I stepped into the air-conditioned bar just off the main drag in Grand Isle, La., and was greeted with a familiar aura.
Dimly lit by sketchy beer lamps and neon, a haze of blue-gray cigarette smoke hovered at eye level. Most of the barstools were occupied by locals, all donning caps and shirts depicting fish or fishing of some sort. Mostly men, but a few women, too.
It was a weeknight, and it was still early. Most of the guys had gray hair like me, but they all sported more weathered looks that come with age and time in the Gulf sun. At nearly 50, I was likely the youngest guy in the pub.
Just then the GPS on my phone spat out a simple sentence.
“You have arrived at your destination,” the cheerful female voice said from my pocket? The patrons looked up from their beers at the new guy.
“Did you type ‘Old Fart Bar’ into that machine in your pocket,” one of the gentlemen asked as I sat down next to him. “Because if you did, you’re here.”
I like a joint where you’re a stranger only for as long as it takes for you sit down at the bar. I ordered a beer, and, as if we’d known each other our whole lives, we started comparing notes about the day’s fishing.
Mine was slow—a Gulf breeze had come up from the south and put a damper on my plans to chase speckled trout in the surf. I made a few casts, hooked up a few of times and landed half a dozen ladyfish or so, but it wasn’t what I hoped for.
“You can blame him for the wind,” my new friend said, pointing at another gray-haired fellow across the bar wearing a fishing hat. “He just came down from Houma and brought it with him. Son of a bitch bought a new golf cart, too.”
“You gotta be in the marsh on a day like this,” the fellow across the bar said.
I ordered a beer from the woman manning the refrigerator, and settled in. This was exactly where I wanted to be.
“Why the marsh?” I asked, taking a first pull on the bottle and noting to myself how often cheap beer can outperform its reputation when it's ice-cold on a sweltering, summer day.
What followed was a quick lesson in Grand Isle geography and where to find fish when.
The only inhabited barrier island on the Louisiana coast, Grand Isle is famous for its trout that like to frolic in the surf and push bait up against the beach. But, on breezy days, when the surf is frothy, the best fishing is leeward of the wind, and that puts you in the marsh, a literal shallow-water sea of grass and oyster beds that teems with speckled trout, redfish, black drum and other fishy critters that sight-casting fly rodders like to waste time chasing.
It was my only day on the island—a date with a plane home waited for me at Louis Armstrong International Airport the next afternoon—so I knew I’d missed my chance. Next time, I thought, I’ll rent a kayak. Chalk it up to intel.
“Where are from you from?” one of my newfound friends asked as I drained my first beer and popped the top on No. 2.
“I live in Idaho,” I said, lifting the second bottle to my lips, which still tasted just as good as the first.
“Idaho!?” a couple of the guys retorted in unison. “Son, you a long ways from home.”
That Cajun accent gets me every time, and it’s one I could adopt pretty quickly, I think. It’s economical, not lazy, as I’ve heard it described before. It skips the unimportant words, hits the high notes and comes out like poetry.
“Yessir,” I said. “Just down for the day.”
Being fishermen, they asked about the fishing in Idaho, and I explained fresh water trout to them, and told them there’s not a damn thing they have in common with the specks that swim in the shallows around their little slice of the Cajun Bahamas. They nodded.
“So you a fly fisher,” one of guys declared. Only it came out, as “flaaah feshah.”
I nodded. We talked about fly fishing some more. Most of them get it. It’s becoming more and more common on the Gulf Coast to see fly anglers chasing inshore fish, although it’s not the preferred method—not by a long shot.
I summed it up for them as succinctly as I know how.
“Once you catch that first redfish on a fly,” I explained, “you may never pick up the baitcaster again.”
My new friend grinned. Another chortled. Still another laughed out loud.
“Suzie, would you buy this Idaho guy who likes to make it harder to catch fish another beer?” he asked the bartender in his best Cajun drawl. They all laughed, and I grinned sheepishly. No sense arguing—he was dead-on right.
And a free beer? Tastes even better.
As the little voice in my phone noted, I had arrived at my destination.