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._
Shell Beach, Louisiana–At Campo’s Marina, deep in the bayou, the 2225th Multi-Role Bridge Company of the Louisiana National Guard is fully deployed. Fit-looking soldiers load barges, as a series of monster hauler trucks back down the boat ramp into the black marsh water, dramatically unloading huge green metal cylinders that open like steroidal oyster shells as they fall, slamming down on the surface of the water with a roar (see photo above). Presto! One twentieth of a giant floating dock that will soon be stocked with huge rolls of boom, pallets of absorbent materials, bales of wooden stake-anchors, thousands of pounds of rope. When complete, the floating dock will be big enough to handle forklifts to offload all the materials onto the armada of shrimp and oyster boats that are waiting, crewed with fishermen idled by the spill and itching to get to work.
1st Sergeant Kevin Giroir, of Destrahan, Louisiana, steps over to the dock to talk for a second, a fistful of beef jerky in one hand, a bottle of cold water in the other. “When we get it all tied together, we’ll be able to load all the boats out there in the open water,” Giroir says, as a boat driven by a guardsman shoves a huge section of dock expertly along the edge of the bayou and makes what has to be an awkward turn toward the mouth of the channel. “We’ve been training these last six months for a disaster exercise, setting these Improved Ribbon Bridges up at Lakefront, Bayou Signet, Bayou LaCombe, all over.”
Boom boats heading out to deploy soft booms to protect the marsh.
I ask Giroir if he knows the Shell Beach bayous, too. “I’ve fished here all my life. Best speckled trout fishing in the world is right here. I don’t really know why, but they just run bigger through here.” Giroir said he was proud to be able to help protect this place, “and all these communities along here. Whatever we can do to help, we’re proud to do it.”
Sitting in front of a massive fan, Fred Everhardt is talking business with a series of men in clean clothes or suits, all of whom stand out in a crowd of battle fatigues or hard-worn work clothes. Everhardt is a powerfully built man with a deep tan and a black t-shirt that says “COUNCILMAN” on the back. Logically enough, he introduces himself as the councilman for District E, St. Barnard Parish. “We got over 300 commercial fishing boats out there, either waiting to go or deploying soft booms right now,” Everhardt said. “We’ve been lucky with the wind so far. That east wind would drive the oil in and kill us. Now we’re just waiting to see what Mother Nature has to say.”
While they are waiting, there is one heck of a lot of work going on. Everhardt said that the fishermen he represented as a councilman knew everything there was to know about preparing for a natural disaster.** __**”This is a manmade event. It’s different.” But the stakes could not be any higher. “We’ve spent years trying to restore those marshes, and if that oil comes in and kills them, St. Barnard Parish will cease to exist. And New Orleans will be oceanfront property.”
Later, Charterboat Captain Greg Arnold (above) takes us on a high-speed 28-mile run to Breton Island, where there have been reports of oil coming ashore in one of the region’s hottest fisheries. We come across an endless stretch of open water to the shallows behind the island, and find it already surrounded by a double layer of booms. On the land, clouds of birds rise, and fall, over the rookery. Trout are hunting finger mullet beside the boat, and as the motor beguns to churn the sand bottom–no mud here, on this far edge, with the ocean breaking not far off–we spook redfish along the booms. There’s no oil slick that we can see, but since we can’t get to the ocean side, we don’t know if it has showed up there or not.
After marveling at the place, we turn and race the sunset back to Shell Beach. Halfway there, along a non-descript strip of marsh grass, Arnold backs off the throttle and the boat drifts quietly to a crawl. “Look at that!” he says, pointing to what looks like a couple of miles of wooden stakes, still shiny new, driven into the mud of the bottom, tethering a forever-stretching line of absorbent boom material (see photo below). The scale of the work done here today is staggering, and the swarms of yellow horse flies that descend on us tell the tale of just how hard it must have been to accomplish. “They protected my place,” Arnold says, dead serious for the first time all day. “We call it LOG–the Land of Giants.
Everything I got going for me as a guide, I got from here.” LOG is the place where Arnold guided a client to an IGFA record 41-pound, 10-ounce bull red taken on the fly, with a 20-pound tippet. And that’s just one of the sight-fished monster reds he’s boated here, almost all of them released to wander again. “This makes me want to cry,” he said. “Who could imagine that anybody was capable of doing this much this fast? This makes me feel like we might come through this thing.”
Video: Hal Herring interviews Glenn Sanchez, co-owner of the Breton Sound Marina.