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After the Blow

With the hurricane season over, Gulf Coast captains can hold onto only what they still have.

September 21, 2007
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Hurricane Katrina left this boat stranded in the woods near Waveland, Mississippi.
Photo: AP/Dave Einsel

Hurricane season has ended, but the one-two punch Katrina and Rita landed on fisheries along the Gulf Coast lingers. Early figures assess damages to the recreational fishing industry to be north of $200 million. But there is good news: Charter captains are back on the water and on the fish. Although a full recovery is years away, here are three stories of captains struggling to fish again.

Golden Meadow, Louisiana
Of Chad Dufrene’s two houses, the one in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, seemed like a safer place to ride out the storm than his home in Golden Meadow, Louisiana -his base for guiding anglers to reds and specks.

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A protective levee near Golden Meadow held, and the area suffered little damage. In Hattiesburg, Dufrene almost lost everything.

Seventy pine trees towered above Dufrene’s property. The storm knocked 25 of them down. Somehow they all missed his home. Dufrene spent six hours clearing a path through the fallen timber just so he could head back to Louisiana.

At Golden Meadow, Dufrene has already had some business. The fishing was tough at first, but he has welcomed the challenge.

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“I had to go fishing to get away from it all,” Dufrene said. “The night before that first day of fishing I was like a kid waiting for Christmas morning. I could hardly sleep.”

Biloxi, Mississippi
After Katrina, John DePineuil, an offshore guide and owner of Bo-Joh-La Charters, helped with the relief effort in Biloxi. He heard cries from rooftops and saw bodies float into the bay. He carried a chainsaw to cut through piles of scrap, hoping to find someone alive. He never did.

Compared to many in Biloxi, DePineuil says he got off easy. His home is still standing, his boat is safe -not stranded in the woods like some -and his family is alive.

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But his business took a heavy hit. Without hotels, his clients have nowhere to stay. He’s canceled all of his trips for the rest of the year, and he’s started to return deposit checks. Meanwhile, the bills keep coming.

“I hope somebody rings that bell and brings the business back. I really miss watching people catch fish.”

Ocean Springs, Mississippi
Rob Recio, a flyfishing guide and owner of Chandeleur Outfitters, and his wife evacuated to Apalachicola, Florida. There, they watched the news reports and guessed whether or not they still had a home to go back to. So Recio looked for their home on a website that gives aerial photographs from satellite. When he zoomed in on his house, he could see only the roof¿it looked fine.

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“It was like a bomb went off,” Recio said of his return to Mississippi. “Everything was dead.”

On one side of the street, every house was gone. Then Recio saw his home -the parts hidden beneath roof in the photo. Entire walls were missing from the first floor. Nothing was salvageable.

Recio and his wife now live in a studio behind his flyfishing shop. Many have called or e-mailed, offering help, but Recio says he isn’t one to take handouts.

“The support means a lot. But really the best way to help is to come down here and go fishing.”

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