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Hook & Barrel
A Lifestyle Magazine for Modern Outdoorsmen

cajun vista lodge with captain theophile jean antoine bourgeois iv

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Meet The Man Who Triumphed Through Tragedy, Theophile Jean Antoine Bourgeois IV

I walked out of Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans into a beautiful day. The sun shone between puffy clouds, and a light breeze stirred the temperature and humidity into a comfortable medium. My Uber driver was a lifelong Louisiana resident named Tanesha. I asked her what she liked most about living in Louisiana. “The food,” she said. “We put a little extra love in it here.” 

bourgeois fishing charters
The base of operations for Bourgeois Fishing Charters, the historic Barataria schoolhouse turned Cajun Vista Lodge, was elevated and renovated after damage from Hurricanes Zeta and Ida.

We chatted about Cajun cuisine and her favorite places to eat. She told me about her grandkids, and how when she isn’t driving for Uber she mostly stays home and watches crime shows. I asked her if she had seen American Nightmare, and she said it sounded familiar. She told me the Super Bowl will be in New Orleans in 2025. I asked her if she liked football. She paused as her phone loudly pronounced that she should “in a quarter mile turn left onto Fisherman’s Boulevard.” I don’t remember if she answered my football question. My destination was looming ahead, and I was distracted by the sight.

Local Barataria History

On the bank of Bayou Barataria, Cajun Vista Lodge is a 10,000-square-foot historical schoolhouse converted into a 10-bedroom fishing lodge and retreat center 40 minutes south of New Orleans. The freshly painted two-story building is large and made even more imposing by the recently completed elevation project that raised the whole structure above the flood line. Tall enough to comfortably walk under, it sat bright and towering on the bayou like a Hogwarts outbuilding, but white and with more mosquitos.

The property sits in Barataria, an isolated island community just outside of Lafitte, Louisiana. A steel two-lane bridge that crosses Bayou Barataria is the only access. A local told me it was built to be temporary after a hurricane damaged the previous crossing. I thought, given enough time, everything is temporary, especially infrastructure in places like southern Louisiana, but I said nothing and nodded.

barataria fishing lodge

At some point, I asked the locals about Lafitte. Jean Lafitte was a French pirate and privateer in the early 19th century, operating a warehouse to distribute smuggled goods in New Orleans. After the Embargo Act of 1807, Lafitte moved his operation to an island in Barataria Bay. That island and habitable areas to the north became known as Lafitte. They told me Jean Lafitte and his fleet helped General Andrew Jackson defend New Orleans against the British in the Battle of 1812. It seems he was also a spy for the Spanish during the Mexican War of Independence. Nobody mentioned that. There is a persistent rumor that he rescued Napoleon Bonaparte from exile, and the two of them ended their days in Louisiana. No evidence supports this, but everybody loves a good pirate story.

Upon first entering the lodge and setting down my bags I was handed a dish of crawfish étouffée and told that I was upstairs in room 10. The owner of the lodge was busy. In fact, I was the only person in the dining room at that moment, which I found comforting. It was early afternoon, and I was ravished with traveling hunger. However, the fat-shaming of one’s youth never fades completely, so I was appreciative that no one was around to see me hastily, and with extreme prejudice, lay waste to that plate of Cajun goodness. I ate my second plate outside on the porch, amongst my companions, with much more grace and dignity. And it was in that space I met Captain Bourgeois—a man who has no quit in him, no matter what the world throws his family’s way.

captain theophile bourgeois
Float planes make a quick trip over the bayou on the way to fish the Chandeleur Islands. The 45-minute flight gives anglers a great view of the watery maze that is the Louisiana marshes. Large schools of redfish can often be spotted by plane, hopefully within casting distance of the 50-mile-long sandy island chain.

The Captain & His Roots

A fifth-generation Louisianan and the fourth of his name, Captain Theophile Jean Antoine Bourgeois IV is a man of many hats and talents. He’s a singer, songwriter, visual artist, tattoo artist, fishing guide, woodworker, groundskeeper, maid and probably cook if the need arises. Such is the life of a small business owner.

I asked his wife, while out of earshot of any of the other guests, “How do you pronounce your husband’s name?” She gave me a smile, which informed me that I was not the first. “Toe feel,” she said, pointing at her foot. “Like, ‘How’s your toe feel?’” I nodded and made a mental note. Most of the staff and lodge regulars called him TJ. 

Theophile Bourgeois IV was introduced to fishing the Louisiana bayou and the Barataria estuaries by his father, Theophile III, who learned the ways from his father, Theophile Jr., on his houseboat Theophile’s Dream. Theophile Jr. is credited with being the catalyst that started the business so many years later. Theophile Jr. passed away from cancer at the age of 58. Theophile III, who was working for a chemical plant at the time, decided to take a chance at a dream and start a fishing charter business based out of a hunting camp property he owned. The small generator-powered lodging at the island camp became known as the Cajun Chalet. Bourgeois Fishing Charters expanded, and in 2001 Theophile III bought the current location, on which sat the old Barataria Elementary School, now the Cajun Vista Lodge.

cajun fishing charters sea plane

Captain Theophile III got his pilot’s license in 2007, and part of his fishing charter services became flying anglers to fish the Chandeleur Islands on small seaplanes. During this time, Theophile IV was playing in a band and building his own 20-year career as a tattoo artist, while also fishing and guiding for his father on the weekends.

In August 2019, Theophile III died in a plane crash. Theophile IV made the decision to sell his shop and take over the family business. Captain Theophile Bourgeois III was a legend, and his son felt the weight of the responsibility to fill those shoes, not just from himself, but also from the community.

Over the following months into the year 2020, he updated the business branding, website, and marketing materials and was ready to move forward. Then Covid shut the whole state down. Fast forward to the fall of 2020, Hurricane Zeta tore the balcony from the lodge. A year later Hurricane Ida ripped apart the region, pushing 6 feet of water and knee-deep mud through the whole area. The only bridge for island access was torn apart, wrecked by a loose ship.

cajun vista lodge

With much help, Theophile IV rebuilt. Cajun Vista Lodge was refinished and elevated, the plane hangars fixed, the mud scraped off and the grounds landscaped. It was not just the physical location that was built anew, but also the understanding within Theophile IV of his purpose and role. No longer was he just an ex-tattoo-shop owner pushed under the responsibility of running his family’s business. By his own hands, the place was rebuilt, remade, and updated, as was Theophile’s relationship and understanding of his place within the family story—pride in carrying on the family legacy now earned by overcoming hardship. Cajun Vista Lodge and Bourgeois Fishing Charters had truly passed to the fourth of the name.  

Fishing At Cajun Vista Lodge

Until this trip, I had no experience with the month of March in Louisiana. It seems transitional—not cold, not hot, but rather a time of meteorological indecision, which in my experience does well to manifest the “hit-and-miss” quality of finding fish on any given day.

Our first afternoon on the water found us running from spot to spot in Captain Bourgeois’ 24-foot Skeeter, tossing artificial baits and stinky shrimps behind popping corks and sometimes bounced off the bottom on heavy jig heads—methods universally known to promote the catching of fish, should they be around and willing. They were not, and we finished that day with an empty fish cooler and a slightly emptier beer cooler. 

fishing at cajun vista lodge

As far as introductions go, the Louisiana bayou had given us a warm, sunny smile, but a cold and indifferent handshake that seemed to say, “Welcome, and good luck, gentlemen.”

The next day was more of the same with different scenery. My fishing companion, Joe, managed to catch a small redfish within the first hour, ending the skunk session on the boat much to Captain Bourgeois’ delight. He sent a text message to his wife informing her that he no longer had to sell the boat and retire as a guide. 

I managed to break off a few times on hidden sub-surface obstacles, gaining me the nickname “Anchor.” That was fitting, as I am known around the world to friends and guides alike for my ability to hook and/or snag almost anything in the water, be it fresh, salt, or brackish. I am the only person I’ve heard of to foul-hook and land a 70-pound tarpon on a fly rod, which, if you understand the uniqueness of that feat, is quite something.

The day ended with Joe having put two acceptably sized redfish in the cooler, and all three guide boats totaled six fish for tomorrow’s dinner. I managed to hook a few more hidden treasures on or near the bottom, as well as entice a fun-sized alligator to follow my popping cork within photo range of the boat. Joe did, however, catch both of his fish from locations where I had recently cast. This happens. There is no “reason” for anything as far as whose bait a fish might bite. Maybe his retrieve was a little faster. Maybe he was a little closer to the shore with his cast. Maybe I was meant to suffer. Not that it matters: I was the Anchor, and Joe was crowned the “King Dingaling” that day. 

view from seaplane in lafitte, louisiana

Seaplane Action

The third and final fishing day was to be the jewel of the trip. Filled up with bacon, eggs, and toast, we boarded two small seaplanes and headed toward the Chandeleur Islands. From the ground, the bayou can feel chaotic and messy. From 450 feet of altitude, its majesty is revealed. Fresh and salt waters mingle around a puzzle of grassy-brown land masses, carved by nature, cut by man, floating ghosts of weather and industry. 

Pumped by tales of huge bull-red schools and stringers full of sea trout, we landed near the barrier islands and idled up to waist-deep waters on the sandy west side, protected from the ocean swells to the east. Redfish had been spotted from the air, but they were out of casting range. We spent a few hours blindly throwing casts toward the deep water. Someone hooked up briefly but was quickly spooled and broke off—probably a big jack. I foul-hooked a tire-sized stingray. I am Anchor.

fishing for redfish

If nothing else it was a beautiful place—a small strip of exposed sandbar, pushed out by the Mississippi over 2,000 years ago. At 50 miles long, the Chandeleur barrier islands are slowly being eroded and pushed back by wave action and hurricanes. I sat facing west on the wet sand, watching the seaplanes and the heads of my fellow fishermen bobbing in the blue-green expanse. The sun was warm, but the ocean breeze cooled my skin. Birds flitted and splashed in the small wave pools. It was peaceful, regardless of where the fish were, or what they thought.

Fine Louisiana-Style Dining

Evenings were spent on the porch with cocktails watching the light fade over Bayou Barataria. Family-style dinners of fried catfish, fresh redfish, rice, beans, stews, and veggies were all cooked with Cajun seasoning, and I lovingly saturated them with Louisiana hot sauce.

Captain Bourgeois sat with us and told stories about his dad and the bayou. He regaled us with stories about hauntings, werewolves, alligators, gar fishing, and the salvaging of centuries-old pecky Cypress that was milled in the wood shop to use in the rebuilding of Cajun Vista Lodge. They were, in fact, the light-colored, worm-hole-filled boards framing the large windows of the dining room around us. 

cajun fried catfish

We talked about fishing: the hows, the whys, and the “should have been here yesterdays.” They were conversations that would be familiar to any group of anglers across history, stories meant to soothe egos and explain the unexplainable. Captain Bourgeois and his guides are capable and professional. We as anglers were up to the task. It was just a slow fishing trip. It was March: What more can I say? 

Live Music On The Bayou

On our last night, Captain Bourgeois played guitar and sang with his band, Them Ol’ Ghosts. The trio sat on the stone base of a large fountain that gurgles in the rear courtyard of Cajun Vista Lodge. The acoustic guitars and snared-thumping of the Cajon drum drifted out over the water. Old ghosts, indeed. This place felt full of ghosts, full of history and culture, and struggle and triumph in the lowlands outside the protection of the levee on an island surrounded by centuries-old logging channels.

Overall, I had a great time and consider Captain Bourgeois a new friend. I will go back. The Anchor will return to Barataria. Nothing shall be spared the steely sting of my hook. Maybe even a redfish next time. 

theophile jean antoine bourgeois iv

More Hookups

For more information on Bourgeois Fishing Charters and the Cajun Vista Lodge, visit neworleansfishing.com. Keep Instagram tabs on Theophile Bourgeois IV @theophileiv and @cajunvistalodge

The Fish Of Barataria

• Red Drum: Mostly known as redfish, or just “reds,” they are the most popular sportfish in the area. Generally, you will find the smaller reds hanging around inland, while the larger, more mature reds (bull reds) spend most of their time offshore in deeper water. In the colder months, these larger reds will head shallower, making for a great time when they can be found. They are awesome-looking, fight hard, and when they are in the right mood, will smash topwater lures. If they jumped like tarpon, they would be the perfect sportfish. I guess you can’t have everything. They are also delicious if you were to throw one or two in your cooler for dinner.

fishing in barataria, louisiana
Captain shares an intimate moment with a speckled trout.

• Black Drum: Closely related to the red drum, the black drum generally gets a bad rap from sport fishermen. While they do get bigger, they are not as cool-looking, move slower, fight less vigorously, and generally seem to have less personality overall. I once heard a guide out of Port Sulphur refer to them as “swamp donkeys,” which seemed fitting. They are equal to redfish only in deliciousness. 

• Speckled Trout: Also known as spotted trout, sea trout, or specks, the speckled trout are a fun, but sometimes annoying, species. Good to eat and a great fight on lighter tackle, they have mighty teeth, so be sure to check your leaders after bringing a bigger one to the boat. In some areas, they get quite large and can be mistaken for sunken logs when the water is clear enough. (See Laguna Madre, Texas.) Quick ambush predators, they have been known to steal lures away from feeding redfish on occasion, which is why I referred to them as annoying.

• Sheepshead: Personally, I don’t have a lot of experience catching sheepshead, but we see them all over the place. I have heard they are good eating, with a soft, buttery taste. I will take people’s word for it. I don’t target them specifically, as they seem to be less apt to eat and more skittish than reds and trout, and don’t generally go for artificial flies. They are easy to notice due to the distinct silver/black stripes. If you have a new angler in the front of the boat, 90% of the fish they call out moving around out in the marsh will be sheepshead. Or mullet. Silly, mullet.

captain theophile bourgeois and wife laiken bourgeois
How about that Red Drum? Bourgeois and his wife, Laiken (above), were both suddenly thrown out of their careers—he an artist, her an intensive care nurse. Bourgeois credits much of his strength to the support and fortitude of his wife. 

• Catfish: I don’t have much to say about catfish. Caught one, caught ’em all. Throw them in the cooler for the fish fry, then go look for redfish.

Flounder: There are flounders here? That’s cool. Probably tasty.

• Jack Crevalle: Jacks are powerhouses, and pound-for-pound some of the hardest-fighting, fastest fish around. You’re more likely to find them out on the Chandeleur Islands. You might not see them, and will only speculate that you had one on the end of your line when it feels like you hooked a train and the bad knot on your old tippet breaks.

Sharks: Sharks are apparently a “thing” on the islands. Less so in the cooler winter months, but I heard more than one tale of wading fishermen having to stomp their feet at circling toothy critters to keep them away from their stringers of fish, which they drag around behind them like a tethered chum line. Sounds crazy. I will have to do that next summer.

Against The Wind for Redfish
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