By JJ Waters
I love Louisiana. Although it’s known as the “Sportsman’s Paradise”, I’ve always thought the state’s motto should be “Joie de Vivre” (exuberant enjoyment of life). The people are hospitable, the food is insanely good, the history and culture are rich and diverse, there’s always a party somewhere, and the fishing is, well, ok, they don’t call it “Paradise” for nothing.
So, when I was asked to cover a story on the new Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries’ Catch and Cook Program, and spend a day fishing in Cajun Country, I said “Yeah Sha, you don have to ax me twice!” And off I went to the bayous of Lafitte and Barataria.
The Catch and Cook Program was authored by Senator Bret Allain in 2014 and went into effect this year. The program allows recreational anglers, for the first time ever, to take their fresh catch to a participating restaurant to have it prepared for them.
The Catch and Cook event was hosted to allow media, legislators, conservation groups and restauranteurs the opportunity to experience the program first-hand. Our journey would take us from the bayous of Barataria to the world famous Galatoire’s Restaurant on Bourbon Street.
Our gracious hosts were Captains Theophile (ToeFeel) Bourgeois and Ginger Jenne’ of Bourgeois Fishing Charters, located about 30 minutes south of New Orleans on the Barataria Bayou. We arrived on Wednesday evening for a press meeting, were given our room assignments, fishing companions and captain details for the next day, and then headed up to Cajun Vista for a good night’s rest. Cajun Vista is no ordinary fish camp; it’s a 100+ year old school house that Theophile restored to a beautifully appointed guest house with 52 beds. Sort of an upscale BnB Fish Camp with a Cajun flair.
Thursday morning began at 5am with Cajun breakfast prepared by Dawn, Cajun Vista’s resident chef. Afterward, I headed down to the dock to meet my companions, Walt and Danielle Leger, and our captain, Cricket. Walt is a State Representative, and Danielle works for the Louisiana Restaurant Association. Both Walt and Danielle were avid fishers, but aside from that, they were interesting and fun-loving and made the day that much better! Captain Cricket was extremely knowledgeable and shared with us the history of the bayous, and the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the wetlands.
There’s good reason why Louisiana is considered a fisherman’s “Paradise”. The rigs offshore provide an incredible opportunity to catch big game fish like tuna, marlin and wahoo. Mahi, snapper and grouper are plentiful, and the cobia bite is unrivaled in spring. Inshore are trout, bass, drum, flounder and some of the best redfishing anywhere in the country. We were not disappointed! Our group caught redfish, flounder, black drum, speckled trout and bass. We had completed the “Catch” part of our journey; it was time for the “Cook”-ing! We cleaned up and headed into the city to one of the most famous restaurants in Louisiana.
For New Orleanians, Galatoire’s is a culinary tradition spanning more than 100 years. As one of the oldest and most awarded eating establishments, and a Catch and Cook participating restaurant, Galatoire’s was a perfect choice. We took the entire group’s catch to be prepared by Galatoire’s chefs. Saute’ed Redfish w/ Crabmeat Meuniere, Seafood Stuffed Flounder and Speckled Trout Amandine. The evening was magnificent and we were made to feel like royalty. Seriously, who would want to cook their own, when you can catch it and leave the cooking to an award-winning chef?
Louisiana’s Catch and Cook is a fantastic program for recreational anglers. It’s just one more reason to put Louisiana on your bucket list or make it your next big fishing adventure. I know I’ll be back. After all, I’ve got some great new friends I’ll need to go fishing with. I’ll let them know I’ve got the cooking covered. Just like my friends in Louisiana, I realized you only live once. Might as well make it a “joie de vivre!”
For more information visit LDWF.