An August fishing frolic

Jim Bradshaw

When August rolled around in the good old days before air conditioning, the best way to escape the heat was to head to the nearest body of water, hoping to find a cooling breeze, a shade tree to sit under, and maybe even a few fish.
Those who could afford it “found the breeze” at Last Island or Grand Isle or Chenier au Tigre or headed to the Mississippi Gulf coast. Others settled for inland lakes or for spots beside coastal inlets.
On a Saturday in August 1849, “chance, inclination, and a good horse” landed one newspaper editor “plump on the mound of the shell bank at the mouth of Bayou Salé, and in full view of Cote Blanche Bay,” where he found “the shell bank … lined with buggies, wagons, carts, and all such things as would naturally be required in making up a ‘fishing frolic.’”
The shell bank, he said, formed “a beautiful ridge more than a half-mile in length, from sixty to eighty feet in width, and from eight to ten feet in height above [the] low water mark. … At different points on it are scrubby oaks, sword palmettos, and enough of other kinds of shrubbery to afford a comfortable, though not elegant shade.”
A low marsh “clothed with a thick growth of grass,” stretched toward the landward side of the ridge, and facing southwest, a visitor surveyed “a broad and smooth sheet of water which reaches far beyond the limits of sight, its farthest edge in appearance touching the blue sky.” A line of trees was just barely visible along part of the horizon “[standing] upon a chain of islands whose surfaces are obscured by the … intervening waters. Though the distance to these islands is twelve miles … the water of the bay is so shallow that in low tides one may wade to them.”
The writer continued, “As we landed on the shell bank, the party were [sic] scattered on land and water to meet their various tastes. Two gangs … were stretching … long nets far into the bay, and whenever they made a good haul, the … fish were brought ashore … to be devoured. … Each of the company sought his comfort in his own way — some smoked their pipes, others reclined in the shade, sauntered, sat, or leaned against a tree, or with a broken leaf in one hand and the broad side of a fish in the other, ate with … avidity.
The fish caught that day were primarily sheephead (a member of the drum family), he said, “There were some flounders caught, two large dolphins, one redfish, one dog fish, some gar and some mullet.”
He enjoyed a fish roasted over an open fire, lolled in the shade and talked with some of his neighbors, then, “after eating plenty of fish and drinking plenty of water, and seeing all that we cared about seeing … we left the premises.”
“As a matter of course,” he concluded, “we must say what everybody always says about such parties—‘it was very pleasant and everyone was highly delighted.’”
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at jimbradshaw4321@gmail.com or P.O, Box 1121, Washington LA 70589

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