Terry Dartez runs the crawfish ponds seated behind my Great Grandpas old house in Kaplan, Louisiana. Last week, I met her for the first time while visiting Kaplan with my Grandpa. Driving down the dirt road that led to the ponds, we arrived just as she landed on shore with a teeming bucket of crawfish. Wiping her brow and smiling, Terry reached out to shake my hand, then turned to my Grandpa to give him a big hug. When I think of salt-of-the-earth-type folks, people like Terry come to mind.
Three days later, I arrived pond-side and waited for her boat. It was 9 am and the
sun’s reflection shone brightly off the water’s surface. Pockets of grass bowed in the wind and flocks of white birds scattered the sky. While waiting, I picked ripe blackberries and remembered coming here as a little-person. I recognized the smells around me. I remembered my Great Grandpa’s smart blue dog that rounded up the cows. The moss-filled tree that served as an umbrella for the front yard. Old leather chairs with cracks in the arms. It felt somewhat surreal to be here, nearly 20 years later. I listened as the sound of the motor got closer and louder.
Terry learned how to run crawfish ponds after agreeing to help her father when she got laid off in the oilfields. She comes from a family of 7 siblings. They all live within 6 1/2 miles of each other. Terry’s immediate family has grown to nearly 70 people and she describes her family gatherings as being full of food and fun. Her husband still works for the oil industry nearby Houston. He is gone for months at a time so the effort she spends tending to the crawfish ponds helps out at home. They have two children together, Tiffany ‘Tutti’ (32) and Tristan ‘Bubba’ (21). Right now crawfish is selling at about $1 a pound and a sack is anywhere from 32-40 pounds….depending on the size of the crawfish. Various factors decide how many bags she pulls each day. “It’s really hard work”, she says “but I enjoy it”. “My dad says one good season can make up for all the hard work, so I am patiently waiting for that season to come.” “Also, I do it because I love being outdoors”.
Terry is a hard worker. She cut up the fresh fish bait swiftly, using a homemade machine that makes the task go much faster. “It’s best if you cut them when they’re frozen”, she explained, “once they thaw, it’s a much messier job…if you can only imagine”, she said laughing. Once the slicing was completed, Terry hauled the three buckets of bait onto her small boat. After loading, she started the engine and we were off.
Scanning the pond in rows, we slowly passed the nets. Lifting each one, she dumped the crawfish into the boat, tossed in a piece of bait, and set the net back into the water. All the while, the boat never stopped moving. At one point we saw a snake poking its head out of the net wire. Finding snakes is quite common. Terry said she usually pulls out 1-2 on any given day. There are water moccasins in the ponds, but mostly just water snakes, which may bite but are harmless. Some of the cages she pulled had crawfish with missing tails. Raccoons, minks, and small alligators are some of the predators that find their way into the cages and eat their fill.
I had a great morning out on the boat with Terry. Here are some shots of the day: