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An oil spill revisited: A fisherman lives day to day in the Louisiana bayou

An oil spill revisited: A fisherman lives day to day in Louisiana

4 Katie Louisiana Revisited part 8 June 2013 Rickey Verrett Rickey, garfish and Nathan
What was the biggest garfish he’d ever caught I had to ask. “The longest was about 8 feet long,” Rickey said quietly. Photo by Katie Oxford
7 Katie Louisiana Revisited part 8 June 2013 Rickey Verrett Nathan and Rickey
Rickey Verrett, right, and friend Nathan Photo by Katie Oxford
10 Katie Louisiana Revisited part 8 June 2013 Rickey Verrett fish
I found Rickey behind his cabin breaking a sweat and a few bones. “Cleaning gar fish!” Rickey called out. Photo by Katie Oxford
9 Katie Louisiana Revisited part 8 June 2013 Rickey Verrett Garfish dressed
He’d caught 40 alligator gar by 7:30 a.m. Interestingly, Rickey told me, they’d all been sold to a guy in Houston. Photo by Katie Oxford
6 Katie Louisiana Revisited part 8 June 2013 Rickey Verrett Mullet, garfish and Rickey
Apparently, Rickey is as good at cleaning fish as he is at catching them. There was a rhythm in his work. Photo by Katie Oxford
12 Katie Louisiana Revisited part 8 June 2013 Rickey Verrett “...when the last garfish was gutted and cleaned, Rickey paused.”
Finally, when the last garfish was gutted and cleaned, Rickey paused. Photo by Katie Oxford
13 Katie Louisiana Revisited part 8 June 2013 Rickey Verrett “...on the Bayou DuLarge, spring was breaking wide open.”
On the Bayou DuLarge, spring was breaking wide open. Photo by Katie Oxford
15 Katie Louisiana Revisited part 8 June 2013 Rickey Verrett Force of Nature on the Bayou DuLarge
The forces of nature on the Bayou DuLarge are a way of life. Photo by Katie Oxford
11 Katie Louisiana Revisited part 8 June 2013 Rickey Verrett Fisherman, Rickey Verrett
Fisherman, Rickey Verrett Photo by Katie Oxford
4 Katie Louisiana Revisited part 8 June 2013 Rickey Verrett Rickey, garfish and Nathan
7 Katie Louisiana Revisited part 8 June 2013 Rickey Verrett Nathan and Rickey
10 Katie Louisiana Revisited part 8 June 2013 Rickey Verrett fish
9 Katie Louisiana Revisited part 8 June 2013 Rickey Verrett Garfish dressed
6 Katie Louisiana Revisited part 8 June 2013 Rickey Verrett Mullet, garfish and Rickey
12 Katie Louisiana Revisited part 8 June 2013 Rickey Verrett “...when the last garfish was gutted and cleaned, Rickey paused.”
13 Katie Louisiana Revisited part 8 June 2013 Rickey Verrett “...on the Bayou DuLarge, spring was breaking wide open.”
15 Katie Louisiana Revisited part 8 June 2013 Rickey Verrett Force of Nature on the Bayou DuLarge
11 Katie Louisiana Revisited part 8 June 2013 Rickey Verrett Fisherman, Rickey Verrett

Editor's Note: In 2010, Katie Oxford filed a series of riveting columns from the heart of the Gulf oil spill disaster. She recently returned to Louisiana. This is her eighth column in a series. It picks up with her visiting a fisherman affected by the BP spill to see how he is doing three years later. 

On the Bayou DuLarge, spring was breaking wide open. I thought of that line, “LIVE, it’s Saturday night!” I wanted to shout something too. Strip and run naked through the woods. The hound dog in me took hold like a fever. 

Maybe, it’s because along Bayou DuLarge, life is in your face. Here, Force of Nature seems to rule. Not the courts or our need for justice. As life goes, it’s both beautiful and cruel.  

Three years ago, I traveled this stretch of LA-315 that hugs the Bayou like a girdle. At a dock near Theriot, I’d met up with some good folks from Motivatit Seafood. We launched our boats and traveled to Lake Mechant where we then hopped on to another and in an instant I was hooked.  Mesmerized by the motion and sound of oyster fishing.

 Even with the color red spilling everywhere, something strangely beautiful seemed to be going on. Something secret.   

Now, I was traveling LA-315 again only this time, to visit another fisherman, Rickey Verrett. I found him where I’d first seen him. At his home he calls the STAB-N-CABIN, which sits inches, not feet from the Bayou DuLarge.

Rickey had had to rebuild his home after Hurricane Rita then, again after Hurricane Ike. But as is so common in the Louisiana people, place is at the heart of everything. Houses might move but never the people, from Louisiana. 

This day, I found Rickey behind his cabin breaking a sweat and a few bones. “Cleaning gar fish!” Rickey called out, looking up from his work and smiling big. 

A Houma Indian, Rickey has lived and fished along the Bayou DuLarge all of his life. On this Wednesday before Easter, he’d caught 40 alligator gar by 7:30 a.m. Interestingly, Rickey told me, they’d all been sold to a guy in Houston. 

“They must taste pretty good,” I commented. 

“Oh yea!” Rickey exclaimed. “It’s good eating. Like chicken.”

“Like pork chops with ketchup,” added Nathan, Rickey’s friend.

While Rickey continued cleaning his catch, I asked questions. Occasionally, dodging bits of fish flying from Rickey’s dock.

“Everything’s about the same,” Rickey said, pausing. “You know you gotta be good at what you do. You gotta like what you’re doing.”

Apparently, Rickey is as good at cleaning fish as he is at catching them. There was a rhythm in his work similar to what I’d experienced on the oyster boat. He moved with ease and skill and something else I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Even with the color red spilling everywhere, something strangely beautiful seemed to be going on. Something secret. Between fisherman and fish.

What was the biggest garfish he’d ever caught I had to ask.

“The longest was about eight feet long,” Rickey said quietly, not looking up. “Probably 100 pounds dressed, 135 to 140 undressed.” For those who wonder as I did, dressed means gutted and cleaned. 

Rickey plopped one garfish onto the table after another. He and Nathan occasionally bantered back and forth like between a big brother and his little brother.

 For those who wonder as I did, dressed means gutted and cleaned. 

Finally, when the last garfish was gutted and cleaned, Rickey paused. He still had work to do like hauling his catch to where the garfish would be packed and then shipped to Houston.

I fired a few photographs of Rickey and made small talk. 

“When’s your birthday?” I asked.

“Every 10 years,” he smiled.  

OK, really I insisted.

“I was hatched on November 8th,” he said, smiling bigger.

Good Friday was two days away and I wondered how he was spending it. 

“You can’t make blood and you can’t dig holes,” Rickey explained. “Everybody on the Bayou eats crab.”

It was almost 11 a.m. and getting warmer.  Rickey headed for his truck, now loaded with garfish. I thanked him and asked him to keep in touch.

Later, further down the road, I was taking photographs when he blew by beeping his horn and waving from the window.

I waved back big, still musing on that mysterious thing between Rickey and the garfish. 

I remembered what a Cajun friend once told me. “Real Cajun is hand to mouth livin’,” he said. “Cajun is real livin’.”

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