Gulf Oil Spill Worse Than We’re Told

By Ted Peck - July 1, 2010
Facing you own mortality is a tough bear to tussle with. If the Biblical allotment of three score and ten years holds water, I still have a good 10 years to fish.

A lifetime of chasing fish all over North America has spawned several trips with annual adventure status. One of these is the February run to Louisiana's gulf coast to chase redfish and speckled trout with Capn. Daryl Dispensire.

Retired Chicago Bear Mark Bortz and I have made this foray for the past nine years, reveling in the warm winter sunshine in the perpetual party ambience of the happy folks down there who are content in knowing nature can provide for every need.

This idyllic picture changed forever a couple of months ago when an oil platform exploded miles offshore and began hemorrhaging America's lifeblood into the fragile ecosystem just off the Louisiana coast.

When Capn. Daryl phoned almost in tears to say the situation was much, much worse than the media would lead us to believe. I could hear the Grim Reaper chuckling over my shoulder.

"If they stopped the leak today it would be a minimum of 3-5 years before we could fish the coastal marshes again," Daryl lamented "and probably twice that long before we could enjoy redfish on the grill, a shrimp Po Boy sandwich or fresh oysters and blue crab. I may not live long enough to see these places recover-if it ever does."

Hurricane Katrina slapped the low country around Grand Isle and Leeville hard. Motels and restaurants were wiped out. The following winter we had to "rough it" in a camper. But Katrina's wrath had carved new niches in the Gulf. Fishing was better than ever.

Last February we battled scrappy redfish within spittin' distance of the towering, serpentine bridge which connects the sleepy hamlet of Leeville with trendy Grand Isle.

You can't get farther out in the Louisiana gulf than Grand Isle or Venice. Tourism driven by the fishing industry makes these ports and the entire Louisiana gulf coast hum with excitement and activity.

American Sportfishing Assn. CEO Mike Nussman estimates the economic impact to recreational angling in the Louisiana gulf at $8.6 million per day.

Capn. Daryl is fortunate. He and his new wife, Penny, will survive. They both have well paying jobs inland, a couple hours' drive north. But dreams for the future are shattered.

Capn. Daryl sold his home near Baton Rouge and closed on some property near Leeville just two weeks before the spill. Property values along the coastline have exploded since Katrina. The Dispensires figured biting the financial bullet would be worth the sacrifice in the long run.

"I'm only out 50 grand for those two acres," Capn. Daryl said "Most folks down there have lost it all-and forever."

Daryl and Penny took the big bridge down to Grand Isle last weekend. "Our walk along the beach was horrific," Daryl said. "We saw truckloads of dead and dying fish, dolphins and birds. We had to turn back after seeing an oil-soaked pelican in his last moments of life, reeling then toppling on the slimy sand."

"Pelicans have very expressive eyes," Daryl continued " The bird was literally roasting alive in the 90 degree heat, covered with all that smelly, foul oil. It was an awful way to die. Multiply this tragedy a million times over and you get just a hint of the suffering down here."

Daryl often stops to buy fresh oysters and blue crab from Connie Chattelain, an 80 year old widow with leathery, dark skin from a hard life in the Louisiana heat. She still gets out every day to run her traps, living in a tarpaper shack on a heavily potholes dirt road which is semi-paved with oyster shells. Chattelain's tar paper shack is a few miles north of Dispensire's fish camp in Leeville. Visual signs of the oil spill were still a good 10 miles away as of last weekend.

The water in the Intercoastal waterway and bayous still appears pristine.

Daryl said he bought a quart of oysters and was encouraged by Chattelain's beaming, near toothless smile. At fish camp he made a roux of Crystal hot sauce, shrimp sauce and a couple of 'secret' ingredients for an oyster appetizer to enjoy while watching a tragic gulf coast sunset.

"The oyster tasted like a tablespoon of Pennzoil," Capn. Daryl said "I had to spit it out. Louisiana will need to change the tag lines on our license plates. This is no longer the 'Sportsman's Paradise'. Maybe something like 'Welcome to Armageddon'. Life as we have always known it is over down here."
Author Ted Peck
Ted Peck
Cap'n Ted Peck has over 30 yrs. guiding experience, specializing in multi-species fishing on Pool 9-10 of the Mississippi from Genoa, Wi. to Prairie du Chien. Cap'n Ted is a pro staffer for Lund, Northland Tackle, MinnKota, Bill Lewis Lures, Evinrude, Uncle Josh, HT Enterprises and Custom Jigs & Spins. When not guiding Cap'n Ted communicates the outdoors experience via newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and through seminars. This work has taken him all over the midwest, Canada and beyond... but he always returns to the upper Mississippi which he considers the most diverse fishery in North America. Click here for more info on Ted's guide service. Cap'n Ted's new book Mississippi Musings with the Old Guide is a personal account of his long career as a professional fishing guide on Old Man River.