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.

Monday, December 29, 2008


Snaglines were not the most popular type of fishing gear used by the Myette Point fishermen. This was not because they didn’t catch fish but because they were so difficult to handle. The basic idea for a snagline was the same as that of crossing – tie a main line across a bayou and suspend hooks from that. The difference was in how many hooks you tied and that you didn’t bait them – not in the ordinary sense anyway. To skip the part in the process of having to secure bait and bait the hooks with it was a big attraction. It seems that the basic idea was to place so many hooks in the path of fish that they would literally snag themselves on the bare hooks. And the opinion of those that used them, and saw them used by their parents, is that they did catch fish but they weren’t worth the trouble that was required to put them out, maintain them, pick them up and put them back. This was especially true when only the undesirable cotton line was available. So, most people tried them and then went back to the more widespread use of baited bentlines and crossings. The statements of three of the interviewed fishermen follow.

Russell Daigle (born 1934) used the lines early in his fishing career, and he is one of the few who seems to have had good things to say about this type of rigging. He explained about his technique of getting a snagline strung out across a bayou, probably the most difficult part of the process of setting one. In what he is describing, the line was already made up with the hooks on it and arranged on a device so that they would slide off into the water without getting tangled. One mistake of going too fast or having to stop in the current and untangle something would have resulted in a disastrous and dangerous mess.

JD: Do you remember anybody ever usin snag hooks to fish with?

RD: Snaglines? Yeah, I used em. That’s hard to fish. We used to use a rod, we had a double steel rod. The two [rods] would stay together and you had to sit there and lace all them hooks on that rod. A crossin Bayou Boutte…I’m tryin to remember, I think it was 600 hooks. It was 600 hooks, and it would take about three rods, or four rods to put that much on. So you had to have em in different pieces. You started the first hook and you had to set there and put every hook on that rod. It’s to put it out [that was hard]. You had to run it on that rod so where when you take off to put it out, them hooks would come off one at the time, on that rod. You see, you hook the hooks on and you got a jammin rod on top, not too tight but to keep them hooks from jumpin. And uh, a rod about that long - I guess four feet, four feet. And you had to set there, each one. Slide the hook off… They pull their ownself off.

JD: OK, they pull off by themselves as you go out more from the bank. So you got as many as you can put on that four-foot rod. Would you put the whole line’s worth of hooks on that rod?

RD: No, you couldn’t put the whole line. You couldn’t put 600 on…put about 300 on a rod. You’d have to stop and tie [the end of] the other main line to the other rod and take off again.

JD: So, you had your rods made up already, to go…your four-foot rods, several of em in your boat…whatever it would take…

With respect to hooks, apparently you could either rig the line by tying loops in the main line and tying the hooks to that, or making up stageons of smaller line and tying each of them to the main line about four inches apart. And the stageons would have been of two lengths, alternating on the main line – one six inches long and one 12 inches. When asked if the stageons were made by looping the main line or tying stageons onto the main line, Russell prefers looping the main line because it makes a more secure place to tie the hook. They wouldn’t “slip” after hooking a big fish. He goes on:

I made em both ways. I made em right on the line, and I’ve made em…tied em on the line. I rather make em on the line, because you used to catch a lot of them big gars and you’d slip em if you make [the hooks] right on the line. That [snag line] catch everything! Buffalo, gous, gar, goujons, catfish…but you also had to know what you was doin with em. If you didn’t know what you was doin with em, you wastin you time.

Maintaining these lines wasn’t easy either. According to Russell, they had to be taken up and treated in something that attracted shrimp. This would be a less known feature of this kind of line. No one else independently confirmed that this was a widespread practice, but there are details here that are interesting.

RD: You got to pick that up every seven or eight days. You can’t leave em out. Snagline works on a principle [that] shrimp’s what catches the fish. You make you molasses…we used to use cottonseed oil and I don’t remember…something that’s gone sweeten that line up, make the shrimps come to it.

JD: The line itself?

RD: Yeah, the line, the hooks and stageons.

JD: This was cotton?

RD: Yeah, built some out of cotton. And you had soak that in there, we used to soak em about two days. And the main line, stageons, everything. You put it on your rod first, you have it all ready and put it to soak. And then when it’s soaked enough, you dry it, until that stuff dry on it, so it will last longer. And then you go put it out. But if you leave em out there, they get to where they won’t catch nothing. You got to have that to where it will draw the shrimps.

JD: So, did you ever pick em up and reuse em on those rods?

RD: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Uh, I had three at one time. I think it was three.

JD: In Bayou Boutte?

RD: Yeah, and uh, I’d fish three of em, and I’d go pick em up. When I’d pick them up I’d have three more, I’d put in its place. And then I’d rework those three while them there was fishin.

JD: Well, they call em snaglines because people always thought that they hooked the fish when the fish wasn’t even interested, the fish passed by and it would hook em in the gills, or something like that.

RD: They believe, but they all wet about that. They uh, they make a pass at a bait, a shrimp or something, and that swirl will catch em. I catch some on lines out there now, the fish is there but they won’t bite. Some hooked by the tail, some hooked by the gills. Like when they make a pass at the bait, when they go to turn that hook’ll grab one now and then.

JD: So it was actually makin the line…uh…you actually made it like bait for shrimp…the shrimp would be attracted to the…fish would be attracted to the shrimp on the line, hangin on to it.

RD: That’s what it amounts to. Used a lot of molasses, and uh, brown sugar…we used brown sugar already. And we still used that oak…that oak stuff. It makes like a paste when you boil it down enough. You put the molasses and uh, cottonseed oil in it and whatever attracts shrimp. We even used pogey meal.

And as to the how often would you run the line after setting it? He says:

We run em twice a day. Didn’t want to let em set too long cause a fish get hooked anywhere, and it would die. Cause you take, uh, a 30 pound blue cat might have ten, twelve hooks in im. And he get one, and he go to millin then he gone keep pickin em up. That’s where that Yellow Tag was the best hook in the world for that, sharp, sharp and had a long point on it.

As might be imagined, these lines would catch anything that swam by if the hooks were sharp and the line was near the bottom where most of the fish were. As to how effective they were and what kind of things they caught, and why he stopped using them, Russell says:

JD: And did they catch good, those lines?

RD: Yeah. They catch better when you get a big norther or something, during the wintertime. Anything to move em [the fish], big high tide or anything, they’d catch good.

JD: Now, yall stopped usin those kind of lines. Why?

RD: Illegal.

JD: OK, they got illegal. I knew they got illegal, I didn’t know if that’s what stopped yall, or… It sounds like it’s an awful lot of trouble, though, to…to go to…to use lines like that, Russell.

RD: It’s a lot of trouble, but it don’t…you not confined to one fish. You could catch just about any fish that’s gone swim. It’s deadly on spoonbills [paddlefish]. Oh yi, they ain’t got a chance!

JD: But you’d never, uh…could you sell spoonbills?

RD: Oh yeah. Once upon a time they had a good market on em.

Had he ever tried to eat one of these fish?

RD: I tried, I don’t like it. Oily, oily. Taste like cod liver oil.

JD: Well, why would people have bought that to use, I wonder?

RD: I don’t know. But they did. They still got a big market on em up north. They got people up there, they uh…they live by spoonbills. They got some lakes up the country…watching a piece on TV, there…they trying to control em a lil bit so they don’t catch em out.

Other people had mostly negative memories of experiences with snaglines. Apart from the description above of treating the line with a substance to attract river shrimp, the main idea seems to be consistent – a main line with hooks four inches apart suspended from the main line on loops in the main line or on stageons suspended from it.

The black and white pictures used here are all of people from the Myette Point community courtesy of the collection of Ms. Darlene Soule.

The river is at 7.9 feet on the Butte La Rose gauge, going to 9.0 feet by New Years Day, with no end in site. The Mississippi and Ohio are both doing what they do best, bringing water to us.

Rise and Shine, Jim


Post a Comment

<< Home