Fall fishing provides some of the best action of the year and Caddo Lake, on the border of Texas and Louisiana, is one of the best fishing lakes in the country. It is also getting close to Halloween, so here is a tale that you will not soon forget:
Bigfoot in the Bayou
The most unusual lake that I have ever fished in East Texas is Caddo Lake. There is a mysterious aura surrounding the area that I can only describe in metaphysical terms; an almost spiritual or ghostly presence that peers at you between the submerged Cypress trees as you wet your line. This subliminal enchantment is what consumed my uncle during a fishing trip in the late nineties. He became so captivated by the area during a crappie excursion on the Texas side of the lake that he returned home to Harvard, Illinois, and promptly told his wife that he was selling the farm and retiring to Caddo. “What’s so special about this place?” my aunt asked. “Besides the fantastic bass and crappie fishin’, I can’t really explain it,” he said. “But once we get down there, you’ll understand.”
After he bought some lakefront property and built his personal fishing fortress, he called me in Dallas and asked me if I would like to come down and fish the lake. “The crappies are spawnin’ and we are catching barrel loads,” he said. “Call that fishin’ fool of a brother you have up in Chicago and tell him to get down here ─ we’ll make a week out of it.”
I had heard a lot about Caddo but had never fished the Cypress tree filled waters. After calling my brother to let him know about the trip, I Googled the lake on Wikipedia and did my pre-fishing investigation. Caddo Lake (French: Lac Caddo) is located on the border between Texas and Louisiana in the northeast section of the two states and is named after the Native Americans called Caddoans, which inhabited the area between the 16th century until the 19th century, when they were run off by settlers. The lake is a 25,000 acre wetland and the largest naturally occurring fresh water lake in the South. The lake is also the largest Cypress tree forest in the world. Some believe that lake was formed by the 1811 New Madrid Earthquake, but others feel that the lake was the result of a one hundred mile logjam that occurred on the Red River in Louisiana. With the invention of the steamboat in the 1900’s the lake became a burgeoning riverboat port area until the Army Corps of Engineers changed the flow of water and dropped the lake level ten feet, destroying the riverboat industry.
Caddo Lake is a protected area that is home to: 189 species of trees and shrubs, 75 grasses, 42 woody vines, 216 kinds of birds, 90 fish and reptiles, and 47 mammals, one of which is “Bigfoot.” I read that there had been hundreds of documented Bigfoot sightings since 1965 in the area and this tidbit of information especially piqued my interest.
When my brother arrived at DFW airport in Dallas, I was already packed for the trip, so we loaded up his gear and headed east on Route 20 for the four hour drive to my uncle’s house. “I hope you brought your camera,” I told him.
“Because not only are we going to get some great fishing pictures, but we might even get a glimpse of ‘Bigfoot.’ ”
“That’s right. Bigfoot makes his home out in the swamps where he can’t be bothered.”
“You better quit smokin’ that shit because it’s making your brain mush,” he said.
“Go ahead and joke about it, but when you see that sucker, you’re going to crap your pants.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah; just another one of your pranks. Do you think I was born yesterday? Did you forget I’m your brother?”
“I’m just telling you so that you are prepared.”
We arrived at Uncle Dicky’s later that afternoon, just in time for dinner. “Welcome fellas,” he said standing in the driveway as we pulled up. “I hope you’re ready to catch a boatload of crappie tomorrow.”
“You bet,” my brother said.
“Let’s go inside and get some of your aunt’s famous fried chicken.”
Entering the custom built cabin, we we’re greeted by my aunt. “How are you boys doing?” she asked as she hugged us both.
“Just fine,” I replied.
“And how is your father?”
“He is doing well,” my brother said. “But we left him home for this trip because we didn’t want to spend any time in the emergency room with hooks stuck in our ears or the back of our heads.”
“Oh, you are a big joker; aren’t you.”
“Sit down and let’s eat,” she said.
We sat down, said our prayers, and dug in. My aunt was a wonderful cook that could prepare just about anything and we were plenty hungry, so we began to chow down. When I finally came up for air, I looked at my uncle and said, “Brother Tom here doesn’t believe that Bigfoot makes his home on the lake.”
“Is that right?” Dicky asked.
“Why don’t you tell him.”
“Give me a break,” Tom said, “this is just another gimmick like the Al Capone stunt you pulled while we were fishing for carp at the Queen of Heaven cemetery.”
“This is no gimmick,” Dicky told him, “I’ve seen one myself.”
“Don’t tell me you’re playing this game too,” Tom said.
“It’s not a game. I saw one last year when I first started fishin’ the lake. Round here they call the thing the ‘Caddo Critter’─ roams the lake bottoms at night lookin’ for food. I was fishin’ a secluded bayou one evening, when I heard a rustling in the woods about fifty feet in front of my boat. When I looked up I saw a huge, gray-colored, hairy creature staring right at me. At first I thought it was your Aunt Mary from Illinois, but when the thing stood all the way up it was about seven feet tall. In the blink of an eye the critter disappeared into the brush; but not before scarin’ the dickens out of me.”
“Get out of here,” Tom said, “You guys are on crack.”
Dicky continued, “There have been so many sightings down here that they even have a group that investigates the incidents: The Texas Bigfoot Research Center (TBRC). Every year they have a big conference in Jefferson County to discuss the whereabouts of the critter.”
“I think I’ve had just about enough for one day,” Tom said, “I need to get some sleep so that I can catch some fish tomorrow.”
We helped my aunt clean up and then hit the sack with dreams of slab-sized crappie dancing in our heads. When we woke up at five in the morning my aunt already had the coffee brewing, and the bacon and eggs were sizzling in the frying pan. After devouring a quick breakfast, we grabbed our tackle and followed Dicky down to his boat. We launched from his pier and found ourselves chugging through a thick paste-like fog. The eerie silence of the lake was only broken only by the distant cacophony of a loon-like bird which added a Creature Feature-like ambience. My uncle zigzagged between an obstacle course of Cypress trees until he found an opening and stopped. “I killed them over here the other day,” he said. “Put a jig on your line with a float tied about two feet above it. Throw your jigs toward the shoreline and then gently pop the float until you get a hit ─ they should be stacked down there.
My first cast provided a frying-pan sized crappie. “That’s what I’m talkin’ about,” Dicky said. The three of us had found the honey-hole and we began to harvest the crop. As we continued fishing, the sun began to rise in the horizon to the east and the fog began to lift. I could now begin to make out the submerged Cypress trees that surrounded us. The Spanish moss draping from their upper limbs flowed in the wind in a ghostly-like manner. Falling into a Caddo-induced daze, I was startled by a resounding crash at the side of the boat. “What the hell was that?” I asked Dicky as my brother and I both stared at him with eyes wide open.
He pulled up the stringer of crappie, which was now cut in half. “That was a hungry gator, boys,” he said, “we best start throwin’ them in the cooler.”
“You told me about Bigfoot; you didn’t say anything about gators,” Tom said.
“Sorry; took it for granted that you knew.”
“One of those suckers could have bit my hand off when I washing it in the water.”
“Best be careful,” Dickey said.
“Thanks,” he said in disbelief. “I have to go the bathroom.”
“Well who is stopping you?” I asked.
“I mean a dump; and I ‘m definitely not sticking my ass over the side of the boat.”
“I’ll pull over to the shore and you can go in the woods,” Dicky said. “Here is some toilet paper.”
Dicky pulled the boat up along the shore and Tom disappeared into the bushes. “Hey, keep an eye out for Bigfoot,” I shouted.
“Why don’t you shut the hell up,” the shaking bush replied.
“AAAAEEEYYYY,” echoed throughout the ghostly forest as Tom shot out of the brush stumbling with his pants wrapped around his ankles.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Quick, let’s get out of here: I saw him.”
“You saw who?”
There ain’t no Bigfoot, lug nuts ─ we were pulling your leg.”
“Bull shit; I took a dump and went to pick up the toilet paper that I hung on a tree, and there were two huge charcoal black eyes staring at me from the middle of the brush.”
My uncle and I broke up laughing. “We had enough fishing for today son; we dun scared you silly. It was probably a big ole raccoon or opossum you were looking at. Let’s go back and drink some beer.
On the way back to house, we laughed so hard I thought I was going to have a brain aneurysm. Drinking some beers on the porch we rehashed the story over and over until I couldn’t stand it anymore. “This is too much,” I said, “I’m going to get some sleep before the guys with the white jackets come and put a strait jacket on me.”
The next morning I got up early and ran down to the convenience store to grab a paper. Filling a cup of coffee, I unfolded the newspaper to glance at the headline: Woman reports seeing large hairy creature off Highway 71.
From G.O. Fishin': Tall Tales from the Tackle Box (amazon.com/books/garyocallaghan)