Swept Away by Grand Isle
By Suzanne Ferrara
When you’ve got some of the best fishing, softest beaches, and hypnotizing surf right off the coast of Louisiana, who needs anywhere else?
Adding to its allure, Grand Isle oozes a presence unlike any place on earth, and is chock full of mystery, history and beauty. While this seven-mile barrier island may have been pummeled by hurricane after hurricane for more than a century, the squalls have never broken its spirit. Once you set foot on this island, you’ll feel as if you’ve discovered a world onto itself.
Fishing reigns on Grand Isle, and has ever since the Native Americans and perhaps the legendary Jean Lafitte used these waters. That’s not surprising since both inland and offshore waters hold a bounty of fish, shrimp and crabs. (Fun Fact: There are 280 species of fish and four seasons of fishing in and off of Grand Isle). Grand Isle has numerous fishing rodeos– for all ages— in the summer and fall, and the iconic Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo, which began back in 1928, takes place the last weekend of July. (Fun Fact: the Tarpon is the oldest tournament in the United States and is one of the largest fishing rodeos in south Louisiana).
Grand isle has certainly changed, as more people have discovered the unmatched treasure and millions of dollars have been spent to restore the coastline and marshes in and around the island. Where there was once a plethora of small fishing camps with no air conditioning, there are now gated communities with million dollar ‘camps’; ut perhaps the biggest jewel here is the authenticity of the real generational locals who have thrived off these waters and on the island for decades.
Although it’s only seven miles, a one-day visit is too short to completely experience the island. Don’t fish? That’s o.k. You can certainly experience Grand Isle without hooking a line, as the islanders make it easy and enjoyable for non-anglers as well.
If you don’t own a boat, no problem; just cast off the fishing pier at beginning of the island, surf fish off the beach or just drop a line from the side of the road. You can also come with only your sunscreen and an ice chest, and let one of several great fishing charters provide all the rods, reels, lures and live bait you need. Oh, and did I mention, your catch will be cleaned, filleted, and bagged for you to take home? It’s true; your catch will be quickly ready for either the grill or the freezer!
It’s hard to choose from the plethora of charters offered here because there are so many great boat captains who are not only passionate, but have also have the skill to know where to cast a line. One option is Spots and Specks Charters which offers inshore and coastal fishing courtesy Captain Eddie Berthelot, who grew up in nearby Golden Meadow. H & M Fishing Charters, with husband and wife Captains Jules and Pat Bellanger, offer excellent inland and coastal fishing as well.
If you want a fun offshore excursion, board the Nauti or Knot Charters where Captains Dennis and Amanda will ensure a trip to remember.
Need more fun and adventure? The ever-growing kayak charters are also available, and Ann Smith of Calmwater Charters will bring anglers to Grand Isle’s scenic marsh to find schools of fish. Plus, when speckled trout move off the beaches, Smith, who is also a wade fishing guide and instructor, can take you wade fishing as well.
Did you Know? Grand Isle is a bird lover’s paradise with thousands of migratory birds returning to this island each year. The island offers a perfect habitat for a variety of species who make their temporary homes in the marshes on the back of the island, the beach and the island’s Oak Hackberry Forest. There are at least 100 varieties of birds you may spot at any given time, ranging from the Brown Pelican to the blue heron to the warbler and, once in a while, the pink roseate spoonbill. (Fun Fact: Sometimes a strong thunderstorm will cause thousands of weary migratory birds, in the process of making their 500-mile journey across the Gulf of Mexico, to fall to safety into the branches of Grand Isle’s trees. This “fall-out” is truly a sight to behold)!
Once you’ve had a day of fishing and birding, you’ll be ready to relax and have a great dinner. One of the newer eateries on the island is the Hurricane Hole, a fine dining Italian-inspired restaurant, located in the heart of The Hurricane Hole Marina. Perhaps one of the best kept secrets at this marina, is the Old Blue Chair Bar, which is located behind the restaurant in the heart of the marina; it’s here where you watch one of the best sunset on Grand Isle.
Speaking of watching sunsets, another great place is the Sand Dollar Marina which has a tiki bar and features popular libations like The Marina Rita, Bloody Mary or White Russian. (Tip: ask for Brittany Allemande who will not only create some of the aforementioned cocktails, but is also the manager. She is a wealth of information on all things Grand Isle, and has been coming here since she was a baby to visit her grandmother). The Sand Dollar is the perfect place to sit back, eat (great burgers and shrimp po-boys at the deli) and watch the boats coming in with their catches, and you may even spot a few dolphins.
Want more options? Starfish Seafood is a quaint and cozy restaurant with great seafood platters and overstuffed shrimp po’boys; or head to Yum’s Restaurant for delicious oyster po’boys and mouthwatering specials. (Tip: Be sure to meet Leoda Bladsacker, who not only runs Yum’s, but will also give visitors a tour of the island if they ask her). Oh, and if you are looking for terrific fried or grilled shrimp, stop by Jo-Bobs Gas and Grill.
While we’re talking about seafood, Grand Isle is known for selling fresh seafood for you to take home to boil. A popular spot to pick up live shrimp, crabs and crawfish is Camardelle’s Seafood which sells boiled, ready-to-eat items as well.
Looking for entertainment? While many of the bars have some sort of live music on the weekends, a hot spot for nightlife is Artie’s (Big Daddy’s) Sports Bar which features live bands throughout the summer. This place touts itself as having the largest “topless” deck in the state which, by the way, overlooks the Gulf. (Tip: Be sure to order Artie’s Fried Chicken).
Where you choose to stay on Grand Isle depends on your preferences. There are beachfront and bayside camps (with or without boat docks), plus beach houses, condos, fishing cabins and a campground to pitch a tent.
If you are looking to take in the hypnotic surf and gorgeous views of the Gulf, make Shawnuff South your headquarters. This large and updated beach house has a bathroom in every bedroom, and it’s located on the third-to-last section of the island which has a much wider beach from which you can view the water. There’s also the historic Presidential Palace, which sits midway on the island with a great beach, and across the street is Castaways bar where you can grab a cocktail and then head out for a stroll on the beach. (Tip: Call Britani at Remax Coastal Reality who will be sure to place you in the perfect accommodations suitable for you. Britani knows the island very well and has visited Grand Isle for years).
If you are looking for paradise on the bay side, then make the Tipsy Tuna your temporary waterfront home. This property has a long pier which is lit up a night and is perfect for fishing. The porch and deck is great for watching the sunset, too.
If you want something more extravagant (one that is basically a marina unto itself), rent Spectacular, which is located at the end of the street, and is secluded and surrounded by water. Spectacular has a private boat launch and a safe harbor to protect your boat when water gets rough. There’s also a large entertainment area underneath the camp with swings, a picnic table, barbeque pit, a set-up for boiling seafood, a little cabana and a fish cleaning station. Its large wrap-around porch offers great water views for all of your guests (Spectacular accommodates up to 28 people)!