Ed Pitre sees things in the Gulf of Mexico most fishermen see only in their dreams.
Pitre’s a charterboat skipper. Been one for the past 15 years. But Southern Pride Charters is his occupation, and it doesn’t come close to telling his desire for catching fish and doesn’t describe his passion for making memories for the next generation of Louisiana fishermen.
That’s why he dedicated the Fourth of July to taking a double handful of youngsters out for a day into the deep water off the state’s coast.
“I love to bring them to catch fish,” Pitre said a couple of days after the youngsters hauled in aggressive mangrove snapper, battled hard-fighting cobia and king mackerel, watched bonito feed in chum line, and jack crevalle strike a baited hook with a vengeance.
“I push hard for parents to bring their kids on the boat. It’s amazing for those kids to see something they’ve never seen, and I’d rather see kids catch fish than the grown-ups,” Pitre said. “They’re just so full of excitement to know that they’ve done something they’ve never done before and didn’t know they could do. Catching a big fish is a big step for them.”
That’s pretty much the same feeling you hear when you talk with most charterboat skippers. It’s as if in seeing the youngsters catch a fish they relive something from their childhood, a memory as fresh for these charter captains as if it happened yesterday.
“Maybe the best thing about taking kids fishing is that they listen to what you tell them,” Pitre said. “If you tell them to go down 20 pulls, they do that and they catch fish. It’s not like having adults on the boat and watching them go to the bottom every time, and not catch fish. The kids listen and catch fish.”
True, some days catching fish is not that easy, and that’s where Pitre knows he has to draw the line.“It’s important for us adults to know that if there’s bad weather, we’re not going to bring the kids,” Pitre said. “But all the calm weather we’ve had this summer, it’s a perfect time to get the kids on the water. It’s beautiful fishing right now.”
Pitre mentions other precautions, a checklist of must-do things before kids step on a deep-water boat.
“The kids will be excited. That’s part of the anticipation of a trip, but you have to make sure they get a good night’s sleep,” he said. “It’s going to be a long day, and they need the rest.”
Next on the list is to make sure to bring, and use, sunscreen and apply it before getting on the boat, then re-apply periodically during trip. Also, bring water to keep youngsters hydrated.
And bring food, healthy snacks and fruit. Cold melons and grapes are nutritious and can cool down summer’s heat. Youngsters will burn up a lot of energy and once one of the youngsters brings that first fish into the boat, fishing fever will grip the lot of them.
“To see that smile on their faces, to see their excitement that they know they caught that fish, even though their mom or dad helped them, is a big thrill for these young-uns,” Pitre said.
“Sure there are fish out there they will have a tough time handling, but I tell them to put that rod in a holder — we have holders all along the sides of the boat — and they can put the rod in them and just crank on the reel until they have the fish to the surface.
“They are going to see things they don’t see every day. You start chumming up a big school of mangroves (snapper) and the kids go crazy. You can bring them perch jerking, but it’s nothing like this and it’s an experience they can tell all their buddies about when they get back to school … things like seeing sharks and big porpoises and catching a big fish.”
And after expending all that energy, and after waking before the sun’s first rays, the kids are ready for a rest. His boat has bunks and “once they get in the air conditioning, lay down in the bunks with that cold air, it’s not long before they go to sleep.”
Pitre said he figures the minimum age for youngsters is between 7 and 8, although he admits he has “an energetic, spunky” 5-year-old who can’t wait for his next trip.
And the cost?
“You can bring up to 18 people on the boat and it runs $200 a person,” Pitre said. “And that’s hard to beat for a full day of fishing.”
For the birds
The annual “Wood Stork and Wading Bird Event” is set for 7 a.m.-noon Saturday on Sherburne Wildlife Management Area’s South Farm, precisely at the time when migrating wood storks and other wading and shore birds invade the area.
Sponsored by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the Corps of Engineers, the birds visit the area annually to feed on crawfish and small fish exposed during a midsummer water draw-down.
The draw-down provides the shallow water and mud flats that attract the 4-foot-tall storks along with a list provided by LDWF biologists that includes sandpipers, egrets, herons, spoonbills and ibis.
Since wood storks are early morning feeders, watchers should arrive at 7 a.m.
Access to the South Farm is off I-10 at the Ramah exit (No. 135), then north to the first road on the left, then left near L&L Grocery on Mimms Street, then right across a bridge, then right on the lower Atchafalaya Levee (gravel) Road to the “South Farm” sign. It’s there you can drive across the levee to a parking lot where workers will direct you to the site.
While there is no fee for this event, state regulations require everyone ages 16-60 to have either a valid state hunting or fishing license or a Wild Louisiana Stamp to visit a state WMA.
For more information, call the LDWF’s Opelousas office (337) 948-0255.