Dateline: June 29, 2014 – Ocean Springs, Mississippi
We were exactly one armadillo shy of an epic day. (Long-winded explanation HERE) We covered four states, fishing in two, added two new states for my fishing list, taking me to 44, caught two new species, and witnessed Martini do a convincing if historically inaccurate impression of Colonel Sanders.
We came into Louisiana exhausted, and barely made it to a Cajun seafood restaurant and motel in Baton Rouge. Martini had scheduled the 28th as a day off, so we could rest and refresh before hitting the Gulf Coast. Texas had lived up to every possible expectation, but we needed to sleep more than three hours a night. However, our night of quiet reflection happened to fall in a location perhaps not ideally suited to quiet reflection. We were headed to New Orleans.
Two idiots we saw playing on a luggage cart in the parking lot.
We slept in that morning, despite Kyle’s persistent snoring, and we hit the road right before lunch. Driving into New Orleans brought back a lot of memories for me. The last trip I had taken here was with my Mother, the year before she passed away, and, despite the obvious risks of bringing one’s Mother to New Orleans, we had a fantastic time. (And I caught a batch of new species – see “Hoodoos, Bayous, and Beignets“)
We pulled into the French quarter around noon, and found an excellent Cajun lunch, which in my case was equal parts gumbo and Tabasco sauce. This sort of diet has consequences, but I was not to be dissuaded.
Best diner in N.O., hands down.
Yes, I bought it. Tabasco goes well on everything from chicken to breakfast cereal.
We played tourist for an afternoon, seeing the sights of New Orleans – Jackson Square, the riverboats, the proud old houses, and the stumbling drunk tourists. But looming over the day was the fact that we needed to be up at 4:45 the next morning to drive to Mississippi and go fishing.
The group at Cafe du Monde.
This is a beignet. Fundamentally fried dough with powdered sugar, it may be the perfect food.
At some stage of the evening, around 10, because I am old and boring, I went off to bed. At that very same hour, the guys, because they are young and unable to calculate the amount of hours until 4:45 AM, went off to the French Quarter.
The heart of the French Quarter.
To be clear, I have no personal knowledge of what happened to them after 10 and before 4:45. There were no known photos, no stories were shared, and there was nothing in the newspaper.
Therefore, I can only presume that they both caught bird flu overnight, because when 4:45 AM rolled around, they were both disasters – wretched, pathetic, bleary-eyed, looking ready to throw up. They flinched at loud noises, like when I blinked. I’m sure something was going around, because some locals sleeping in the gutter looked to have the same condition.
The sun rises as we head to Mississippi. Kyle moaned “Turn it off. It hurts my head.”
For the first time on the entire road trip, I was called upon to drive. It was nice in the front seat. I felt important. It was very, very quiet in the car, with just the occasional gurgle or bleat from Martini. Kyle’s bird flu seemed a bit less severe than Martini’s, but he was still awfully quiet, and he smelled like a bus, which I am told is a symptom of bird flu. We stopped at a 7-11, and the boys wanted small bottles of water and some white bread.
The ravages of bird flu. Martini insisted that he wanted to eat white bread, but most of it ended up in his hair.
We would be fishing that day in Mississippi, in a small Gulf Coast port called Ocean Springs. The guide would be one Captain John Swartz of Shallow Draft Charters. (Shallowdraft@cableone.net) John would be assisted by his grandson Jordan, who was visiting from Texas. It was a gorgeous morning as we motored out into the coastal waters.
Cruising through the bayou on a beautiful morning. The motor was a bit loud for the boys – Kyle quietly begged me to kill him.
We anchored up on a shell bed, and it didn’t take long for me to add a species – the sand seatrout. (Related to the spotted seatrout and the weakfish.) This would also mean that Mississippi was the 43rd state where I had caught a fish.
The sand seatrout. This pleased me.
Kyle was half-heartedly casting a leadhead jig when he got a savage wakeup call – a big redfish slammed him and took off for Mobile. Considering his case of bird flu, he did a nice job during the long fight, and we finally netted a beast of a redfish for him.
Kyle steps up and goes Jaime Hamamoto on me. Even though the fish was only on board briefly, it complained about the smell.
I had been musing for two weeks about how the least experienced of us caught the first fish, the biggest fish, the most records, bla bla bla. And I thought I had been relatively gracious about this, but something about this redfish just set me off. Really, Kyle? Really? Are you going to leave anything for the rest of us? Aren’t you too busy talking to Jaime to catch more fish?
As the day wore on, the flu symptoms seemed to ease up – you see what happens when young men eat a healthy diet and take such good care of themselves. Soon, Martini was eating solid food and speaking in complete sentences.
We fished hard the rest of the day and caught loads of stuff – drum, trout, sheepshead, sharks, rays, kingfish – and I got one other new species, the underappreciated striped burrfish.
The striped burrfish – a puffer relative. And Kyle just had to be unfriendly.
Toward the end of the day, we moved inshore to try for some gulf flounder. The boys had recovered well – a monument to their moral fiber – but the gulf flounder was nowhere to be found. The gulf flounder is starting to make me mad. But we did catch some very nice sheepshead and redfish.
Steve and John with a nice sheepshead. You can find John on Shallowdraft@cableone.net or 228-234-2401. Great guy – I highly recommend fishing with him if you’re in the area.
Martini and a nice red. His recovery was nothing short of remarkable.
Late in the afternoon, we docked, packed up, and hit the road – we had two more states to visit before we would rest.
It was on the way out of Ocean Springs that Martini made his one mistake with the beans. The can was sitting there on his seat as it had every day for two weeks, but perhaps because he hadn’t driven earlier, or perhaps due to the lingering effects of the bird flu, he didn’t look before he sat down. “#&%# %*&%!$%!!” he yelled as he sprang up and likely banged his head on the roof. “What kind of IDIOT would do that?” Sheepishly, Kyle and I both raised our hands. We giggled most of the way to Mobile. I can’t necessarily explain it now without sounding mean-spirited, but at the time, this was one of the single funniest things I had ever seen.
The only known photo of the beans.
An hour or so later, we crossed into Alabama. We had no formal stop planned there, but I had never caught a fish in Alabama and was determined to do so. Driving around Mobile bay, we found some likely-looking spots near the USS Alabama museum. As a big-time war history buff, I have to say it was amazing to see this proud WWII veteran – she was at most of the main engagements in the Pacific, from shelling Tarawa to landing some of the first occupation troops in Japan.
The USS Alabama.
In the shadow of this monstrous old battleship – now retired for almost 70 years – I set up with a light rod and fished a sandbank until I caught an Atlantic croaker. This made Alabama the 44th state where I had caught a fish, and as fun as it was to add two states in one day, there was actually a day in 2009 when I added three states within six hours. (Details HERE.) I acknowledge that this is not normal behavior.
The Alabama croaker. I was very pleased by this.
I got back in the car, thrilled at the catch. I suggested that we get a beer at dinner to celebrate. Oddly, at the mere mention of beer, both Kyle and Martini broke into a sweat and said nothing.
Later in the evening, we crossed the border into Florida – the tenth and final state of the trip. There was still much to be done, and we drove off in search of lodging, with Blake Shelton blaring on the stereo, and the three of us singing along at the top of our lungs, each in our own key.
Heyyyyyyy Romeo, let’s go down to Mexico …