CYPREMORt POINT — Jimmy Gravois counts himself as one of many Teche Area saltwater fishermen who supports conservation and appreciates projects like the one started this past week by Coastal Conservation Association of Louisiana at a once-productive speckled trout hotspot 19 miles out of Southwest Pass in the Gulf of Mexico.
That near-offshore fishin’ hole cooled off little by little as South Marsh Island 233, an oilfield structure, was dismantled so many years ago and eventually removed from its location, then went stone cold after it disappeared. It was gone but not forgotten, thanks to CCA-Louisiana.
South Marsh Island 233 will rise to prominence again, if in name only, after it became CCA-Louisiana’s first-ever project in the R.E.E.F. Louisiana Program. Crews on three barges started the process Tuesday morning and had an audience around midday Thursday soon after the project was dedicated as the Ted Beaullieu Sr. Artificial Reef during a ceremony under the pavilion along Quintana Canal.
Beaullieu, 92, of Lafayette, avid saltwater fisherman/conservationist and CCA-Louisiana Hall of Famer who created the CCA Louisiana Ted Beaullieu Sr. Scholarship, and his family, including a son from Colorado who traveled here for the event, were on hand Thursday with CCA-Louisiana officials, including CCA-Louisiana CEO David Cresson, state Rep. Blake Migues, R-Erath, and other elected officials for the dedication ceremony held before many attendees went out to see the work in progress. Recycled platform legs, catch basins and other construction materials are being used to make two artificial reefs covering approximately 2 acres each to create the best possible fish habitat.
“It’ll be a trout mecca before it’s over with. They’ll be swimming by and say, ‘When did this show up?’” Corry Landry of New Iberia, CCA-Louisiana’s southwest regional director, said after he and others arrived at the site in four boats, including an aluminum boat manufactured by Gravois.
“This is going to be the first of many projects for R.E.E.F. Louisiana. We have potential sites ready to go. It’s just a matter of getting the funding,” Landry said.
Plans call for the installation of the offshore artificial reefs at Vermilion 119 and Vermilion 124, Eugene Island 51 and Eugene Island 74, and other popular offshore destinations across the northern Gulf.
Before his brief acceptance talk, Beaullieu called up Gravois and introduced him to the crowd as the man who can build the right boat — Gravois hulls that he fished in and successors in the new Metal Shark line.
Wearing a Coastal Conservation Association USA turquoise T-shirt circa 1977, Gravois was doing more than appreciating the artificial reef project at SMI 233. The aluminum boat manufacturer took Shelby Hamilton, S.T.A.R. assistant director; Gary Krouse, producer and videographer for Keep On Casting featuring cable TV host and executive producer Dr. Lee “Bo” Grafton; Landry, and a local outdoor writer to the site in one of his company’s new boats.
Brenden Gravois, 38, Gravois’ son, drove the 32-foot Metal Shark demo boat for a law enforcement agency in Florida. The boat, powered by twin Evinrude 300-h.p. outboard motors, has been rigged for sport fishing from bow to stern.
Gravois and his wife, Donna, founded Gravois Aluminum Boats LLC in 1986. They were approached by American Marine Holdings in 2003 to produce aluminum boats for the government and Gravois Aluminum Boats partnered with AMH to form Metal Shark.
The Gravois, Sarah Geiger and Chris Allard formed a partnership to purchase Metal Shark, which has enjoyed many highlights, including chauffeuring the media and others to what once was one of the most popular oilfield structures for near-offshore speckled trout fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.
Gravois and others should reap the benefits, pulling in speckled trout after speckled trout, and be happy in those near-offshore waters again. He talked about one exciting trip with his dad and a friend several years ago when they all limited out at SMI 233 and had an interesting ride back to Cypremort Point as they passed a U.S. Customs boat idling along near Marsh Island. But that’s another story, albeit a humorous one.
“Yes, the guys who used to fish 233 in its heyday can get back there with this, the first reef of its kind,” Landry said.
Another New Iberian had a predominant role in the historical event. Lee LeBlanc carried the guest of honor and his family, plus other guests, to the project site in his 71-foot Viking.
The other boats ferrying guests to SMI 233 were Abbeville resident Daniel Gaspard’s Freeman 33 and Pecan Island resident Jeremy Broussard’s 36-foot Fountain.
Kirk Sieber, who lives on the in rural Iberia Parish near St. Martin Parish, said, “Yes, I’m excited about this offshore reef-building program. It’s the next chapter of building offshore reefs vs. inshore reefs. It’s further increasing the ecosystem. Yep. Yep. I’m very excited.”
Landry and Sieber, who both founded the highly successful Sugar Chapter, have been in on the project from the ground up, Landry said after the boats returned from SMI 233.
After the idea for such an artificial reef surfaced a year ago, there was serious discussion about it at a meeting six months later involving Landry, Sieber, Cresson, Stuart Billeaud from CCA-Louisiana’s Acadiana Chapter in Lafayette, J.D. Dugas of the Vermilion Chapter and Chad Courville, Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission member, among others.
“That’s where we got the wheels turning,” Landry said, noting Todd Schoeffler, president and senior project manager for the Lafayette-based Schoeffler Energy Group Inc., went over the map he had of previous oilfield structures and their locations.
“Local anglers pointed out the hotspots where they pulled out those platforms,” Landry said.
The wheels turned more and more and CCA-Louisiana officials got things done with Chevron, CCA’s Building Conservation Trust and the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The rest will be history when the last piece of material is deposited in the 18- to 20-foot depths.
How long will it be before speckled trout are pulled consistently from the artificial reef?
“I don’t know. It’s tough to say,” he said, but, he added, based on history, it could be a short time.
“Within a month, we had white trout at the last reef we did (in Acadiana), the David Authement Reef (in Vermilion Bay). We had white trout there a couple months after jumping in,” he said about the artificial reef in Vermiion Bay.
Landry, 42, who has been the southwest regional director for CCA-Louisiana the past three years, was proud of the event.
“I think we had a good turnout. It’s all about conserving the resources and today we accomplished that,” he said.