when they were pointing in our direction. By 11PM they managed to maneuver through the thickets and tree lines and they appeared about 200 yards away. We found out we were on Shooter Creek.  I made a torch out of my can of Off Mosquito Spray and a cigarette lighter and caught my thumb on fire, but they saw us. When they pulled their boat up beside us I said that we sure were glad to see them. The wardens brought us some gasoline and said follow us. At 11:30 we made it back to the boat dock. Without the wardens we would have never made it down the overflowed snaky snake and gator infested creek. You could not determine the creek path in all the backwaters in the daylight, much less at midnight. The backwaters were 11 feet deep. It was miles and miles of water like an ocean. You couldn’t see the forest for the trees. When we made it back to the dock and got the boat out, I was wading at the back of the boat to pull out the plug. I shined my light down at my feet and there was a sneaky snake waving around under my feet. The Wardens, Joe, and Jesus heard me scream.  I guess sneaky snake wasn’t hungry. The wardens asked if we were fishing in the tournament tomorrow. NO!

PS: I went to Church Sunday Morning and thanked Jesus for saving our lives. Ironically, The Priest taught a sermon on the way, the truth, and the light and said we should leave our troubles from yesterday behind us. Joe woke up with all sorts of bumps on his legs from the bug bites. He said he had enough fishing to last him a few weeks.

 

 

 

If you enjoyed this fish tale, then you will love my novel about my childhood fishing tales.

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