Art by Flick Ford
In the bayous of southeast Louisiana, there’s an old school redfish camp called Bourgeois where the gastronomic influence of New Orleans hangs like Spanish moss. Lean in, and you’ll hear the Cajun guides bantering about tides and flies in one breath, and in the next, how to cook frog legs (deglaze your pan with bourbon, of course).
I came here not interested in cuisine, but to fly-cast for tailing redfish, which, when conditions are right, can be spectacular in the shallow bays and passes that stretch to the horizon.
Alas, the weather gods snookered us. The night before, the jagged blue edge of a cold front descended, and temperatures plummeted. By daybreak, northwest winds scudded across the flats, churning and muddying waters.
I stood on the bow of a bay boat with a 25-knot headwind slapping my face. Roiled waters swirled everywhere. My 8-weight fly rod sat in a tube in the forward hold. I could string it up, then grunt and groan ineffective casts and otherwise howl at the moon. Or I could try to get a redfish in the boat.
I made my decision. Reluctantly, I reached for the classic Gulf Coast bait rig — a dead shrimp under a popping cork. And for the next few hours, I lobbed sloppy end-over-end casts, until finally, the reel locked up and the rod bucked violently. Something ripped the surface flashing copper — a solid red, and it pulled like a mule. I scooped up a beefy 30-incher and put it into the fishbox. By then the tide was almost done, so we headed in, tired and windburned. My Louisiana redfish adventure was over, or so I thought.
Back at the dock, my fish, along with a couple of slot reds and some speckled trout from other boats, were quickly filleted, bagged and handed off to an affable fellow in a crisp fishing shirt. He hurried them into a cooler and drove away.
At 5 o’clock sharp, 10 guests from the lodge stepped aboard a chartered bus, and half an hour later we walked into Bourbon House, a stunning restaurant in the heart of New Orleans. Greeting us was the man in the fishing shirt, now wearing a sport jacket. It was none other than Dickie Brennan, the restaurant’s owner and the Drew Brees of the New Orleans food scene.
A few minutes later, with cocktails in hand, we followed him into the kitchen, where his executive chef told us how our catches would be prepared. Over a plate of fried oyster appetizers and smoked redfish paté, we learned about making a roux from fish bones and scoring whole fish so they cook evenly.
The entire thing felt surreal, but it was part of a conservation partnership between restaurants and local fishing lodges called “Catch and Cook.” The idea is that guests would rather keep one or two fish for a fine meal, rather than fill a cooler with a limit, only to toss freezer-burned fillets into the trash a year later.
I lifted a forkful of redfish on the half shell, served with crabmeat and (in my newly acquired culinary parlance) frisée, caramelized balsamic onions and lemon beurre blanc. Taste buds I never knew existed fired synapses of delight.
Fly rod or no fly rod, I’ve never had a redfish I caught honored in such a singular way.
Stephen Sautner has cast a line in more than a dozen countries, from the Falkland Islands to the Republic of Congo. His latest book, A Cast in the Woods, is about a fishing cabin that he owns.