Hackberry Hustle part deux

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I left straight from work to go to Houston, last Wednesday afternoon. I wanted to get out of Austin before evening rush-hour. My bags and my gear was packed in the truck, and ready to go. I had to drive the entire distance in business clothes, but visions of a great weekend ahead drove my heel.

I made it to Houston in record time (I did not speed, officer -- honest!). Actually I left at about 3:15, and arrived in the Woodlands at about 6:00. Two hours and forty-five minutes -- not too shabby. Somehow, the rush hour traffic in Magnolia was very light for a change. I thought I was on a lucky streak! (Little was I to know about how the weekend would shape up).

I arrived at Will's house to find him in the garage, sorting out his gear. I unloaded my bags, and went inside.

Will had about 8 huge AC plugs (big balsa plugs, jointed in the middle). They looked like something you would tow behind a boat to catch a Marlin! I figured that if we ran into a big school of red-fish feeding at the surface like last time, it might actually work. I helped Will pick out a few - trying to match a mullet on a clear and cloudy day, so that he could be prepared for either condition.

I brought some jig-heads, and a few packages of Saltwater Assassins, in various colors. I also brought some extra line; fluorocarbon for use as leader material. This would prove to be useful for other purposes as well.

We cleaned and oiled the reels, checked the line, and got all of our stuff together so that we could pack up and go in the morning.

The next morning, Will was upset to find out that a few more people bailed out of the trip. This put us in a bind, because we had already reserved 4 boats, with the latest round of dropouts, it meant that two boats would only have two people -- this makes the cost per person go up considerably.

We finally left the house at about 11:30, and went to pick up Ronnie. Afterward, we went straight to Woofies (the local tavern) to meet up with Bill and Kendall. Kendall and I would leave our vehicles under the security camera in the parking lot at Woofies, and we would take Bill's suburban land-yacht.

We were happy to find that it was Bikini-Day at Woofies, and Christine (one of the bar tenders) was looking hot. Will had some fun with the video camera, while we had a few beers, and waited for Bill. Bill was supposed to show up at 12:30, but he was late as usual. He arrived at about 1:15, ate a burger, and had a beer. By this time, we had been drinking for about two hours, so I'm glad Bill was driving.

Finally, we loaded everything up into Bills truck, and hit the road. Bill had a great shortcut (we all remember last year's shortcut, which ended us up in Jasper, Texas. Not the kind of place you want to get lost in, but that's another story...). We would drive North to Conroe, then take highway 105 to Beaumont to avoid Houston all-together. Of course, as soon as we got onto IH45, the traffic was at a stand-still.

Once we got to Conroe, and off of IH45, the traffic lightened up dramatically. To Bill's credit, we made record time. It only took a couple of hours to get to Hackberry, even after stopping about a half-dozen times for Ronnie to do his business.

We stopped off at a dock where there were some shrimp boats. Will bought a few pounds of shrimp, and some crab-claws for the gumbo. Will was wearing these goofy bright red sunglasses that he found at Ronnie's house. I caught a few funny looks from the locals at the dock, as they sized up Will wearing those sunglasses.

As we approached Hackberry, you could see lots of damaged buildings, and blue-tarps covering damaged roofs. We had all seen the news footage from Hackberry after Hurricane Rita blew through. All of us expected closed roads, and total devastation. Interestingly, the damage was sparse. One house would be almost destroyed, while the house next door looked untouched. Freddy would later tell me that there were lots of tornadoes spawned off by the hurricane; he climbed the levy next to the camp to survey the damage after the storm, and he said that you could see clear paths of destruction where tornadoes ripped through the area.

To our surprise, the roads were mostly clear. There were noticeably fewer trees, and piles of debris, but Hackberry was by no means a ghost town. When we pulled up to the camp, the scenery had definitely changed from last year. Freddy's house was gone; replaced by three FEMA trailers. The lodge was gone, but replaced by a new lodge that was finished being installed that very morning. There was a crew of people busy at work putting grass down around the new lodge.

This is the view from the fishing dock to the boat ramp. Its pretty quiet in the afternoon, but is bustling as soon as the sun starts coming up in the morning.

The boat dock looked like it was in good shape, and all of the boats were intact. So the basic elements were all there.

Freddy and his staff were there to greet us. They were all talking excitedly about the fish they were catching. All of them said that the fishing had been great since the hurricane, so we were all excited about what the morning would bring.

We unloaded our gear, and each of us claimed a bunk. We met up with the other members of the party as they arrived. We all settled in, talking, and waiting for the Gumbo to finish. Monica and her helpers were hard at work in the kitchen.

Here is Kendall, Ronnie, Me, and Will (from left to right). We are pumped up, and ready to catch some fish!

The new lodge was very comfortable. There was lots of room for everyone. The patio was too small (you should see 11 guys standing on a three foot by twenty foot patio deck). I'm pretty sure they are going to build a larger one; I was happy we had a lodge to stay in at all.

By the time dinner was ready, everyone was hungry. The gumbo was delicious! I mean it was perfect. There was potato salad to go with it, and an awesome crab dip as an appetizer. Will brought some tabasco peppers from his garden. He chopped some up, and put it in one container of crab dip. It really kicked it up a notch, so to speak -- but it actually tasted great. There was chocolate cake for desert, but not much room, because everyone had gone back for second helpings of seafood gumbo.

This is Monica and I, on the front porch of the new lodge. Monica is the best darned Cajun cook that I have ever known. She makes the best seafood gumbo I have ever had. Really. The absolute best.

After dinner, we all sat around the dock shooting the bull. I brought a couple of lawn chairs with me, which proved to be handy. They were by far the most comfortable chairs on the dock. Some of us cast a line around the dock, but gave up after about the fourth or fifth time getting hung up. There was lots of debris in the water. I dragged up a nasty old mop, and a rubber glove. Will caught a beer can. I lost about one hundred feet of line, and a favorite lure. At some point, one by one, we all slipped off to bed.

After the aftermath of Rita, there was lots of debris in the water around the dock. I caught a glove (there was no hand in it -- I checked), and an old mop. Will caught a beer can (there was no beer in it -- he checked).

I guess I stayed up later than most, because when I went to bed, Kindall was in my spot, snoring away. Kindall is a notorious snorer. He literally shakes the walls when he snores. The only empty bunk was the next one over. Luckily, Bill had the forethought to bring some extra ear-plugs. They provided about a 50% reduction in the decibel level, so eventually with the help of a pillow over my head, I was able to get to sleep. I couldn't help getting a few seconds of Kindall snoring on my video camera, before I went to sleep.

At about 5:00 in the morning, I awoke to the sound of people getting ready to go fishing. Kindall was snoring louder than ever, so I got a few more seconds of footage before I got up. After about 30 minutes, someone realized that the clock on the stove was an hour behind, so it was actually about 4:30 in the morning! Oh, well. We were already up, so there was no sense in going back to sleep. I poured myself a cup of strong coffee to shake of the cob-webs. They had some Jimmy Dean sausage biscuits, and some honey-buns. I had one of each, then went outside.

It was still dark outside, and the mosquitoes were beginning to feed. I could see a truck at the boat ramp on the other side of the bayou that was backing his trailer down into the water. This later turned out to be Phillip, one of the fishing guides. Along with the other guides, Phillip drove his boat up to the dock. Max, who was my guide, was using one of Freddie's boats, which was in the lift.

Will was busy filling the cooler up with beer. I checked to see if there was any water, and of course there wasn't, so I went off in search of some. I found about a dozen water bottles, so I put them in the cooler along with the beer.

Ronnie was supposed to be on the boat with Will and I, but with the number of people who didn't show up, Kindall would have been stuck by himself on a boat. Ronnie opted to go with Kindall, so the price went up for all of us. We had all of our gear on-board, and were ready to go. The boat was still up on straps in the boat lift, and Will had already popped his first top. He offered me one, but I said, "Let's wait until we get out over the water, OK?" Max, our guide said, "Well technically, you are over the water..." I decided that I would drink water instead.

So, we were off. The air felt nice, the temperature was fine. The problem was that the previous extra high tide, along with a South West wind that blew all night, had the lake muddy brown. This is not good for fishing. The plan was to go in search of birds, which tend to follow schools of fish picking up the left overs. After locating about five different groups of birds that were 'picking', casting all around them and coming up empty, we began to realize that there were no fish under these birds. The birds were chasing shrimp, but the fish were somewhere else.

By mid-morning, we had driven all around the Southern part of the lake, and only managed to catch a couple of small fish. It was shaping up to be a long day. At some point, Max (our guide) decided to try something different. The tide was peaking, and getting close to changing directions. This would draw clean water back into the lake, and start clearing out the muddy water. Max figured that if we could get as far upstream as possible, we might find some good water. We took a gamble, and drove 30 minutes to the north west side of the lake, on the way to 'Black Lake'.

We had to go under this draw bridge. After driving the boat about 30 minutes to get to this spot, the guide was worried that we wouldn't fit under it. He forgot that he wasn't driving his own boat! Captain Freddie's boat (that we were on) has a high windscreen, and a handrail that goes over it. We actually cleared the bridge by about 6 inches!

When we were about two minutes away, the guide started looking worried. When I asked him what was the problem, he said that he had forgotten that he was driving Freddie's boat, which has a high windscreen and handrail around the center console. Max was afraid that there would not be enough clearance under the drawbridge.

Right before the drawbridge was a dock with some shrimp boats. Will needed more ice for his beer, so we made a stop. The guide made a fancy maneuver with the boat, that had me quite impressed. There was two shrimp boats moored to the dock, with about 40 feet of clearance between them. The front boat was idling its engine, so it was pushing a pretty strong current behind the boat. On top of this, the wind was blowing and the tide was shifting. Max nosed the front of the boat in close to the dock just behind the front boat, then used reverse to draw the rear of the boat in to the dock, pretty as you please. Great job parallel parking the boat!

After we picked up some ice, we continued down the bayou to pass under the bridge. Luckily, we cleared the bridge by about six inches! We anchored at a bend in the bayou, hoping to catch fish as they moved from Black Lake back into the main lake.

Unfortunately, all we caught was catfish. Salt water catfish taste terrible, and they are covered with nasty spunky goo. This is where the guides make there money -- taking nasty catfish off the hook. Believe me, it doesn't take more than a few of these before the guide is ready to move on. So, move on we did. Before we left the area, a couple of fisherman passed by on the way out to the main lake. They said the fishing in Black Lake was no good -- nothing was biting. So, we decided to fish a grassy bank that we passed for flounder.

Here is a real fishy looking spot. We were trying for Flounder, but ended up catching a few small 'Rat-Reds'.

I caught a couple of "Rat-Reds", or baby red-fish by casting my lure past a grassy point. They are small, but fun to catch and release. Will caught a small croaker, but no flounder. By this time, the tide started flowing back out, so we left the area in search of better water.

We ended up at an area called 'The Washout', which is where the ICW and the Western shore of Lake Calcasieu meet. The guide caught a couple of nice trout in this area, but I think it was luck more than skill. There just weren't that many fish feeding.

The last spot we checked was an area called 'Old Jetties', which is a line of rocks that break the surface over open water. Someone caught a 40lb black drum here earlier in the day, but all we managed to catch was a few large catfish.

So we called it a day, and went in.

When everyone got back to the dock I got my camera out to take some pictures. I got a good picture of Phillip with a net full of red-fish. One group did pretty good, and got into a school of keeper size reds.

Most everyone else came up light; the fishing was really bad. Oh, well -- maybe tomorrow, right?

Everyone decided to donate their first-days catch to the fish fry, for dinner. Even though the fishing was tough, there was plenty of food to go around. We probably could have fed the entire neighborhood!

Phill fried the fish and hush-puppies outside, in a wok filled with peanut-oil. This is a great method of frying fish. He's got this aluminum wind-shield that wraps partially around the burner, to keep the flame concentrated. You can fry a lot of fish this way, very quickly.

Phillip was frying the fish that were caught on the first day. Since Hurricane Rita, Captain Freddy and the rest of his staff were living in FEMA trailers, so they only had small refrigerators. They did not have any fish to fry. Anticipating a big day of fishing, we decided to have Gumbo on our first night, and have a fish fry with our first day's catch. The fishing was really slow on the first day, so Will was worried that we would not have enough fish to feed everyone in the camp. After everyone pitched in their fish, we had enough food to feed the entire neighborhood!

to be continued...

Kendall and I fished together on the second day. Here is Kendall trying to catch a trout.

There were lots of ship-wrecks, including these two that drifted out of the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway), and ended up on land. What a flood!

This is a Liquefied Natural Gas tanker that passed by the camp on the ICW, named Methane Princess. On the front of the bridge, there is a huge NO SMOKING sign, painted in bright red, for good reason! This ship was on its way back out to the gulf. You can tell that it is mostly empty, because it is riding very high in the water.

Here is the purple-martin house that stands in front of the lodge. There are 24 apartments in it, and every one had two or three chicks. The momma and poppa birds were working hard keeping all of those hungry little mouths fed.

These are shrimping barges. They drop their nets when the tide is moving, and passively catch shrimp as they swim by. According to the guides, the shrimping industry on Lake Calcasieu is close to an all-time high. The lake is chock-full of shrimp!

This is what we woke up to on the second day of fishing. The wind was howling out of due-south, at about 20 mph! This put a damper on our fishing luck, big time.

Here is a picture of the 'Night-Hawk', which makes night-fishing runs for trout. The Night-Hawk rode out the storm, thanks to some fancy line work by the fishing guides. They had it tied to the dock, so that it would ride up and down with the storm surge. Although the rest of the camp was wiped out, the Nigh-Hawk was completely undamaged. I believe Captain Freddy slept here for a while after the storm passed.

About me

  • I'm Scott Gaspard
  • From Austin, Texas, United States
  • I really like to fish. I go every chance I can. You can pretty much bet that at any given moment, I'm using whatever spare cycles I have to plan my next trip.
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