Fishing Stories: Louisana Swamplands, Oct. 1999

Well, back to the swamplands. I delayed my expected September 15th departure date, waiting for a decision to be made on the possibility of a trip to India on an elephant issue. That may take place later and is the subject for a separate letter. Anyway, the delay served one good purpose: the weather got a little cooler! Through most of September the temperature stayed in the 90s during the day; but since I arrived, I haven’t seen a day above 84. Plus it is cool at night so you can sleep well.

Since Continental has by far the best fares and schedules, I decided I would fly them again even after my last disastrous experience in Beaumont. However, I approached the departure from San Jose with some concern. As an aside, occasionally when flying on state business as a State Senator, the Senate Travel Office would arrange to have me met and escorted through the formalities of checking in and boarding the aircraft. This time, as I was unloading at the curb and putting Max in his kennel, a Continental employee came by and did a double-take and asked: "Isn’t that Max?". I replied in the affirmative and he said: "I thought so, I saw him when you came through the first time." He immediately got a luggage carrier and whisked Max through the lobby, checked us in and overall gave us better treatment than I ever got on my own. Needless to say, Max travels with me everytime I fly, and I may be willing to rent him out if you want special treatment at the airport!!! Overall, the flight was good and we got to Beaumont on time and with no problems.

Since we arrived in Beaumont at 10:30 P. M., I stayed overnight with my brother and then went to the houseboat on Friday. I wanted to get down there in time to make sure that things were in good shape since two of my sisters and three children were arriving on Saturday morning. I stopped by to see some relatives, though, and it delayed me until past noon (since I couldn’t pass up a chance for a good lunch with a cousin and her husband). I also visited with an 86-year-old uncle who has been down for a cruise with my brother and wants to come again when it is cooler. He may come down for part of next week.

The houseboat was in good shape so it didn’t take much effort to get ready. I made arrangements for my visitors to take a trip on an airboat through the swamp on Saturday morning. They arrived right on schedule and had a great time on the tour. The thing that is most noticeable about being here in the fall rather than the summer is how quiet it is. In the summer, birds wintering from South America, frogs, bugs, alligators, etc. make a tremendous amount of noise, especially at night. Now the birds are gone and not yet replaced by birds from Canada and other northern areas. The only exception is the American Eagle. They are here, refurbishing their nests and looking regal. The alligator season closed on September 30th and that and the colder weather has combined to reduce the numbers of alligators you see. But, because of the cooler temperatures, you can view numbers of alligators sunning themselves on logs or the banks. Soon they too will be in hibernation.

More later in another letter.

October is supposed to be the driest month of the year. The average rainfall for October is about 4 inches. By the end of the first week of October this year, we had had about 8 inches. Maybe I brought it with me. The temperature continues to reach the mid-80s during the day but is nice at night. The water temperature is sometimes warmer than the air temperature.

My two sisters and children had a good weekend. Though I haven’t made much progress toward catching a 100 pound catfish, there is no shortage of other fish to catch and the kids had a great time catching fish. I think I will use my niece as a commercial for my guiding business. They caught a lot of fish and, since they had never been fishing before, every fish they caught was the "first," "biggest," "fattest," "most colorful" or some other descriptive term. Their only concern voiced was "is this the fastest the boat will go?"

On the way down, we ended up following a large tug and barge pushing a large derrick. It wasn’t evident at first what was happening. The channel had a lot of hyacinths in it and the tug was tearing up the plants as well as stirring up the mud in the channel. About the time I noticed this and before I could decide what to do about it, the motor decided on its own. An outboard motor pumps water from the stream you are in and uses it to cool the engine. In the event you don’t get water through the engine, it has a built-in protection in the form of a loud buzzer in the controls. Everyone thought it was a fire alarm and I worried for a little that they would jump overboard. It just requires you to clean out the intake screen and the water will usually flow again. However, since the tug was still ahead of us, we thought it best to wait until the water had time to settle. The motor was not the only thing affected by the mud. Every fish in the canal was soon swimming on top of the water trying to escape the mud and get more oxygen. It didn’t seem to have a lasting effect, though, since we didn’t see very many that had died by the time the water settled and cleared. It did give us a chance to see a lot of different fish in a short period of time.

Until next time, Dan.

I am sure that you have noticed that I have mentioned a number of times my interest in catching a hundred-pound catfish. Actually, a 100-pound catfish would set a record in Louisiana; but if I want to set an all-tackle record for any location, I would have to catch a catfish larger than 123 pounds, which was what a Flathead catfish weighed that was caught in Elk City Reservoir in Kansas. The record for Channel Cat is 58 pounds and was caught in Santee-Cooper Reservoir in South Carolina. The Blue Cat record is 111 pounds and was caught in Wheeler Reservoir in Alabama.

However, setting a record involves more than catching the fish. As with any activity that involves keeping track of data, complicated rules are usually established. This requires an organization to set the rules, collect the data, and rule on challenges. As far as catfish are concerned, there are two such organizations. The first is the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) and the second is the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame (FHF). The IGFA maintains line-class and all-tackle world records on almost all game-fish species anywhere in the world. The Hall of Fame recognizes fish taken by five methods: rod and reel, fly fishing, pole-line fishing (no reel), ice fishing and miscellaneous methods. Catfish fall under the first four. They have divisions for blue, channel, albino channel, hybrid channel, flathead and white catfish.

The following are just a few items picked from each organization’s rules that might give you some sense of what is involved besides catching the fish. This is not a list of their rules and probably will not give a clear picture of how strict their rules really are but will perhaps give you a sense of how easy it is to get tripped up on the journey of catching a bigger fish than anyone else.

First, the IGFA highlight: Leaders must be limited to 6 feet. If you just guessed and the leader was 6 feet, 6 inches, too bad. You can only use two hooks on your line and how you use them are pretty specific. You are the only person allowed to touch the line after the fish is hooked. If the fish tangles with another line, your quest for the record is over. Fish must be weighed on solid ground. They cannot be weighed on a boat. Fish can only be weighed on certified scales.

The Hall of Fame also disqualifies an entry if more than one person holds the rod or pole. A second person can help you net the fish. The rod or pole must meet minimum length requirements and cannot be recorded if caught on a trot line or a net. The Hall requires that you send in 25 feet of the line you caught the fish on for testing. You must submit photos of a specific type.

Then you get ready, buy all the equipment, sit through the night for months in a row, catch a fish that’s bigger than the current record listed in the annual report, do all the paperwork, get witnesses to sign affidavits, get good photos, send it in well within the 90 days you have to report the catch and then you find that someone caught one 2 pounds bigger than yours two weeks before.

Good fishing.

If you are interested in catfishing, there is a good magazine put out by Primedia titled "Catfish In Sider". It is published only 4 times per year and costs $20.00, but it is worth it. Their address is Two In Fisherman Drive, Brainerd, Minnesota 56425-8098. Phone 218-829-1648.