“Yesterday I caught 400 pounds of crab. At $1.25 a pound, that’s not bad money.”
The man in the cowboy hat grinned with all his teeth and shook his head. He goes fishing three or four times a week, and “fishing” can be for just about anything: crabs, crawfish, fish or shrimp. If it’s available, in season, and selling, “I’ll fish it,” he said.
I met Curtis Langlinais (Long-lin-ay) at a hot and dusty crossroads twenty miles outside Abbeville, Louisiana. He was filling up his truck and chatting in Cajun French with whoever happened to pass by.
At first glance, Curtis looked like the most wiry, salty Cajun fisherman I’d ever met in Louisiana. “Oh, I’m a real coonass!” he declared, telling me how he was born right here and will probably die here. But Curtis had traveled, too. In fact, he has traveled a lot. As a retired oil rig worker, he spent much of his life jetting from one rig to another, all around the globe.
“Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia . . . ” he began listing his stints in the Middle East, then moved on to tell me about Africa and South America.
“Oh, I love it out there on the rig. If I could still do the work, I’d go right back out there.” His eyes turned nostalgic and he paused.
It’s something I’ve noticed down here. People either love the rigs or they stay clear of them completely. Working rigs is a way of life and it takes a certain person to do it, but every family down here has at least one family member doing it. Every family has somebody doing oil and somebody doing fish, sometimes both.
Curtis started traveling when he was twenty years old. He showed me his merchant marine license, a piece of ID that he’s been carrying in his pocket since 1966. They misspelled his name.
“I got a cousin in Houston, and he goes by Langley now. They changed his name on his license and he just left it like that.”
After Curtis retired from the rigs he bought a boat and started fishing for extra income. Despite perceptions about large corporate fishing ventures, much of Louisiana seafood is caught by part-timers like Curtis who sell their catch to the land-based processors and distributors. Sure, you’ll find some full-time fishermen, but there are just as many (if not more) people who simply fish what and when they can. For example, a rice farmer might switch to crawfish in winter and a lot of families fish entirely for their own consumption.
“Fisherman” means different things in different places, especially in Louisiana. Curtis is a fisherman — a bilingual, cosmopolitan Cajun who catches crab one day and catfish the next.
I asked if I could watch Curtis work for a bit but he declined. He was simply too busy.
“Nope, I gotta go. I got 200 pounds of catfish here in my truck from this morning and I gotta deliver it on up the road now.”