They don’t call Louisiana “Sportsman’s Paradise” for no reason! Anglers across the country flock to Louisiana in the summertime to experience our world-class fishing and dining. We sat down with Justin Devillier, Executive Chef of La Petite Grocery to talk about his love of the sport and how it influenced him as a chef.
Where is your favorite place in south Louisiana, or where do you tend to go more often?
I think my favorite overall is fishing out of the Biloxi Marsh, kind of east of Hopedale. I also fish the area of the Rigolets a lot—Lake Borgne and the Rigolets. Those are all kind of my favorites.
Why are they your favorites?
I like the fall trout run in the eastern part of Lake Pontchartrain and kind of the western part of Lake Borgne.
I like the Biloxi Marsh all year round, but the redfishing in Biloxi Marsh is world-class, so that’s what I like out there—specifically fly fishing for redfish.
Do you have places you like to stay or eat when you go on a fishing trip, or do you go to a camp?
No, I’m usually going straight from the house. In Lake Borgne and the Rigolets, we have a camp out there, so we usually drive out the night before, cook there. It’s not like we’re eating out. But I will say that down in Hopedale, we usually meet up and have breakfast at Penny’s before we head out.
It’s the classic Southern breakfast, grits and eggs and stuff like that. For lunch,
obviously any kind of sandwich is always a good one. Anything you don’t have to touch with your hands too much is always good since your hands are usually not in the best shape when you’re out there fishing, covered in shrimp juice and water and funk.
Another favorite is cold fried chicken—we get it in the morning, stick it in the cooler, then have it for lunch and throw the bones overboard.
Who typically joins you on a trip? Do you have a favorite guide or captain, or do you go out solo?
I have a really good buddy who’s a guide out of Hopedale that I fish with a lot. His name is Greg Moon. Then out of the Rigolets, I’m usually fishing with friends or just a few people that will go out together. I usually like to fish with one other person but no more than three because it kind of gets hectic with more than three people.
What does a day on the water look like for you?
A really good day would be back on land by 9 a.m.—that means you have a really good day. But it depends. For fly fishing, you need to get out there right after the sun comes up because fly fishing is more about visibility and being able to see fish. You want to have nice sunlight. If I’m trout fishing or fin fishing, we’ll try to get out early, like just before the sun is coming up.
But it’s all kind of how the day is going. If you’re doing really well, you can get in early. I’m not scared to stay out until 1 or 2 p.m. If it’s not happening by 1 or 1:30 p.m., then it’s usually time to go on in. But it’s such a good fishery in south Louisiana that that only seems to happen if its weather causing a problem or a big cold front—something like that.
What is the best experience you’ve had while fishing?
Well, I’ve caught the unrecorded state record sheepshead on the fly. I released it, so it was
never recorded. And then I’ve caught some really big redfish. I would say that a handful of best experiences are mostly fly fishing for redfish stories. You know, anytime you can get on a redfish over 30 pounds is pretty remarkable on a fly rod.
The tug-of-war those big redfish give you is pretty insane! But I wouldn’t eat those big ones; I set them free. I eat redfish and I love eating redfish, but they need to be on the smaller side. It has to be a nice 17- to 18-inch redfish.
The bigger ones I let go because I find that their meat is too developed and too firm. When they get really large like that, they tend to get very parasitic with tapeworms and things like that.
Also, they’re breeders, so they’re the ones that keep the stock of fish at a healthy level.
Weighing in all those different factors, I think it’s just best to let them go.
How has the art and sport of fishing impacted you as a chef?
It’s really the reason that I started cooking in the beginning, and it’s the reason I decided to become a chef. When I was a youngster, I fished so much and dove and spearfished, and my catch is what I wound up first experimenting with as a young person. It got my creative culinary juices going, so I definitely credit it with why I got started.
And, lastly, if you could invite one person, living or dead, on a fishing trip with you, who would it be and why?
You know, I think that my fishing buddies are enough for me. The guys I fish with are pretty awesome, so I’ll take them.