On Katrina’s exact sixteen-year anniversary, Hurricane Ida slammed into the Louisiana coast August 29, 2021, with devastating force. Grand Isle, a barrier island west of the Mississippi River, was only fifteen miles from the actual landfall. It still caused catastrophic destruction for the 1,400-plus residents along with owners of weekend retreats on the popular coastal getaway. But brothers Fred and Moose Vial planned for this scenario when they built their custom “fish camp.”
The property is a modern vacation home erected on stilts above a canal. It was designed for winds up to 150 miles per hour. The slip for a Calcutta 360 sport-fishing catamaran is equipped with a 44,000-pound lift and waterproof decking. It hoists the craft eighteen feet up into the pitched roof’s rafters. The decking fits snug with the floor of the home, sealing it off to thwart damaging winds and storm surge. A smaller companion lift holds a bay boat securely alongside.
“We were lucky,” Fred Vial said last week after the house was inspected. “Our camp was built to code and that’s why we did so well. Some down the road imploded. The boats did fine. We had one metal roof panel come off, a couple siding boards missing, torn screens on the porch and a pile of sand underneath. But a lot of others were not so fortunate. The codes do work.”
Authorities who remained on the island during the storm in a reinforced bunker reported winds of 148 miles per hour before the gauge blew away. The canals and waterways are filled with debris.
“Before we venture out fishing again in the Calcutta, we’ll have to launch the bay boat and putt-putt around, checking for navigational hazards to mark ‘em on the GPS,” Vial adds. “It was bad. It was the worst hurricane in my lifetime and I’m fifty five.”
Further west, Capt. Ron Ratliff, a fly fishing guide and native of Chauvin, wasn’t so lucky. He and his wife evacuated thirty five miles inland to Houma to ride out Ida’s fury. Winds were still clocked at 150 miles per hour there.
“Our landlord is evicting us to do repairs,” Ratliff explains. “The last time I saw my skiff it was teetering halfway on top of a jon boat. This storm did not discriminate. The old lodge in Chauvin is gone, along with the gas station that had been there for one hundred years. It was ruthless and the baddest damn storm I’ve ever been through.”
Ratliff, whose family roots go back generations in coastal Louisiana, is hoping to move into a camper in Venice or Buras until he can return home. Due to Ida’s wrath, Ratliff is unsure how soon he’ll be able to put clients on tailing redfish and black drum again.
“I haven’t been on the water yet to look at the fishery,” he says. “But I’m one hundred percent native to Terrebonne Parish. I can’t live anywhere else.”