Kingfish of St. Charles & the fishing guide boom
There are numerous professional fishing guides serving the Gulf Coast who come from St. Charles Parish and most of them have at one time or another worked with Lambert.
Lambert said he worked at Monsanto and owned The Tackle Box in Boutte in the late 1970s and early 80s when the need for local charter captains arose.
"People kept coming in and asking if we had any fishing guides. I had fished the bass circuit for years and I said well, I just started taking them fishing like that," Lambert said. "There wasn’t a license system there weren’t any guides so I just started taking them fishing and then the Times-Picayune did an article on me in 1988."
Lambert said after the Picayune article his business grew as more and more people started coming to him for guided trips.
"It was the first time someone did an article on me and then after that it just blossomed," Lambert said. "I started incorporating my friends and the guys who I fished with and next thing I know I had a whole school of guys."
Eventually Lambert was able to quit Monsanto after 21 years and sell the Tackle Box and strike out on his own as a fishing guide full-time.
Like Lambert many of the guides who are from St. Charles parish have a history working in or around the parish’s chemical industry.
Guide Craig Matherne said he thinks there is a close relationship between the chemical plants and idea of working a lifetime in them and the number of fishing guides who got their start in St. Charles Parish.
"I think you’ve had a lot of kids who have grown up with their parents working in a chemical plant–taking the kids fishing as much as they can and I think a lot of them told them ‘don’t work in a chemical plant,’" Matherne said. "And so a lot of them said ‘hey, I’ll start fishing’ and a lot of them are good at it. So I think you’ve got a lot of them that are either ex-chemical workers or never wanted to go into it. It’s kind of a strange thing."
Lloyd Landry said he also worked at Monsanto before he began working for Lambert and quit to become a full-time guide.
"Just like all the rest of us in St. Charles parish I grew up across the street from Ryan Lambert," Landry said. "I was working at Monsanto and started working part-time for Ryan and I got to the point where I was guiding as much as I was working for Monsanto and I made the decision I was going to leave the plant and guide full-time. That was about 11 years ago."
Landry said the stability the plant gave his family was good, but a life of professional fishing and guiding is much more rewarding.
"The only time I missed Monsanto is right after Katrina. I thought ‘oh, did I really screw up.’ We lost everything down here," Landry said. "We were building our business. After that I didn’t miss it."
When Lambert started his lodge, Cajun Fishing Adventures, in 2000 he only had room for up to eight guests. He said within a few years the lodge grew to host 35 people and he was able to hire and train local guides.
"I have one of the top five lodges in North America. Sportsmen Magazine named Cajun Fishing Adventures one of the top five lodges in all of North America and it’s an honor," Lambert said. "I’ve never advertised. I do a whole lot of TV shows. I’ve been on the Outdoor Channel, I’ve done TNN, ESPN and almost every fishing show they’ve got I’ve done at one time or another."
After Hurricane Katrina struck the area Lambert said his lodge had only six days of vacancy over a six month period and that he was employing up to 16 guides at a time, many who came from St. Charles Parish.
Since then he and other guides have had to deal with the aftermath of the BP oil spill and the ensuing perception that Southeastern Louisiana is no longer a good place to place to fish.
Landry said even though it has been almost two years since the spill occurred he still talks about it every day.
"I’m tired of answering questions about the oil spill," Landry said. "Everyone who calls to book a trip asks religiously ‘where’s the oil.’ That’s a major topic everyday all day while we’re fishing. I am ready to just settle up and get all this behind us."
Similarly Lambert said the oil spill dealt his business a blow from which he is still trying to recover.
"After Hurricane Katrina I was up 240% I was completely booked I had six open days for the first six months out of the year. But the oil spill came along and devastated us," Lambert said. "There is a perception out there that we are still covered in oil and the fish are ruined. It is going to take a long time to get that perception out there that people will come and want to fish again. I’m still down probably 60 to 65 percent since the oil spill."
Everyone agrees that the business is coming back though and fishing grounds are again showing the type of life they did before the spill and that it won’t be long before memories of the spill fade.
For Lambert’s part, despite the up and downs, he said he does not regret a thing.
"It’s been a great ride. I’ve met people from all over the world. It’s a giant fraternity of sportsmen. It’s a great way to make a living. It’s a freedom that you can’t explain to anyone," Lambert said. "When you do what I do for a living you are a totally free person. You are out in nature every day. You don’t have anyone’s terms except your own. It’s just a wonderful way of life."
St. Charles Parish has a wealth of fishing talent from new kids on the block to guides like Lambert who have been around since the very beginning of the industry.
For a relatively small community St. Charles is overrepresented by charter fishing captains who have called and some who still do call the parish home.
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