Editor’s Note: Field & Stream Contributing Editor Hal Herring and photographer/_FlyTalk blogger Tim Romano are at the Louisiana coast this week to cover the impact of the oil spill on the region’s sportsmen. Their reports, photographs, and videos will be posted here at The Conservationist blog._
Generations of New Orleans saltwater fishermen have passed through the old doors of the Professional Sport Shop. Off these hot streets, so old they were once walked by gentlemen pirates like Jean Lafitte, now heavy with exhaust fumes and the strange tropical smells of the French Quarter only a few blocks away, you step into a kind of hushed chapel of angling. There is everything here, from what looks like miles of blue water rigs, to every kind of lure, line and tackle for the inshore and marsh fisherman. Upstairs and behind walls, members of the Gele’ family and their close relatives are rebuilding rods, tearing down and repairing reels. A radio blares, cigarette smoke drifts, conversation rises and falls. This is a mecca for the actual fishermen of New Orleans, everybody from the boatless and grizzled old timers who fish the breakwater on Lake Pontchartrain, or the canals for a fried fish supper or the base of a gumbo, to the sun-blasted charter captains, masters of big rigs that chase tuna and marlin over 5000 feet of water at the edges of the Mississippi Canyon, the Midnight Lumps, the New Lumps.
There is no place I have ever been that represents the culture of angling more intensely than the Professional Sport Shop of New Orleans, or the rowdy Gele’ family that runs it. Jimmy and Gail Gele’ are off to fish the marlin tournament in Cabo San Lucas soon. Their nephew, Christopher, in the shorter term, is headed over to Lake Pontchartrain, right now. “Ya’ll should come with us,’ he said. “We’re catchin’ big trout-big trout- just a few minutes from here.”
Gail Gene’ told us about wading back to the Pro Sport immediately after Katrina, and finding the family business looted, vandalized, and, in a strange and unpleasant window into some kinds of human nature, fouled with human excrement left by the invaders. The Gele’ family cleaned it all up, restocked it, and were ready when the first fisherman came looking for tackle. In the video that follows, Gail Gele’ tells us, passionately, how she plans to weather this new storm.