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December 20, 2010
  
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Louisiana Bayou Country - Alive and Well
"Barbara groaned as the redfish made a drag-screaming run ... "
by Richard Simms
posted December 19, 2010

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Capt. Anthony Kyzar - Houma, Louisiana
HOUMA, La. - The oil is gone ... the redfish are not!

In October I crossed paths with the fine folks from Houma, Louisiana Tourism at an outdoor writers conference. They were on a campaign to tell folks that after the BP oil spill, great food, great people and great fishing are all alive and well in Cajun Country. They invited me to come see for myself. Since I'd already experienced a taste of life in the Louisiana Bayou a few times before, I was HAPPY to go back!

Especially when I had the chance to fish again with Capt. Anthony Kyzar and cross paths for the first time with Capt. Wendy Billiot (left), otherwise known as "The Bayou Woman."

Capt. Billiot grew up in Northern Louisiana, which she says "is a different world from down here (near Houma)." At the ripe old age of 23, she lost a job when her employer shutdown. She moved to Houma on a whim in 1978, going to work as a "roustabout" on the docks. A roustabout is a dock hand that basically does anything and everything having to do with docks and boats.

"I just absolutely fell in love with it down here," she said. "I grew up in a suburb riding my bike on concrete. But down here I fell in love with the culture, the way of life and the fishing."


Barbara Simms, the author's wife, battles a big Louisiana redfish as Capt. Billiot stands by with the net.

Capt. Billiot also fell in love with a man who was the captain on a "crew boat" that transported crews and supplies back and forth to oil rigs.

"We would anchor by the rigs on standby and it was like an aquarium out there," she said. "You could just look down and see the tuna and amberjack. My family begged me to move back to North Louisiana because of the hurricanes but I never even considered it."

That's when she also fell in love with the Louisiana marsh... thousands of square miles of shallow tidal flats, swamps and backwaters created over thousands or millions of years as the Mississippi River dumps its load of sendiment into the Gulf of Mexico. The nutrient-rich waters serve as "The Nursery" for most fish that live in the Gulf.

In the last 30 years however Capt. Billiot says she has watched her second love slowly being destroyed. She says it has been sliced to pieces by massive canals, in size and number, carved out by oil companies. The change in topography has allowed the salt water of the Gulf to encroach farther and farther inland, slowly but surely changing the marsh's ability to produce life, protect people and provide livelihoods.

That's why she was inspired to write the book, "Before the Saltwater Came." Published in 2005, it is a children's book inspired by the beauty of and discouraged by the death of an old cypress grove. An old otter, LaLoutre, spins the tale of how she has witnessed the disappearance of her beloved marsh over her lifetime. The otter represents all the residents of coastal Louisiana who still witness the yearly loss of valuable wetland habitat.

About the same time she published the book, Capt. Billiot was also inspired to start her own company called "Wetland Tours."

Capt. Billiot takes people into the marsh to witness its majesty and wildlife firsthand. She says her eco-tour has hosted birdwatchers, travel writers, documentary folks, and photojournalists from the Netherlands, England, Germany, Canada and no telling how many U.S. states.

She says that lately her visitors, like me, want to experience the marsh with rod & reel in hand.

These days when my wife Barbara fishes with me, she usually carries a book to read when things slow down. I couldn't help but grin watching her battle a monster redfish as Capt. Billiot asked, "Where's that book you brought?"

Barbara groaned as the redfish made a drag-screaming run and exclaimed, "There will be no reading as long as I'm doing this!"




The Louisiana Bayou may have changed in the last 30 years, but it still provides sportsmen with some of the best hunting and fishing opportunities in the nation.




Capt. Anthony Kyzar (right), also from Houma, first introduced me to the bayou... shooting ducks in the morning and capturing coolers full of redfish in the afternoon. Whether you "cast" or "blast," the swamps of Houma are a paradise.



Capt. Kyzar also works an oil rig about 50 miles away from the Deep Horizon rig that spewed forth its oil in April 2010.

"Depending on the wind direction, we'd watch sheets of oil stream by our rig almost every day, " he said.

Both Capt. Billiot and Capt. Kyzar saw their livelihoods dramatically impacted by the spill and both were paid claims by BP. But they both said that throughout the spill, their fishing deep inside the marsh was never affected. That's what marshes do... they protect and buffer people naturally from poisons, floods and other disasters.

Both continue to spread the word that all is well with their world... but both also carry a deep sense of responsibility to care for it and keep the marsh as it has always been.

"I'm not a tree hugger but the environment is important to me," said Capt. Billiot. "I'm also really concerned about the human element and how the changes in the environment are affecting the people and their way of life.

"People who live and work in cities can pick up and do whatever they do in virtually any other city in the world," she said. "But the people here ... the shrimpers, crabbers, and fishermen who make their livelihoods and survive on the marsh, can't pick up and do what they do anywhere else in the country... maybe even the world."

In other words, if the marsh goes, the people and an entire way of life go with it.

LaLoutre the Otter will have none of that!

FOR MORE INFORMATION:
www.houmatourism.com
Capt. Wendy Billiot - The Bayou Woman
Cajun Hunting & Fishing Charters
Baymont Inn & Suites




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