Heart of Louisiana: Catching freshwater shrimp in the Mississippi River
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - There is a different type of shrimp that’s caught in the Mississippi River below Baton Rouge. Trapping these freshwater shrimp is a family tradition that goes back generations.
Jay Folse and his brother Ross, put the finishing touches on a shrimp box, a design made of old cypress boards that’s been passed down from their great, great, great grandfather. The box is used to catch freshwater shrimp, a unique type of shrimp that lives in the Mississippi River.
“The life cycle of the shrimp, starts up in the upper Mississippi River and adults migrate down. It’s about a thousand mile journey to the gulf of Mexico, and when they first hit the sign of salinity, they spawn and then die off,” Jay Folse said.
Jay Folse learned about catching shrimp from his dad, Jerry Folse. The family lives near the river in St. James and Ascension parishes.
“Most of the people where I grew up had shrimp boxes, and we would catch probably during the months of May, June, and part of July. We catch like a five gallon bucket a day,” Folse said.
They put out the shrimp boxes during late spring and early summer. When the river is high, they tie them to trees along the flooded shoreline. The bait comes from their kitchen.
“Anything out of the garden that’s just left over squash, zucchini, and meat scraps. Shrimp love watermelon rind,” Folse said.
The Folse family figures they have six generations who’ve caught shrimp here in the Mississippi River using those old wooden boxes. In fact, Jerry can remember shrimping with his great-grandfather.
“We call him old papere and he would raise shrimp boxes. Then after he passed, my grandpa papere Zeringue, had shrimp boxes and catfish lines out in the river,” said Folse.
Just collecting the boxes, and scooping out the day’s catch is an adventure for the teenage brothers who spend a little time cooling off in the water. That brings back memories for their grandfather.
“That was the most fun growing up, raising shrimp boxes, because we got to swim in the river,” Folse said.
But changes in the river may eventually bring this family shrimping tradition to an end. There are now dams upstream that interfere with the shrimps’ migration, and levees have sped up the water.
“That heavy current, velocity of water flow makes it harder for these shrimp to migrate up river. My grandpa, back in the fifties, would catch as many as, 15-20 pounds of shrimp per box per trap. Nowadays, you’re lucky to catch one pound per trap,” Folse said.
Within 30 minutes of leaving the river, the fresh water shrimp are in a pot of spicy boiling water.
“It tastes more like a crawfish than a shrimp, but a unique taste,” said Folse.
It’s a family dinner that Jay and Ross may tell their kids about one day, the taste of the freshly boiled shrimp they caught in old wooden boxes in the Mississippi River.
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