by Jennie Guido • photography courtesy of Benny Jeansonne and Tim McCary
“We go down to the bayou to go fishing; but really, we are going to be catching,” Benny Jeansonne of Natchez, Mississippi, explained when we sat down to talk shop and fishing on the bay in Cocodrie, Louisiana. Located in Terrebonne Parish south of Houma, Louisiana, this fishing, shrimping, and crabbing village is home not only to exceptional salt-water fishing but also to a booming oil industry.
“Thankfully, the oil business allows for a busy fishing industry in the area,” Benny shared. “Early in the morning, you can see the shrimping and oyster boats leaving out; and when we come back from our own fishing trip, the trucks are rolling in to pick up the professionals’ day’s catch.”
Almost sixteen years ago, Benny and his brother Steve from Alexandria, Louisiana, began going down to the area and chartering boats to go out fishing for speckled trout. “After a few years,” Benny recalled, “I decided to buy a boat of my own; and we have been in business ever since.” Starting in April after tax season, Benny and his brother take several of these outings, inviting along their “fishing buddies” to make plans for these four-to-five-day excursions.
“Benny is really professional when it comes to planning these trips,” Tim McCary, a regular on these catching trips, explained. “He consults a chart of the tides throughout the spring and summer months and selects the weekends when the tide is at its highest for us to all travel down.” Between Benny and his brother, there are usually ten to twelve men that head off on the fishing trips in hopes of catching their limits throughout the weekend. “Some people come and go throughout the trip,” Benny said, “but for the most part, we have ten of us down for the weekend.”
Each day is a full schedule from sunup to sundown. Starting at 4:50 a.m., the men get up and tackle their specific tasks. “I’m always in charge of getting the boats ready to go,” Benny shared. “There is someone to get the ice chests ready, someone to get the bait, and someone to make breakfast and sandwiches for the boat that morning.”
Then, after a few hours of fishing, the men return to take care of the fish they’ve caught, clean the boats, eat a nice lunch, and recharge their batteries. “Tim makes an outstanding sandwich for us at lunch that I pile high with meat and cheese,” Benny remarked.
After lunch, they return to the boats for the day’s round two. “We fish with live shrimp, so that quickly changes our excursions from fishing trips to catching trips,” Benny said. “It’s an entirely different ballgame when fishing with live bait.”
Once they reach the limit of the day, the men return to camp again to clean up and eat a hearty dinner. “We go down to the bayou to fish, but we also eat pretty good while we are there,” Benny said. Whether steak, crab, or a fresh catch, the men are there for three things to “eat, sleep, and fish.”
Of course, the main reason to go on these trips is to bring home for their freezers a full bounty of fish to last well into the winter months. “Before we leave the camp, we clean and bag up our catches to bring home. I like to divide the fish up once I get home to make for smaller portions,” Benny said. “We usually make it to Christmas before we run out of trout.” And that means one thing—it’s time to get ready for the next year’s fishing.
“We are like kids waiting for Christmas,” McCary remarked. “When we know a trip is coming up, we are giddy and ready for it to get here. We’ll see each other out and share just how excited we are and what the countdown is until we leave.”
With this year’s fishing season at an end, the “catchermen” are already thinking about next spring and when it all begins again. “It’s not about the places we stay or go when we go to Cocodrie,” Benny said. “It’s about the atmosphere and the experience of being with some of your best buddies, fishing all day, eating good food, and having an even better time.”
Here is a taste of the fishing trip from the kitchens of Benny Jeansonne and Tim McCary.
Pan-fried Speckled Trout
4-6 fish filets
Salt and pepper to taste
Thoroughly wash the filets and pat dry. Put plain flour in a paper bag; put the filets into the bag and dust them lightly with the flour. Heat skillet with enough olive oil to slide around the filets. Add the lightly floured fish and cook for about 3 minutes each side. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Speckled Trout with Vodka Reduction
4 Speckled Trout filets
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon Tony’s Seasoning
1 teaspoon black pepper (or to taste)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 shot vodka
1 heaping tablespoon mayonnaise
Mix the flour with the spices. Coat the bottom of a pan with olive oil. Dredge fish in flour mixture and pan fry until golden brown. Remove fish to a plate. Mix together the vodka, mayonnaise, and four pinches of flour mixture; put in the pan you removed the fish from; and deglaze the pan on medium for a few minutes until the bottom of pan is clear. Drizzle sauce over fish and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.
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