Any excuse is acceptable to my fisherman-husband, Wayne, when it comes to seeking out exciting fishing spots. Striking off under the guise of visiting relatives in Morgan City, Louisiana, a rod and reel finds its way amongst our luggage and I have a feeling he's going to put this "sportsman's paradise" thing to the test.
Morgan City, in St. Mary Parish lies about 90 miles southwest of New Orleans and 60 miles southeast of Lafayette, on Hwy. 90. Situated on the Atchafalaya River, which captures almost a third of the combined flows of the Mississippi and Red rivers, Morgan City has potential to be the hub of the saltwater sportfishing industry as the last sizable town (population about 15,000) from which to access the rich Atchafalaya Basin.
"Normally," says Wayne, "I'd just advise getting a good fishing or aerial map of the area but in this case, it might be a good idea to hire a guide."
Both can be acquired at Ivy's Tackle Box, 7209 Hwy 90 E., Morgan City, 985-384-2070, firstname.lastname@example.org, a smart first stop. Proprietor Ivy St. Romain and his crew are helpful with up-to-date fishing conditions, maps, baits, and guide services if needed and, as with all good tackle shops, an array of local fishing enthusiasts frequent the place and seem friendly and generous with their advice.
However, since we are fortunate enough to have kin at hand, our particular escort is Morgan City's own Leonard Roy, known to us as "Cousin Lennie." Born and reared there, he knows his way around bayous and backroads and is happy enough to give us the grand tour.
There are any number of ways to approach this web of inlets and grass islands. One is to launch on the east side of the Atchafalaya in the neighboring community of Berwick and follow the river straight down about 25 miles to Oyster Bayou. Speckled trout, reds, sheepshead, drum, and flounder proliferate and whether bait fishing or using artificial lures, the fisherman is bound to get his arm stretched.
Since size and stringer limits tend to change from one state to the next, it's always a good idea to check the local laws if you're not familiar with the area. Note that for redfish there's a 5 fish per person limit with a 16 inch length minimum. But, no more than 1 fish exceeding 27 inches may be on that stringer. Trout must be no less than
12 inches with a 25 fish per person limit and flounder have a size limit of 10 inches and the stringer is limited to 10 fish per person. A call to the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries (www.wlf.state.la.us) at (225) 765-2999, can get you more information.
The average redfish here seems to run about 4 pounds and the locals like to use spinner baits to coax them out of the ponds. "Also, try a motor-oil colored Cocohoe with a fire tail", Wayne suggests, "Cousin Lennie swears by it especially in the spring when, like everyone else in Louisiana, reds are eating crawfish." When bait fishing instead, use live crab, mullet, and shrimp worked on the bottom. Piggie perch, croaker - anything that will make noise, is also a good bet.
"Avoid the temptation to do much wadefishing", advises Lennie. "The river carries about 90 million tons of sediment and it's way too silty a bottom for that. Drift fish or anchor off of the channels instead. But, you can bank fish the mud flats for flounder. They're the best there in October and November."
If trout are what you're after a fisherman can get lucky occasionally, with touts and poppin' corks in clear water around Point Au Fer Island or Oyster Bayou but for the most part, they can be found along the coastline and offshore around the oil rigs. Fish at nighttime, in 60 to 150 foot waters. In fact, for the deepwater fisherman, another good day's excursion from Morgan City is to Cocodrie, on Terre Bonne Bay. South of Houma on Hwy. 56, Cocodrie's reputation seems to be spreading. Not only do the inland marshes house black drum, redfish, specs, and flounder but fishing the cuts and passes along the barrier islands finally gives the wade fisherman an opportunity to get his feet wet. And further out, the deeper waters of the Gulf are dotted with oil and gas platforms making angling exceptional for cobia, king and Spanish mackerel, bluefish, and an occassional snapper.
Here, Coco Marina offers first rate accommodations and a wide variety of charter trips, R.V. and camp spots, a boat launch, tackle, groceries,fuel - pretty much all you need. Call them at 800-648-2626 for information about reservations or chartered trips.
But despite first rate fishing anywhere you look, there are those of us who just enjoy seeing the sights and this region of South Louisiana has plenty of them to be seen. A history-buff is in heaven and the diners and browsers aren't in too bad of shape, either. The sixty or so mile stretch between Morgan City and Lafayette to the northeast, makes for a memorable day trip. Following the Bayou Teche, Hwy. 182 in lined with small communities, each with its own special attractions.
Beginning in Morgan City, Cypress Manor, at 715 Second Street, stands in the 12 block historic district. Open for tours by appointment, it houses fine period furnishings and a neat Mardi Gras exhibit and costume collection. Swamp Gardens and Wildlife Zoo, off of Hwy. 90 at Myrtl St., is a fun place to have a picnic, explore the exhibition of cajun culture, and pick up a souvenier.
Up the road a bit, Franklin also boasts an impressive historic district with roughly 400 properties, some open for tour. Oaklawn Manor, built in 1837, is open Tuesday to Sunday and the Grevemberg House built in 1851 can be toured daily.
Further North in New Iberia, their historic downtown area features local folk and avant guarde art sprinkled throughout the cafes, retail shops, and offices. "Shadows-on-the-Teche", at 317 E. Main St., is another early nineteenth century plantation home open for tour. Jefferson Island with its Rip Van Winkle Gardens has 25 acres of year-round blooms and features a tour of the Joseph Jefferson plantation home. And, nearby on Hwy. 329, Avery Island is the home of Tabasco Pepper Sauce. The old 1900's factory, still in operation, can be visited daily and the neighboring Jungle Gardens displays the McIlhenny's 250 acre plantation gardens and bird sanctuary. It's impossible not to spot an alligator here and lush walking paths wind throughout.
Swamp tours are another abundant diversion in the Morgan City vicinity. Try Cajun Jack's, in Patterson at (985) 395-7420, or Ivy's Tackle Box in Morgan City at (985) 384-2070. All require reservations, so call ahead.
Of course, the food in this area is legendary and I doubt I could add much to the accolades. Stop anytime, stop anywhere, and eat anything. There are about 50 restaurants in and around Morgan City. In the spring, boiled crawfish abound and sea-food is a specialty all the time. But try a link of hot boudin and french bread or try a genuine cajun po'boy for a change.
As a home base for sporting and tourist activities, Morgan City offers several motels from which to choose. The Days Inn on Hwy. 90 can be reached for reservations at (985) 384-5750. The Holiday Inn on Roderick St. at (985)385-2200 is also a good bet, and The Plantation Inn on Hwy. 90 can be contacted at (504)395-4511. All have pools, lounges, and restaurants included in their facilities. Other hotels inlcude Best Western Morgan City, 985-385-91275, and Comfort Inn of Morgan City (985) 300-0037.
Campers can find a home in Morgan City at Lake End Park and Campground, on Lake Palourde. Located off Hwy. 70, the park is open year 'round and offers 135 R.V. sites, pavilions, launches to the lake, and a marina. For reservation information, call (504)380-4623.
"A little planning ahead will make fishing and touring the area a lot more fun. After all, not everyone has Cousin Lennie at their service", laughs Wayne.
A phone call to the Cajun Coast Visitors & Convention Bureau - 800-256-2931, or visit, (www.cajuncoast.com), can get more information regarding events and attractions here. For fishing specific news regarding tournaments and other sporting activities, again reach Ivy's Tackle Box (985)384-2070 or try Coco Marina in Cocodrie at 800-648-2626.
Wayne is satisfied now that the catch-phrase "Sportsman's Paradise" is well deserved. But from my point of view, somebody needs so figure out how to put "culinary, tourism, and historical paradise" on the back of that license plate, too.