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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Faces of the Gulf Coast: Tommy and Emmy Ware

Father-daughter fishing and hunting buddies from Mississippi share their oil spill story
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Emmy makes cast after cast as the boat rocks and pulls against the anchor. Ware explains that her very first fish was an 18-inch speckled trout, a nice fish even for an experienced fisherman.

"Yeah, she just kind of said, 'Hey, Dad,' and then got real quiet. I thought she was snagged and then got it unhooked," he explains, proud of his favorite fishing partner. "Then she kept reeling, and by the time I noticed, she had the fish all the way to the boat and nearly touching the rod tip. I was pretty proud that day."

With nothing biting Emmy's offering, Ware turns the boat back to shore, and after Emmy sits next to her dad at the console, he fires up the engine. The skiff moves through Lake Borgne, through The Rigolets, and into the edges of Lake Pontchatrain.

"If the oil were to get in here," he says, "it would be devastating."

He cruises at little more than idle and discusses the possible impacts the oil could have.

"That's the thing, we talk about it and talk about it until people just don't know what else to say," he says. "Unless you live down here or farther south around Venice and fish and hunt down there, it's hard to explain to someone."

Ware spends quite a bit of time hunting out of Venice, Louisiana, where he can access Pass a Loutre WMA, an area severely impacted by the spill already and a place where Ducks Unlimited has done some habitat restoration work. He explains that duck hunting down there isn't just what the locals do; it's how many make their living. Through leases, guiding, hotels, and restaurants, waterfowl hunting helps supplement income from fishing.

"I'd hate to think that it's going to be a wasteland," he says as he remembers a few of the best hunts he's been on down there. "That's the hard part; it's such a beautiful place, words can't even describe it."

A storm moves across the water from the southwest, and Ware takes the boat under a bridge to try to avoid the rain. Making every effort to keep Emmy dry, he ties the boat and pulls a tarp up the side of the bimini top to protect her from the wind and rain. Of course, when the boat is stopped, Emmy decides it's time to fish and stands in the rain, making cast after cast–a dedication to fishing handed down to her from her father.

As the storm clears, the boat moves along the shore, and Ware spots a chance to catch redfish in some old pylons. The boat passes more oil boom, and Emmy, not really knowing what it is, never blinks an eye and keeps casting.

The boat drifts along the shoreline, and Ware watches Emmy casting into some pylons, hoping to hook up a redfish. The conversation turns back to waterfowl hunting and the oil spill.

"We are worried about the habitat," Ware explains. As he is talking, Emmy points out a small crab climbing a pylon. "That's what is getting hurt right now by the oil and chemicals—the smaller creatures along the food chain. When that happens, everything is impacted. These smaller crabs and stuff, most people tend not to notice them, but kids do. They see it all, and that's where it starts for the fish, the birds and even the ducks."

Cast after cast, Tommy Ware and his little fishing buddy, Emmy, churn the waters hoping to catch a fish. With boom floating along the bays, the immediate threat of oil isn't far from their minds, just as it weighs on the minds of everyone who lives here. There is no news crew showing pictures of oiled birds or workers vacuuming oil from the shorelines, but the threat is there.

The oil spill has yet to affect the waters where Ware fishes regularly, but it's what's at stake. The chance that Tommy would miss even one day on the water with his daughter because of the oil spill is a painful thought. The father-daughter combo stood on the bow, each casting a different direction.

"She loves doing this," he says, looking across the bay. "This is how families down here spend time together. This is what's it's all about; it's our way of life. Fishing and hunting, that's what we do. I just hope this doesn't stop us from doing that."

The Wares step back onto the bow and continue to cast.


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