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.

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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.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Sunrise on the river this morning.
Continuing with the theme of discussing the types of lines that were set by linefishermen of the Myette Point community, we can do crosslines next. When people think about fishing catfish, the term “trotline” often is used as a catch-all for the various ways to set lines. The term is usually meant to describe a line that spans a bayou from bank to bank. In Myette Point descriptive terminology, that type of line is called a crossline, or crossing.

By now it would be apparent that the type of waterway will probably determine the type of gear used to fish it. Wide reaches with constant current allow, or require, the use of long reaches of line (bentlines), while bushlines are used for fishing areas of diversified habitat like the floor of a flooded swamp or the edge of a lake. In keeping with this idea, a bayou presents a different opportunity, a place with two obvious tie-points, the two banks – between which a line can be stretched. Set correctly, this line will fish the whole body of water, from shallow banks to deeper middle, and therefore sample all types of habitat the fish may be using at any one time.

Normally, setting a crossline isn’t hard to do, depending on the distance between the banks of the bayou and the depth of the midstream channel, and the amount of debris on the bottom to snag and ruin a rig of line, and the current velocity. Smaller bodies of water will tend to offer small problems, larger ones, like the main channel of the Atchafalaya River present obstacles that only the most skillful fishermen can overcome. Less skilled people find the channel less fruitful, and frequently more dangerous.

While the Myette Point community fished mostly in the big southern lakes, some of the families had their origins in the Hog Island/Keelboat Pass localities north of Grand Lake. These localities are naturally bayou country and because the type of line set is dependent on the waterway type, the swamp above Grand Lake lends itself to cross-bayou fishing. This is one of the areas where the crossline was the primary tool of the line fishermen. The Couvillier family that settled at Myette Point is originally from the Hog Island/Keelboat Pass area and I asked Edward about fishing up there.

You take Keelboat, might have been as wide as from here across the bayou [Teche]. You could take…you could take a crossing clean across …you could tie it from bank to bank. . . . Might have 25, 30 hooks on em. Some 50, whatever, depend on how wide the bayou is. The only time you couldn’t fish was high water…with high water you couldn’t fish bayous. Too much current. Course you could fish, like, uh, Bayou Catfish ‘cause they didn’t have like a main stream that was comin out. It was all branches.

Meaning here that the main channels carried most of the Atchafalaya current, and the smaller side channels mostly drained the swamp without being directly connected to the main downstream flow. These smaller streams (“branches”) would remain fishable with crosslines longer than the big channels when the water was rising.

And, because his family moved from the bayou area to the open lake area, he says this:

See, fishing changed a lot, for me. When we lived up the lake, well, we didn’t have a lake. We had to fish in the bayous. You couldn’t say “I’m gone put 15 bents of line out” cause you didn’t have enough room…just across bayous. . . . until we come down this way, where they had a lake. Start fishing the lake.

So, you tie a line to the bank and run it to the other bank and tie it off there. The line is pulled tight, and then allowed to belly out to the expected shape of the channel. The deeper the channel, the bigger the belly allowed in the line. Then you go to the middle of the line and put a sinker there, size depending on the current and depth of the bayou. If the estimation is right, the sinker will carry the line down and just barely touch the bottom, shaping the line to the curve of the bayou bottom. The right amount of slack is important. If you didn’t guess that the channel was deep enough, the line will be too tight and fish will hook themselves and then be able to pull off – like tying a fishing line to a post, a big fish will pull against the post and either pull the hook out or straighten it and escape. If you guessed that there was more depth than there actually is, the line will have too much slack and the fish will have nothing to pull against to hook themselves. Either way, there is poor return for the effort of setting the line. If, however, the line has the right amount of slack, the fish will bite the hook and pull back, meeting enough resistance to set the hook well, and when the fish tries to free itself there is just enough “give” in the main line to allow the fish to pull without either pulling off or straightening the hook. Well and good until the water either rises or falls, at which time the line has to be adjusted by either allowing more slack (rising water means rising current and more trash making the line stiffer), or taking up slack caused by the reduced current. Depending on the width of the waterway , sometimes additional sinkers will be added to keep the line on or near the bottom.
There has been a lot of fog the last few days, you could hardly see this tug coming down the river this morning. The river is at 4.4 feet on the Butte La Rose gauge right now, rising to 7.1 feet by this coming Sunday. Pretty fast rise, but there isn't much behind that for the time being.

Rise and Shine, Jim


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