Good people and Gators.
If you want to discover all your downfalls of cooking, just attempt to cook something in the kitchen of a Cajun's house. They will let you know quickly just how your method is wrong. If you want to go and hang out with the most welcoming people in the United States, I advise you make the same trip.
Grant and I got invited to Gibson, LA to go and run lines for the 2016 alligator season. There were 31 tags in all to be filled and we got it done. We began our journey with excitement and a lot of unknowing of what was to come. We have started a campaign to go hunt for something that could kill us every year. We have yet to find something that we didn't enjoy doing in the outdoors, but honestly I don't think you know if you are going to enjoy trying to fight an 11 ft alligator until you do it. With that in mind we packed up and headed east for the Labor day weekend.
It didn't take long to get into the action. Upon arrival to our house boat, we unpacked, met everyone and hopped in one of the skiffs to go run lines in less than 5 minutes. They already had a 10.5' gator in the boat and the excitement built quickly. After driving about 10 miles in the boats and making 10+ turns in a maze of swamp land we reached their lease land, which is 95% swamp and marsh. They have 1900 acres leased for alligators and ducks. Each year they are given 31 alligator tags to fill in the month of September. In less than 30 minutes upon arrival Grant and I had one over 7' in the boat, and were hooked for life. There is a certain adrenaline rush when you make a corner and see a line down and thrashing about. Troy from Swamp People likes to call them "tree shaykahs" and they shake trees, break trees, and just generally get all kinds of tangled up. 15/0 single hooks with fowl smelling chicken on black nylon line hung a few feet above the water by a paper clip seems to be the ticket for success. Those who know me, know I have a weak stomach for fowl smells. To my credit I only almost threw up twice. Pretty good for me. After getting one in the boat we took off to go check the other 50+ lines they had hung. Once running all the lines, which consisted of fighting with anything on there, shooting it, re-baiting, and carefully hanging back up to an undisclosed height, we headed in. The hanging height just like the kitchen is a persons own personal choice. One thing you learn very quick in cajun country is that everyone does it the best way, and everyone does it a different way. And that applies to everything.
Once we finished all the lines, we combined all the alligators into the big boat and headed to the buyer. There are about 10 buyers in Louisiana and one of them happened to be down the road from us. The buyer check in was an experience in itself. Very similar to a taxidermist or meat processor on opening weekend of deer season. There were a lot of people standing around looking at the catches coming in. Truck after truck after truck come in to sell their gators to the buyer based strictly off of length. This year prices were down significantly due to the global economy being so off. There just wasn't a large demand in France and Italy for hides to be made into products. Liz from Swamp People was in front of us in line. She was quite pissed at us and didn't speak to us either. Apparently Bobby, one of our hosts, had made the front page of the paper that day with two 11 fters and she didn't. We had a good laugh at her expense regularly and started calling Bobby "the celebrity". After collecting our money for ours we headed back to the houseboat to cook.
Food: I could write an entire book on the food we ate in 4 days. Noah didn't have that much on his Ark. But it was good, every bite of it. From fried rabbit, fried perch, to fresh frog legs, to Rabbit sauce piquant, ribs, stuffed chickens, and pork loins. We ate, and we ate well. The cook at camp seems to be doing the most important job, but also takes the most criticism. Everyone there is a cook, and everyone there knows how you are supposed to cook it, and everyone there cooks it differently. "You're going to use what for that? Oh, sure ruin the meal, that's fine." was heard probably about 300 times on the first night. You go into the kitchen knowing you are catching crap from the beginning, but everyone wants their turn there at every meal, to do it right. A certain pride in the kitchen is similar to their way of life. Cajun's are proud and rightfully so, they are a great group of people.
Cards: Grant still has no idea how to play pedro, pronounced Peedro. A simple card game similar to 42 in dominoes. He just continually accused people of making up new rules. Partly due to Tito's and other cocktails that are had by all. Most of us had too many. Shocker there. We played Pedro until late hours of the night and I do believe Bobby and I were the champs by our standards. I don't think anyone else would agree to that.
Boats: Molly and I sold our War Eagle river boat we had purchased in Louisiana over 10 years ago last week. After running through the swamp for 4 days straight we may be back in the boat market. The Surface drive motors of today are truly unbelievable. They drive through everything and over everything. Logs, marsh, lily-pads, grass, land, mud. They just go. We used aluminum skiffs to haul the gators in with 115 HP Yamaha's. Simple but efficient boats. Once we got to the marsh we switched to surface drive flat bottoms aka mud boats and drove through any and everything. We used the mud boats to catch frogs also.
Frogs: We used the mud boats to make endless circles around the marsh at night with spot lights catching bull frogs. The first night we got 52 and the second we were around 25. Grant and I laying on the front of the boat on our bellies right above the water while another guy drives and shines a spotlight looking for frogs. See one and then make your best attempt to grab it with your hand. Spotting frogs in the marsh is an art, and a well trained eye is needed. I'm not going to say we are ready for a career in frog spotting yet, but we are getting there. Among frogs the marsh is full of gators, hundreds of them. I caught a 2.5' and a 2' gator with my hand whilst catching frogs. I was quite proud of that. I grabbed several 4-6' ones by their tails and watched them take off with amusement. Grant wasn't as amused. Grant is terrified of muddy water and "beasts" as he calls them. To his credit I feel like he conquered those fears this weekend and has graduated up to borderline swamp person. He seemed to find the biggest gator almost every time. I saw a water snake at one point and attempted to talk Jamie into letting me catch it so I could throw it in Grant's boat. He replied there is a problem with that, it has to be in my boat before it gets to Grant's boat. No snake was caught.
The Racist Parrot: His name was Yeti and is owned by a man named Jr. Jr tells stories until 4 am and shot fireworks off on our porch in the middle of the night. He's a master at air boats and bullshit. He lives down the road from the house boat and is the true meaning of swamp rat. He makes a living off the swamp. Nicest guy you would ever meet, sorda. Stories of 1000 frogs in one night and rescuing Katrina refugees were heard multiple times. Jr only referred to Grant and I as "Texicans". Jr's Parrot Yeti has a baby monitor by his cage that is hooked to speakers that are outside and yells obscenities often to be heard by all. Yeti is some kind of bird from Africa Jr paid $750 for and has picked up the cajun dialect. Yeti is truly a legend in his own time. Jr also has a pit bull named 12 gauge that was way less intimidating than his attack geese. Yeti doesn't like white people, black people, democrats, fat people, or anyone else. He spreads his insults to all.
This was truly one of the funnest trips we have made and we look forward to hopefully going back. Cajun folk will make you family in 5 minutes and treat you just as good as their own. It truly was refreshing to get back around great people who aren't caught up in the things we seem to be worried about in the City. I'm still trying to figure out how to get back to that place in my life. Thanks Brett, Bobby, Jamie, and Jake for a great time.
Here's the video: