Freshwater infusion fattens crawfish

Published 4:25 pm Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Johnny Lamarco figured the crawfish his two stepsons were pulling from the water left behind in the Bonnet Carre Spillway were costing him between $10 and $12 a pound.

As the breeze rippled the muddy pool where the boys waded to retrieve their nets, Lamarco smiled with satisfaction — it was money well spent.

“This is all about the kids,” said Lamarco, who works at an oil refinery. “They are getting every penny’s worth of fun out here and we still get to go home and boil them up. You can’t beat that.”

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The grounds of the spillway, about 35 miles north of New Orleans, had been closed to recreational fishermen for 27 days when the gates of the floodway were opened to allow the water from the overfull Mississippi River to drain off into Lake Pontchartrain. The once flooded area was reopened on Monday.

The spillway’s floodgates, which are designed to relieve pressure on the levees around New Orleans when the Mississippi rises above flood stage, were opened this spring for the first time in 11 years.

On Monday, dozens of people, driving pickup trucks and four-wheelers, steering airboats and paddling pirogues, fanned out across the 8,000 acres in search of the Louisiana delicacy known as “mudbugs.”

Although much of the water was gone from the area, there were still spots deep enough to cause trouble for the all-terrain vehicles or even full-size vehicles.

“There are some spots that would drown a truck still,” said David Breaux, 27, of LaPlace, La. “Some of it is still just for boats to get to.”

The ponds had not certainly shrunk to the size crawfish fishermen prefer, not only were they too deep, but too broad.

“Give it another week, some of these big areas will dry up and the crawfish will all congregate in these little holes,” said Louis Cook, who celebrated his 50th birthday by hauling a couple of bags of crawfish out of the spillway. “Then you just find yourself a hole and sit on it.”

The area is always prime crawfish country, with people stalking the tasty crustaceans there every year. But this year the mudbugs are especially large, fishermen said.

“It’s that shot of freshwater that does it,” said Joe Rayes, of Metairie, who loaded up his crawfish and pirogue, having taken his limit after only three hours. “Nobody is going to have any complaints about the size of these crawfish.”

Lamarco had figured the cost of his drive from his home in Independence, La., about 40 miles from the spillway, into the price of the crawfish they landed Monday, saying the almost $4 a gallon he paid for gasoline was the biggest factor driving up the price per pound. Still, by the time the sun set over the boggy area, he expected to be easily able to write off the trip.

“These will be in the pot as soon as we get home,” Lamarco said. “Add a little onion, garlic, some sausage, some potatoes, some corn. Man, there ain’t nothing better anywhere.”