A Terrebonne shrimp storyStories by Wilson J. Gaidry, III

3. Bayou du Large

When I first went to Bayou du Large I was amazed to find the people speaking with an accent of Old England background; a boat was a boot. Almost everyone from about a mile below Falgout Canal were of English heritage but their subsistence life style of farming, trapping and fishing was similar to the Cajuns on the other bayous. Some of the people I remember well were Alvin Rink, Cleave, Easton, Floyd and Ed DeHart, Rudolph, Randolph and Alvin Liner, Addie Lacoste, Vinson, William and Atlas Lovell. They all had small farms and Rudolph Liner had a large cattle herd that grazed all the way to Grand Pass. Now the rise in sea level has turned this pasture into mostly water.

Around Falgout Canal were people of French and Indian descent that spoke French. Some of the French descendants that I can remember were the Voisin, Therioes, Marmandes, and the Indian were the Billot, Verrett and Dieons; there were also the Cortezes of Spanish descent.

Bayou Du Large boat
Bayou Du Large boat

In the winter of 1956 William Lovell and I trawled sea bobs; a species of small shrimp found along the beaches of Louisiana in winter and were used mainly for drying shrimp.

William was a small thin man with a pitted face and a few straggly teeth who lived in an old shack on the western side of Bayou du Large.

He had a typical old cypress lugger with an old Chrysler Marine engine that was exposed in an opening in the floor of the cabin that kept us warm. We would leave Bayou du Large when the cold fronts were coming through and fish out of Oyster Bayou.

I can remember the trip going out passing down Bayou du Large then turning west at Grand Pass, crossing Lake Mechant with the waves breaking over to bow, then navigating the mud flats of Blue Hammock Bayou then down Fourleague Bay to Oyster Bayou, a trip that took about 6 hours. On the back of the cabin hung a sack of potatoes and a sack of onions. Inside the little cabin (only 6 ft x 6 ft) was a little shelf with a two burner kerosene stove, a sack of rice and a can of lard. In the corner was an old 12 gage double barreled shotgun; we also carried several 55 gallon drums of gasoline. We stayed out for weeks subsisting on whatever we could kill or catch.

Oyster Bayou was about a mile long and lined with shrimp drying platforms. We would tie up to the dock at one of the platforms and wait for the cold front to pass. During this time we would hunt ducks and marsh hens to eat and fish oysters along the edge of Four League Bay from a little pirogue we carried on the top of the cabin. After the frontal passage the wind would turn to the North and right against the beach the water would be calm. We would leave Oyster Bayou before day light and turn west along the beach to an area called Blue Point where a sandbar jutted about a half a mile into the sea.

With the engine idling along in forward, William would stand on the front of the boat throwing a cast net. Sometimes he would catch 5 gallons of sea bobs in one cast, the shrimp being so thick as to turn the water a reddish brown color. It was only then that we put the trawl over board and pulled the trawl slowly in a circle in the area we found the shrimp. In 10 or 15 minutes the otter trawl boards would begin to come together, a sign that the net was full. In just a few hours we would fill the boat with 1 or 2 thousand pounds of shrimp, and all the other boats would be doing to same thing.

Smoke would be rising from all the shrimp drying platforms as they were getting to water boiling in preparations for us returning. When we returned back to the platform our shrimp was unloaded and measured in number 3 tubs that when full contained about 100 lbs of shrimp usually worth $5.00 per tub. The shrimp were then boiled in a brine solution and dried in the sun on large wooden decks called platforms; hence the word shrimp drying platform was used to describe the operation. The whole bayou was bustling with activity, men unloading boats, men boiling shrimp, men and women spreading shrimp on the drying platforms and fishing boats coming and going. Here lives were lived out in a way that would never be seen again, and I witnessed it first hand, a way of life that was so important then; now becomes obscurity.

To help with college in the late 1950's I fished shrimp out to Bayou du Large in Terrebonne Parish during the summers and whenever I was not in school.

Fishermen were just beginning to use tidal energy instead of fossil fuel to harvest shrimp, a concept that I would become fascinated with for my entire life. Shrimp are week swimmers, and usually stay near the water bottom in partial contact with the bottom. When feeding they seem to be walking on the bottom. When migrating the shrimp wait until the tide is going into the right direction, then they leave the bottom, rise into the water column and allow the tide to transport them.

The fishermen found that if a net was tied on a ridged rectangular frame and the net and frame placed in a position that would allow the water to flow through the net, the migrating shrimp could be caught from a fixed location in a bayou of pass using tidal energy only; the new net design was called a po Pierre. I found an old abandoned boat with no engine, rigged it with po Pierre’s and anchored it in Grand Pass on Bayou du Large. Grand Pass was located between two large lakes, Caillou Lake and Lake Mechant resulting in a very strong current on the new moon and full moon. On the full moon and new moon, the moon, Earth and Sun are lined up, which increases the gravitational effect of the planets on the tides resulting in a greater tide range and stronger currents.

When the tide was falling I would let nets down and it was unbelievable how much shrimp I caught. Some nights thousands of pounds. I transported the shrimp to the shrimp dock of Mr. Francis Ernts in Bayou du Large by a little 16 foot home made boat with a 25 horse power Johnson outboard motor. Many nights we had to make multiple trips to the shrimp dock of Mr. Francis Ernts to bring in all the shrimp to the docks. I made enough money in the summers to help pay my way through college.

In 1962 after I finished school I completely reworked the old cypress boat and put a six cylinder Ford engine from an old pickup truck. The spring shrimp season usually began in May at which time two species of shrimp were present, the white shrimp and the brown. The white shrimp were left over from the previous Fall season and were of nice size of 21 shrimp to the pound and the brown shrimp were young, usually 80 shrimp to the Pound.

We targeted only the whites in the month of May and in June we began trawling the brown. Most small boats did not have well insulated ice holes and could not carry ice for very long. Henry Marmande had a shrimp dock and the ice boat Lora and Francis Earnts had the Dakota; Ice boats operating from Grand Pass where small boats could sell shrimp and stay on a longer trip.