Here’s hoping it isn’t me, but until Hurricane Katrina came along the worst hurricane my parents mentioned in my hometown came in 1947. I was three months old.
It had no name.
I remember Hurricane Flossy in 1956, a rare storm originating in the Pacific, moving into the Gulf of Mexico and flooding our streets.
I don’t know anyone named Flossy, but have acquaintances named Betsy, Camille, Andrew, Katrina (she changed her name in 2006!), Rita, Ike, Gustav (a middle name, first name Pierre), Laura, Sally and Delta (she was born in Greenville, Mississippi, in the heart of Delta Country), and am thankful none of these good folks pack the punches or have the wrath these storms have wrought on our fair land.
Let’s hope and pray 2020 is an aberration, and, amid all this “new normal” is the new tropical normal.
There’s little doubt all this tropical activity will have an affect on our ability to enjoy the outdoors. Not that this should be a priority now, but there will be days in the coming months when tens of thousands among us will be able to take a day or two to enjoy all of what’s afforded us in this Sportsman’s Paradise.
Let's pray this is the worst it gets for these last days of 2020.
If you worked in the aftermath of storms like Betsy, Camille, Katrina and Gustav — and we applaud the work younger folks are putting in after Laura and Sally — then you know the gut-wrenching feeling for the human misery these storms caused.
Then there’s Andrew: coming after this powerful arm of Mother Nature darned near flattened Homestead, Florida, it swirled into the Gulf of Mexico and took dead aim on our south central towns — Cocodrie, Chauvin, Theriot, Dulac, Morgan City, Stephensville, Franklin, New Iberia — and ran smack dab up the middle of the Atchafalaya Basin.
Two days later when the storm surge and rainwater began to fall, the misery of dead and dying marine animals showed up along basin levees.
Anoxic water chased crabs up the levees and fish of all species began piping to grab what little oxygen their gills could hold from what oxygen remained on the water’s surface.
Within four days millions of fish were dead, 175 million by estimates of Wildlife and Fisheries biologists and including some 5 million bass.
Anyone familiar with the spot where Bayou Long shoots south from Old River still are astounded by stories of tens of thousands of fish carcasses so clogging the area that no boat could push into the bayou from Old River.
The scene was more surreal by the absence of birds. A fish kill usually attracts all sorts of carrion feeders. There was none.
Cypress trees along exposed banks were stripped of bark, and, within days, you couldn’t ride in a boat’s wake because the stench of hydrogen sulfide gas was too strong.
Took an invitation to document an electro-fishing survey with LDWF freshwater biologists. The trip proved the worst: covering nearly two miles of Old River east of Bayou Mallet turned up three small garfish — and nothing else. The garfish survived in the black water only because gar have lungs and can gulp air.
Verret Basin waters took a hit, too, but to a much less extent than the Atchafalaya.
It took three months for the water to re-oxygenate and be able to support marine life.
Florida bass fingerlings from Georgia, bluegill fingerlings from a north Louisiana federal hatchery and like contributions from other states helped restore gamefish populations. A spring flood in 1993 helped bring bass from Atchafalaya River’s deep water — the one place Andrew didn’t affect — and that spring’s crawfish crop hit historic levels. Can anyone these days imagine paying $6 a sack? We did that spring.
A caller asked if the lack of predator fish contributed to this largess.
OK, yes, can you imagine taking 5 million bass, not to mention at least that many (if not more) bluegill, sac-a-lait, gaspergoo, catfish and other sunfishes from a crawfish-rich environment and not help a crawfish-loving population?
If a bass ate three small crawfish a day, then that’s 15 million crawfish surviving each day, every day for weeks. Wow! Never before and never since did we have a crawfish boil every week for eight weeks.
We can only pray we come through Delta without the damage we’ve seen from that list of storms during the past 73 years (and Audrey wasn’t on that initial list.)
Yet, knowing where this storm passed Friday, there’s certain to be environmental damage.
The second fear watching Delta last week was a path similar to Andrew’s, and knowing how long it would take for this grand fishing-rich area to, again, be able to swallow up our recreational desires, not to mention what the commercial fishing provides.
If you’re out anywhere across Louisiana in the coming days, and you see a fish kill, then Wildlife and Fisheries needs to know. It helps if you know the GPS coordinates, but a specific location will work.
Call (800) 442-2511.
Assessing the kill will help get funds to help restore the fisheries in the affected area.
A good man gone
A handful of Louisiana governors claimed to be outdoorsmen — some to secure votes from our die-hard hunters and fishermen — but Mike Foster took first chair in that room, and Kathleen Blanco had the second chair.
Foster is gone, a man who lived every day of his 90 years, and sportsmen of our state should remember him for his support of fishing and hunting issues.
While it met with resistance, his appointment of Jimmy Jenkins to head Wildlife and Fisheries led to a more business-like approach to running this agency, one of a very few in our state’s governmental structure running without benefit of general fund money.
It was on Foster’s watch that the LDWF’s Enforcement Division made moves to take agents into the 21st century, all the while holding back continued moves to return mono- and multi-filament gill nets to our waters. He supported a move for the first survey of the economic effects recreational fishing and hunting have in our state. Those are just a few of his among his eight gubernatorial years.
He was a man among men, and heartfelt condolences to his wife, Alice, and his family.
And he would smile, and be honored, if you remember him when you take that first duck in the upcoming season. He loved being in a blind and a goose field.