This blog originates on the banks of the Atchafalaya River, in Louisiana. It proposes to share the things that happen on and by the river as the seasons progress. As the river changes from quiet, warm, slow flow to rises of eighteen feet or more, there are changes in the lives of the birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles that use the river. And the mood of the river changes with the seasons. I propose to note and comment on these things.

My Photo
Location: Butte La Rose, Louisiana, United States

I transitioned a few years ago from a career as a water-pollution control biologist. I want to do this blog to stay in touch with a world outside my everyday surroundings, whatever they may be. I like open-minded company and the discussion of ideas. Photo by Brad Moon.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Skimmer Magic

Sunset on this Fourth of July.

It’s been a few days, a week actually. Somehow visiting with grandchildren does take time, and time well spent I believe. But blogs and such take time too and contemporaneous is not possible in this case (this may be the first time I have used that word in its true sense, hmm). How could you not spend time with the little girl in the picture below. She is Elena.

By the way, the gator is still with us against the bank at the river. It is now 12 days since it met with its reentry into the natural cycle of things, and it is melting away into the current, slowly. I’m told the sight of it is gross. Why don’t I feel that way? Oh well.

I would like to paint another little word picture of something that happened to me many, many years ago. The recent pretty sunsets reminded me of it, I guess. The time is again during the period I was fishing for a living with my friends at Myette Point. It was in the summer, when we fished all night on the river. Being in the summer, the water was low and more clear than not, and warm. When these conditions exist, you have to bait with cut bait of some kind to catch enough fish to make a living. To catch the bait, you have to spend time with a castnet, sometimes a lot of time, every day. The routine we had was something like this. We slept from about eight in the morning to about three in the afternoon. We would get up and get ready to go out to fish that night. This meant getting gasoline for the motor, and usually cleaning a bunch of small catfish we had caught the night before and kept in an ice chest all day. These small fish were illegal in the rough condition, but collarbone cleaned they were legal to sell. Go figure. Selling these little fish usually paid for our gas and some other supplies. But, back to the story. Around five o’clock we would leave the house and pull our boats to the landing, unload and take off into Grand Lake. The first job was to see if any salt water shad (pogies) were swimming on the surface of the lake/river. When it is calm, which it usually was at this time of day at this time of year, you could see the ripples they make from a good distance. You had to creep up on them and kind of let your boat drift in their direction until you got close enough to throw the castnet. If you weren’t quiet, the whole school would just dive and reappear out of reach. If you were lucky, and it was a big school, one cast would get you three or four hundred small shad. More often than not, you would get less than 50 and you would have to keep doing this, or something else, until you got at least 2000 baits. Usually you would throw the castnet for at least two hours. Ever tried that? My net was seven feet long, giving it a 14 foot spread, if it opened all the way. It didn't do that very often, I can remember remarking with satisfaction on the times that it did. It was made out of nylon, monofilament nets hadn’t come out yet. A net like mine weighed about 15 pounds dry, and wet it weighed 150, I swear. Anyway, after this tiring, and hot, couple of hours it was getting to be about eight o’clock – about 30 minutes to sunset and an hour before you could start baiting lines. It was my practice then to go to where my first lines started on the edge of the river, tie up my boat to a tree at the edge of the current and change the sweat soaked shirt I had for a fresh one. Then I would put on anti mosquito chemicals, sit down, take out my supper, relax and watch the sun settle into the beginning another hopeful night. It was then that the event happened this particular evening. I was looking upriver into the sunset and I noticed a bird I didn’t see very often in an inland waterbody. Things happened very fast then. It was very, very quiet, and completely calm. The bird was coming toward me flying low to the water and coming downriver right at my boat, which it never did seem to notice. I was mesmerized watching this. The bird was a black skimmer and it was fishing in the remarkable way they do. It had its lower beak down in the water and was flying along, very fast, its beak leaving this V cutting through the water. It passed within three feet of my boat and was gone, downriver and away. But I heard it. I did, I heard it. I heard its beak going through the water. It hissed. It hissed and did the Doppler effect thing as it passed me. For the briefest moment, the sound was there, got louder, and faded away to silence, all in one second or maybe two. It took me a moment to start breathing again, but when I did I was speechless. Why does something like that make you feel special, selected, sort of? Not special in the above-other-people sense, but special in that of all the other places I could have been, and all the other things I could have been doing, I was in this place at this time being a witness to this wonderful thing. Special, in that sense. Where is the value in this? The value is in the fact that it happened to me, tied to a tree, on a river, at sunset a long time ago. And I remember it. What I don’t remember is whether I caught any fish that night. I may not have even cared, but I’ll bet I did well, either way.

The yellow tussock moth caterpiller.

The river is at 2.6 feet on the Butte La Rose gauge, rising a little to 3.2 by Saturday. The Mississippi and Ohio are both rising a little, just to keep things interesting.

Rise and Shine, Jim


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