Austyn Yoches, 23, might be young, but he can hunt and fish circles around some of the older fishermen in the bayou. Don't believe it? Just ask him. Austyn's not afraid to tell it like it is, and that puts him at odds not only with his cousin and fishing partner Blake but also with some of the proud old-timers he runs in to when cruising the spillway. He gets that attitude from a lifetime living in the swamp. He was coon hunting before he could walk, wearing diapers on his pawpaw's back. But even though he's grown into an expert crawfisherman, snake catcher, trapper and gator hunter, he isn't above learning a lesson every once in a while. As he'd probably tell you, there's maybe a couple of things he ain't expert at -- yet.
Blake McDonald isn't from Bayou Pigeon, but he definitely has swamp water coursing through his veins. Blake, a man of few words but plenty of muscle, has been spending time in the bayou since he was a boy, and now that he's the ripe old age of 28, there ain't nothing the swamp can serve up that Blake can't harness, trap, hunt or eat. He learned his trades by watching his elders, whether that was his own pawpaw or the other longtime "swampers" in the area. Now he's making a living by crawfishing and gator hunting with his cousin Austyn. The goal? To be a full-time, year-round fisherman in Pigeon. It's where the bayou is pure -- and being a pure bayou man, this is where he belongs.
Brian Gomez may be short in stature, but this boy's big on personality. When he was born in Baton Rouge, doctors gave him a 1 in 10 chance to live. He beat the odds on that birthday, and he's been doing so ever since. He doesn't live in Bayou Pigeon, but the residents know him well, bestowing him with the affectionate and obvious nickname "Shorty." And though he's topped out at 4 feet tall, he's made his way through life schemin ' and strivin' and taking on whatever good fortune came his way. Now, at one point that put him at odds with the law, but since then, he's been doing his best to stay on the straight and narrow. And as he drifts from project to project and hustle to hustle, he's found his niche in Bayou Pigeon -- as the man with the gift of gab who'll never turn down an opportunity to make a dollar.
You could say that fisherman Clayton Daley has the bayou in his blood. He works the swamp any way he can to make a living. When he isn't earning a paycheck as Rick's jack-of-all-trades at Phillips Seafood, he's dropping lines and nets in the lakes and spillways near Bayou Pigeon, much like he's been doing for 40 years.And he does it the way a true-blue Cajun always has -- stringing nets across the waterway and using his boat to stampede the fish right into the nets. For the past 15 years, he's been fishing, hunting, snake and frog trapping and living off the land with his second wife Jonie, a dyed-in-the-wool country woman who's more comfortable in hip boots than high heels and the perfect match and foil for this rough-around-the-edges fisherman. Together, they make a formidable team. Last year, he and Jonie hauled in 140,000 pounds of buffalo fish all by themselves. It's enough to give them a nice lifestyle both at home and on the houseboat they plan to retire to -- when they decide to hang up their fishing nets for good. But for the record, that'll never happen!
There's Mutt and Jeff. Abbott and Costello. And then there's Shorty and his dad, Coy Gomez. This mismatched duo live a couple of miles down the road from Bayou Pigeon. But being fishermen who live off the swamp, much of their time is spent at Rick's place, looking for work and seafood they can turn around and sell "in the hood." They would make perfect business partners, except for the fact that Coy and Shorty couldn't be more different: Coy is bayou-bred, a tall backwoods gentleman who's quiet, reserved and thoughtful and stands in total contrast to the brash and scattershot Shorty. And while they disagree on just about everything -- from living arrangements and what constitutes good business to merely what to have for dinner -- there's never a doubt that Coy loves his son and wants the best for him -- if only Shorty would listen to reason every once in a while.
Some people might find it impossible to be married to a hardcore Cajun man like Clayton, but then they've never met a woman like Joney Daley. By day, she works at the Plaquemine city credit union 30 miles away. But at night, there's nothing she wants to do more than get out in the swamp. She's been fishing and frogging her entire life -- being Daddy's Little Girl meant Joney spent her quality time going hunting and fishing in the bayous of Louisiana. When she married Clayton, their families didn't think it would last. They gave them six years together, tops. But for the past 15, they've been living the dream life for two people who like nothing more than being ankle deep in frogs and fish guts. And no doubt, they'll live happily ever after.
Every town needs a mayor, and Rick Phillips is the closest thing Bayou Pigeon is gonna get. Rick grew up in Baton Rouge, La., but the allure of the Atchafalaya Basin and a simple Cajun life beckoned, and he settled in Bayou Pigeon permanently. Rick owns and operates the Phillips Seafood Company, and it's grown from selling crawfish in the front yard to a booming business that's the lifeblood of this fishing community. Rick's a tough customer (he'll never get the short end of a barter or business deal, ever), but he's also one of the most laid-back characters you'll ever meet. He'll bend over backward to help a friend or a stranger. And he does it with a casual country charm and sense of humor that's made Phillips Seafood Co. not only the center of commerce in Bayou Pigeon but the town's social center as well. Rick doesn't get out in the basin as much as he used to, but he knows his business, and there's no doubt he's a fisherman through and through.