Bayou Fabio: "Don of Dularge" speaks to FOX 8

Updated: May. 16, 2013 at 10:20 PM CDT
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Rickey Verrett
Rickey Verrett

Dulac, La. - In the murky waters near Dulac, something lurks beneath the surface.

Bayou Fabio takes us on the hunt.

Rickey Verrett's day begins much earlier on the banks of Bayou Dularge.

He doesn't carry much on his small boat. Verrett needs all the room he can get for what he hopes to bring back.

"If I throw out 40 jugs, I usually get 100 pounds dressed," says Verrett. "I get like 20 something fish with 40 lines. Get at least half."

Not just any fish.

Verrett is one of the few commercial fishermen in the world hunting alligator gar.

"It's just what my daddy does so I figured I'd do it too," he says. "On my own about 15 years gar fishing. I used to work on a shrimp boat and stuff."

Verrett heads out on the water almost every morning to check the lines he put out the night before.

"Normally the tide's high, it's deep in here," he says. "The tide low."

The tide, temperature and wind all affect the fish he hopes to find.

"Nothing at all, look the bait's still fresh," says Verrett.

It's cool on this day and line after line comes up empty.

"Boy, I ain't got nothing too much in here," he says.

Verrett uses brightly colored plastic bottles for lures, with a sharp hook attached to the end of a cable.

He first collects the ones that haven't moved.

"See all the jugs you gonna pick up first, a lot of times they won't have nothing," says Verrett. "The ones you gotta go looking for, those the ones you got a fish on. That one might have something because it looks like it's moving."

And then the search begins.

Verrett spots a jug close to shore.

"It don't look good when they're too close to the bank," he says. "A lot of time they're red fish. They ain't no good. It might be a gar fish, I see him come up for air."

Verrett moves closer, piloting the boat with one hand and pulling up the line with the other.

It's an alligator gar

Verrett's unique job and long hair earned him a nickname on a local blog.

He's known as Bayou Fabio to people around Dularge.

"I don't know, just a name everybody pick at me," he says, blushing.

But this Fabio gets a lot messier than the model on so many romance novel covers and his job is a lot more dangerous.

When asked if he's ever been bitten before, Verrett says, "Oh yeah, too many times. I'm lucky I got all my fingers."

After a morning of wrestling these heavy fish into the boat, Verrett brings the catch back to the dock.

It's time to clean.

"It's easy really because it don't take long," he says. "You go in, you finish cleaning them and that's it. Your day's over. It's not an all day thing. It don't take long to clean the fish. Everybody thinks it's hard but it's not really hard once you get used to it."

A good day can yield up to 300 pounds of meat.

"Right now I get like $1.75," he says. "It went down a lot since after Lent."

"They pretty good once you know how to cook them and stuff. But the old peoples all gone so it's kind of hard for the young people to learn something," says Verrett. "Too many McDonald's and Burger King."

Verrett carefully peels off the thick, armor-like scales.

These are valuable too.

"I love the sounds of them and it's gotten to the point that I can tell if there's large ones in here just by the sound," says Verrett's aunt, Janey Luster.

Luster and her family make crafts from the scales, something they've been doing for generations.

She's a member of the United Houma Nation.

"What you see here is basically a dying art, the Spanish Moss, the basket making," she says.

Verrett doesn't charge his family for the scales, which they dye and turn into art.

"The only thing he asks, sometimes he wants a cross for a girlfriend or something," says Luster.

She's been selling the crafts for years at places like Jazz Fest.

The colorful scales caught the eye of Dr. Allyse Ferrara.

"To me they're just the coolest thing in the water," says Ferrara. "They're toothy, they're slimy, they're big."

Ferrara is an Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at Nicholls State University.

Her students research alligator gar.

"Most people think they're pretty disgusting but they're really amazing fish," she says. "They can breathe air unlike most of our fishes. They can tolerate conditions that would kill most other fish."

Ferrara says salt-water intrusion from coastal land loss could threaten the population.

Louisiana doesn't have any recreational limits on alligator gar, but researchers here are trying to figure out if that's sustainable.

Ferrara often goes out with Verrett to study the fish.

"We could waste a lot of time trying to catch the fish or we could go with our friend Rickey," she says. "So he's really been a huge asset to our lab. We've actually made him an honorary member."

On our hunt, we haul in 39 of the 41 jugs Verrett put out. Something snagged the other two.

"I catch sting rays, sharks, red fish, drums, snake," says Verrett. "I caught a snake. That was crazy. A water moccasin, a big one."

Bayou Fabio will be back on the hunt the following day.

There are more gar in the waters of Terrebonne Parish.