Bluebirds stands test of time

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James Overstreet

Bluebirds Fish Camp is an Orange, Texas staple.

ORANGE, Texas — From the outside, you can just tell Bluebirds Fish Camp has stories to tell. Step inside and you will find many. The setting takes visitors back in time, when fish camps were final outposts before outdoorsmen ventured into the bayous and backwaters making up the backcountry fabric of the South.

Bluebirds is among the few icons remaining, and this old-time camp has been through its share of tragedy and triumph. First built in 1925, the many lives of Bluebirds include bait shop, fish market, boat livery, and countless hurricanes and floods.

The front counter represents a snapshot of what defines Bluebirds as a classic old south fish camp. Cans of Vienna Sausage, tins of mustard sardines, and packages of Levi Garrett chewing tobacco. Those bygone essentials share space with boxes of red-and-white bobbers, cans of Off! Spray and packages of peanut butter-and-crackers. The walls are lined with hero pictures of fish caught by customers posing with largemouth bass, catfish, sheepshead, red drum and more. The walls are filled with peg boards of lures, terminal tackle and other fishing gear.

Editor's note: Take a Tour of the Bluebird.

What makes Bluebirds really stand out is the restaurant, and specifically the diverse menu that can stand up to any seafood eatery around. Unlike many old-style camps, you can come here just to eat and enjoy the view. Fish, oyster and shrimp baskets and fried crab dinners share the menu with classic fare like cheeseburgers, pork chop sandwiches and even ribs (there’s an attached smoker and smokehouse). The Creole burger, a traditional hamburger with shrimp and onion straws stacked on top, looks and eats like what you’d find at urban gourmet burger eateries. Best of all, you can enjoy the meal outside in the screen dining area or at picnic tables on the outdoor deck.

Bluebird’s current owners are Oscar and Sonya LeBlanc. Married for 37 years, the couple purchased the long abandoned, run down camp in 2014, spending the next year to bring it back up to building codes. When it reopened in 2015, Bluebirds was an instant success. Not surprisingly, customers came just as much for the food as for the fishing. Up to 400 hamburgers a day were sold, guides began using the adjacent ramp and camp to meet clients, and travelers came from nearby Interstate 10 for the air boat rides and swamp tours.

Long before then, both LeBlancs unknowingly had connections to the camp. Sonya, an Orange native, recalls trips there with her father and the unmistakable fish camp smell. 

“When I was 5 years old, the horrible fish odor stayed with me forever,” she said. “In fact, when Oscar brought me here before we bought it, that smell was still in the building, and it brought back a rush of memories.”

Oscar moved from Lafayette, La., to Orange in the early 1970s. Needing a job, his search ended at Bluebirds.

“I needed a job, any job, and the owner hired me to skin catfish for $10 a day,” Oscar recalled. “I worked six days a week doing that, along with other jobs.”

Years later, Oscar convinced the owner at the time to sell Bluebirds to him. He obliged and the labor of love began, and with it more tragedy and triumph. Three disasters struck and close together. In 2016, the floodgates of Toledo Bend reservoir were opened as a result of flooding on the lake and Sabine River. Trouble came again in 2017 with Hurricane Harvey, which caused devastating flooding in the area. Last year, another setback came with Hurricane Laura, which luckily veered to the east before making landfall in Orange.

Despite it all, Bluebirds survived it all. A reason why is the business is family run, from the top down. Oscar’s niece and nephew, longtime restauranters from Louisiana, brought their skills and talents to Bluebirds kitchen. The creative menu and table service are unique to the camp. The LeBlanc’s daughter and a nephew are part of the team. The all-family run business is a natural. Sonya comes from a family of 14; Oscar is one of 15 siblings.

Family is also the common thread of what makes Bluebirds successful.

“I love meeting people, making them smile, and you can do that with good food and good company, and we have that here,” Sonya said.

“It’s like home to me; I’ve been around it a long time and it’s a part of me,” added Oscar.

Good food, friendly people and an idyllic setting. That sums up Bluebirds. Step inside and go back in time. You won’t regret it.