By Cage Charlet
A short reflection from a two day trip to Venice, Louisiana.
Venice Day 1: The Bay
As the tide slowly finds its way out of the marsh, song birds chirp in the distance intermixing with the hum from a mallard drake tucked in the corner of the bay. The lingering front dispenses another light rain over the rolling salt water. Noises fill the sky, yet somehow it's quiet. You can hear the water splashing on the bottom side of the decoys as they rock back and forth. Someone quietly says "birds out left" as your friend simultaneously starts working his duck call.
Shortly after, you hear the clicks of the safety, as though we all planned to do it at the exact same time. It isn't long until the sound of wings pushing air make their way into the set of decoys and a thunderstorm of shots ring out. Birds hit the water and "Saint" makes his desire to retrieve well known. John Luke holds him off until the birds are all accounted for. The dog's slight whimpers turn into a burst of energy charging towards the folded birds. The cycle continues.
Something is different here.
The roseau cain, the smell of salt water, the sounds of birds filling the sky, the frequent splash of a tailing redfish taking advantage of the low tide.
You feel like your opportunity here is limitless. I suppose that's why they call it Sportsman's Paradise.
This place, it isn't just a place. It's filled with history and a lineage of hunters that have developed a culture, a way of life that you feel privileged to be a part of.
As the tide continues to fall, we find it best move with it. We pick up the decoys and begin our journey across the choppy bay. Weaving through the cuts of marsh, we paddle and watch groups of ducks find their desired place to rest and feed. Most would assume our vessels were unfit for the journey. Loaded with gear, decoys, and a dog, the pirogues and their shallow bottoms seemed sure to take on water. But these pirogues and their design were made for this place. As we glide over the Mississippi river bottom silt, the remaining portions of the much needed cold front let loose a final downpour of rain. There's something inviting about the rain when duck hunting. Your only option is to accept it, so you might as well enjoy it. Our day was finished with a few more ducks and a redfish on the way in.
Venice Day 2: The ride through the Mississippi
Our journey the following morning was one that gives shaky hands to even the most experienced captains.There is an ominous feeling that comes about when traveling on the Mississippi, particularly at 4 in the morning with a 15 mph North wind. Though not well seen until faced with them, large waves fill the wide river, much like the gulf with an incoming hurricane. There is an understanding of risk and uncertainty that comes with the decision to test its waters. You tread lightly, anticipating every breaking wave sure to crash into your boat. You approach it aware of the power it beholds, but assured of it as it begins jarring your boat back and forth.
It's pitch dark. Only the distant lights flickering on the bank are visible. Somehow in a single moment of time, your field of view becomes consumed by a large container carrier, much like that of a war ship appearing out of the dark fog. Its towering presence passes and you feel relief in knowing you escaped its path.
Despite a gradual and careful speed, the chilling north wind pierces through your assumed adequate layers.
ALL FOR DUCKS.
We find our way out of the main channel and into a small but deceivingly deep cut hidden between the Roseau Cain. Our boat slides through and creeps until it opens up into a sanctuary of brackish water. We push the nose of the boat onto a bank. The pirogues are unloaded, packed and we start pushing against the strong north wind. This tide is rising now, giving our paddles just enough to grab onto.
The rustle of marsh grasses act as a sound machine as we nap the 30 minutes before shooting light. Intense gusts of wind push through the channel already bringing ducks into our set. I am again reminded of the opportunity to take part in this experience.
As clouds give way to the rising sun, we play the same game as the day before. Again, someone quietly says "birds out left" as your friend simultaneously starts working his duck call. The sound of wings pushing air make their way into the set of decoys and a thunderstorm of shots ring out. We do this until we have filled our boats with our legal share of ducks and memories that will never fade.
The tide is always changing in South Louisiana. Every day, at every hour, the tide is either coming in or going out. Never does it truly remain where it is. The coming and going creates a rhythm in life for all that is in it or around it.
When you show up to a place like Venice, Louisiana, you can expect to give yourself up to the rising and falling tide - the way things are done and have always been done. But that's what makes it unique. That's what makes it a privilege. The lessons learned from those who have come before us influence each and every experience we have in the marsh. How to navigate, where to hunt, how to get there, what to use as bait, passed down from one generation to the next.