My family owned a seafood market in Holden, LA. It was a cross-generational venture with my parents and grandparents on my father’s side. Right before 441 splits into 1036/441, there is a little building, on the West side of the road that they rented and sold seafood out of for years. I don’t have numbers, but I bet it never really panned out monetarily; otherwise, why stop doing it? Fishing, crabbing, seafood… It was always part of my family. Growing up my brother and I frequently helped with the operation. Manchac was a second home to us. We knew everyone at Reno’s, The Gator’s Den, and at The Fuel Dock. For years we helmed the crab boat during weekends and during the week over the summer. Good days, bad days, dry days, wet days, hot days, hotter days!!!
My brother and I spent a lot of time on the water with Dad. He would wake one of us up early in the morning (after he had worked a 48 hour shift at the fire department), we would climb into his truck, bleary eyed and barely awake, and he would drive us to the dock in Manchac to put out the boat. Our dock was the first dock before the barricade, meaning that it took us the most time to get out of the no-wake zone. No exaggerating, it took at least 30-40 minutes to get out of the canal, to the point where we could get some speed and make good time to the start of the crab ‘pot’ line. We worked a 8-10 hour day before bringing the boat in, loading the truck, selling the crabs, and going home. ~4am to ~6pm.
There are so many aspects of those experiences that have stuck with me. It is hard to just list them out, but some of them are:
- Dad typically played 101.5 FM all the time, but he knew that I didn’t love Country music as much as he did. One time, early in the morning when we were riding to the dock, he played 93.7 FM (when it was Rock), and that was the first time I heard ‘Black’ by Pearl Jam (one of my favorite songs). Funnily enough, I didn’t know the name of the song. I spent a considerable amount of effort remembering lyrics to the song so I could look it up at school later. We didn’t have cell phones, cell phones with internet didn’t really exist, and we didn’t have the internet at the house. The only place I had access was at school or the parish library.
- Whenever we would catch a crab that was about to shed we would separate that crab into a bucket of water so it could become a soft-shell crab. Sometimes we would sell them, but a lot of the time we would bring them home, freeze them, and cook them within a few days. I am now deathly allergic to (specifically) soft-shell crabs. I will never eat another one.
- Dad bought an early-model GPS for use on the lake. It was a hunting GPS that allowed us to save waypoints along the crab ‘pot’ line. My father was not a technical person, but once I showed him how to use this GPS you would’ve sworn he was an expert. That GPS is over 20 years old, and is still in his workshop. The screen doesn’t work so well, but the waypoints are still saved.
- Dad owned a 2001 Dodge diesel truck with a Cummings engine. It had the ‘unique’ security system called ‘standard transmission’. It was so heavy in the front (from the engine) that the truck could get stuck in wet grass. We were cleaning up the dock on a day where we weren’t on the water and the truck got stuck. Dad was pretty annoyed, but with a combination of cinderblocks and a teenager jumping up and down in the bed of the truck we were able to un-stick the truck.
- Brackish water destroyed a lot of radios on the boat. After a few weeks of long days I mentioned that maybe we could put a radio in the boat. Dad bungie-corded a cassette/FM radio to the console. It lasted a month… The next one lasted a few months. After a few more attempts we just stopped trying. The sea is a cruel mistress…
- Dad made his own fishing lures. One time when we were fishing I overcast my line and it got hung in a tree. We trolled to go get the lure before we cut the line and inadvertently got way too close to the biggest hornet nest I (and Dad) had ever seen. That lure is still out there.
- We had finished selling crabs at Manchac Seafood and we went to the Gator’s Den before going home. When Dad walked in it was like a celebrity was there. Everyone gave him a warm welcome and started chatting him up. That was one of the only times I ever really saw him comfortably socialize.
- Crab ‘pots’ are metal wire enclosures designed to lure crabs in through a pair of one-way openings, trapping them until we retrieve the trap. When transporting the ‘pots’ in the truck Dad got tired of getting in and out of the bed to get the next set of ‘pots’. He welded some rebar together to make a three-foot long hook with a handle to make grabbing them easier. Years after he stopped crabbing, Dad still had that hook in the back of the truck.
- The bait we used for crabbing was catfish heads and entrails. Effectively, whatever part of the fish that was not fileted off was packed into thin, wooden crates, deep frozen, and sold as bait. The smell was not bad when the bait was frozen, but throughout the day, as it warmed up… I mean, a windy day made for rough crabbing, but at least it helped with the smell! Anyway, while we were moving between crabbing lines (strings of crab ‘pots’) Dad was refilling the bait so it would be easier to rebait the crab ‘pots’. He had to chip away frozen pieces of bait. While doing this he hit a pocket of mostly thawed bait. I didn’t see it happen, but he suddenly stopped what he was doing, stood up, and turned toward me… His face was covered in fish guts. He was not pleased at the time, but later laughed it off. Thankfully, there was a bar of soap on the boat.
- Dad crawfished for a while. I don’t remember helping him, but I do remember that he was always willing to boil crawfish for people. He didn’t socialize much, usually opting to just man the pot and drink and smoke. When the crawfish were on the table he would stick around for a few minutes watching everyone eat before he went to start cleaning up. He didn’t like eating crawfish.
- Crab ‘pots’ have weights in them that force them to sink. There is a rope with a float attached to every ‘pot’. The float is the only thing you see on the water to indicate there is a crab ‘pot’ there. Each fisherman’s float had to be unique to them so they would be able to spot it at a distance. Dad had a magazine where he ordered floats from, and spent a considerable amount of time ‘building’ the right float. He was really excited when they came in, and he branded every one of them with a WG .
- For the first few years of crabbing, Dad pulled every ‘pot’ by hand. The method for harvesting crabs from the ‘pot’ went something like this:
- Boat to the ‘pot’s float
- Line up the float on whatever side of the boat the ‘puller’ is on
- As soon as the float passes the first 1/3 of the boat, start circling the float
- The ‘puller’ bends over the side of the boat and (hopefully) catches the float
- While circling the ‘pot’ the ‘puller’ reels the ‘pot’ in by pulling the rope (~30 ft) and throwing it back overboard
- Once the ‘pot’ is on the boat, the ‘puller’ dumps the crabs, rebaits the ‘pot’ and throws it overboard
- Rinse and repeat hundreds of times
- When Dad bought a motorized puller I helped him install it. That was the first time I fabricated anything with fiberglass.
- I am pretty sure that my brother and I became better at ‘driving’ the boat than Dad was.
- One time our boat engine had trouble and we were stranded in the middle of the lake. No cell phones. A couple of guys saw us and towed us back to the dock. It took at least an hour; I am sure that it sunk whatever plans they had for the day. You meet some of the best people on the water.