With a lodge and guide operation stationed on the banks of the Barataria Waterway near Lafitte, charter fishing guide Theophile Bourgeois IV is never more than a few miles from enough redfish to fill an ice chest or speckled trout to host a big fish fry.
But this time of year, when he just wants to have fun, Bourgeois eschews “spots and dots” in favor of “whiskers and barbs.”
The son of legendary charter captain Theophile Bourgeois III, who died in a plane crash last summer, Bourgeois was raised taking whatever nature provided in her seasons, and, in the winter, that just happens to be catfish caught using one of the oldest and easiest methods ever developed.
Bourgeois sets and runs jug lines baited with deer liver, duck guts or any other malodorous concoction he can come up with. He does it because it’s productive, and it’s just a blast.
“It’s just something to do right now when it’s cold,” Bourgeois said. “I know I can go with my boys. We’ll spend an hour setting them out, and then come back the next day and spend an hour checking them, and have a bunch of fish.
“It’s fun because you never know what you’re going to catch. The biggest one we’ve caught this year — it wasn’t huge, but it was 32 pounds. When you pull the jug up and you see this thing, it’s like a cow head. It’s unreal. It’s like some mythical beast you’re pulling up.”
Bourgeois does most of his jug-lining in Lake Salvador, but he’s also had success right in front of Bourgeois Fishing Charters’ lodge on the Barataria Waterway.
Most times he runs less than two dozen jugs.
“I don’t have a whole lot of time to run them, so 20 (jugs) is great for me and the kids,” Bourgeois said. “The whole purpose of this is convenience, and the kids love it. It’s like running crab traps; the whole mystery of what’s going to be under that jug is always exciting.”
An average haul using 20 jugs is six to eight catfish, he said.
Bourgeois’ jugs are typically sports-drink, bleach or soda bottles. He paints them orange, ties about 8 feet of heavy twine on the jug and adds weight tied to the bottom of the line. Bourgeois’ weights are typically steel stock he gets from his father-in-law, who is a welder.
Just a couple of feet down from the jug, connected to the twine, is a clip that connects a 2-foot mono leader and 4/0 circle hook.
“When the weather’s rough, and you’ve got that fish all tangled and mangled up, you’re fighting the whole rig, but with the quick clip, if it’s tangled, and you’re just trying to move on, you can undo the clip, throw the fish in the box and deal with it when you’re back at the dock,” Bourgeois said.
Although he’s running the guide operation he inherited from his father, Bourgeois has spent most of his career as a tattoo artist, and that’s what has inspired him to invest even more time than usual pursuing cats in recent days.
“We’re trying to find this goujon to sketch off of reality for a tattoo on a buddy of mine,” he said. “We’re working on a sleeve (tattoo).”
Goujon is the Cajun French word for flathead catfish, but most times is a name for any in the catfish family.
Baiting up with live bream would help accomplish that goal, Bourgeois admitted, but lately he’s used more deer liver on his hooks than anything. Although a gigantic goujon has eluded him, he’s boated plenty of really nice blues.
The taste of those oversized cats is indecipherable from the smaller felines that also take the bait, Bourgeois said.
“That’s the great thing about catfish that I love,” he said. “It’s not like when you catch a big 27-inch bull red, and nobody wants to eat the meat. To me, catfish are all consistent. (Size) doesn’t really matter.”
Bourgeois fries the fillets or uses them to make courtbouillon, sauce piquant or any of a host of other Cajun dishes. However he cooks them, though, he sings while he’s doing it.
In addition to being a fishing guide and renowned tattoo artist, Bourgeois is also front man of the rock group Them Ol’ Ghosts.
He’s a renaissance man who goes back to his down-the-bayou roots this time of year.
“I’ll always do this,” he said of jug-lining. “I just love it.”