In Greenwell Springs, Corey Crochet also suffers from river fever. His is also caused by being bitten by a bug — specifically the fishing bug for spotted bass. So I found out when I called him to get the scoop on his new world-record white bass of 6.81 pounds.
He was happy about the brobdingnagian white bass alright, but I couldn't get him to shut up about his first love — spotted bass fishing on the Amite River, which is where he caught his record fish. His excitement was contagious, even over the phone, and I accepted a trip with the self-proclaimed river rat.
The day before the trip, things were looking bad. Even though it was summer, ugly weather was predicted, including rain and cooler weather. But Crochet wouldn't hear of cancelling the trip.
"I catch these fish even when the weather is bad," he declared self-confidently.
The next morning found us launching his modified 14-foot bateau, or flatboat as some would call it, off an unimproved sand bar into the river. Crochet, a self-employed boat mechanic, had drastically modified the rig. He installed a homemade jack plate to elevate the 25 horsepower motor enough so that its propeller was barely submerged.
Then he sliced open the bottom of the boat and installed a homemade "tunnel." Without the tunnel, the boat would displace enough water as it moved to prevent the engine's propeller from having water to grab.
A look at the river explained the need for the modifications. To call it skinny water is less than accurate. "Anorexic" would have been better. It looked like wading water, or maybe kayaking at best.
But Crochet soon had the boat skimming over beautiful, swiftly-flowing, clear green water. Keeping a firm grip on the outboard motor's tiller handle, he artfully dodged logjams and treetops that in some places extended almost bank to bank.
"Hang on. It's fixin' ta get ugly," he shouted in one tight spot, while grinning in obvious delight.
Where the river broke into multiple small channels only inches deep, he never checked the speed of the boat to keep it on plane. The boat heaved upward as it jumped each shallow gravel bar.
He only stopped one time during the 4-mile upstream run, when he saw me repeatedly cast a questioning eye at the rafts of beer cans and ice chest floaters drifted into clusters and the brightly colored deflated inner tube covers draped over logs and bushes.
"Tiki Tubing," he spat violently. "It's a shame to do that to a river," he said with his chin thrust forward at the nearest pile of debris.
I would hear more about that during the float back downriver.
Earlier, we had passed an obviously developed spot, with huge numbers of psychedelically-colored inflated truck inner tubes, the "take-out" point for weekenders who float down what should be a scenic river.
Traveling upriver, we soon passed the "put-in" point, and magically the debris disappeared. Not a single aluminum can or piece of plastic could be found. Crochet threw a "told ya" look at me.
The boat's hull scraped noisily on the gravel of a sand bar as he brought it to a stop. From here back down to the where he launched, it would be a quiet float, with frequent stops to fish interesting spots more thoroughly by wading.
It felt like wilderness, even though we knew that civilization was nearby. Verdant green canopied forests bordered each side of the pristine river. It was quiet. The only breaks in the silence were those of the babbling water rushing over riffles and around partially submerged logs and the gravel crunching pleasantly under our feet as we waded from the boat to fish.
I liked the sounds.
Crochet expertly tossed his favorite Amite River bass lure, a white buzz bait. Before the bait had time to sink into the snaggy water, he quickly began a fast retrieve — so fast that it didn't seem possible that a fish would have a chance to hit the bait before it passed out of striking distance.
But hit it they did. The first one, a 12-incher, brought a huge grin to his face and provoked effusive praise.
"Look at these little Kentucky red-eyes [his term for spotted bass]. They are in great shape, battling a 10 m.p.h. current their whole life."
He held it up for display.
"This one is going in the ice chest," he said. "Anything over 10 inches long in these rivers is an 'eater.'"
They taste completely different from fish from anywhere else. The meat is chalk-white and has no fishy taste because of the clean water and rock bottom.
"Black bass [his term for largemouths] from the Spillway [Atchafalaya Basin] rate a 5," he said. "These are a 10. I do catch some black bass from the river here too."
Wading allowed me to inspect Crochet's river fishing style more closely than would floating, which is faster and will come later. He combed every nook and attempted to place the lure into the thickest, gnarliest places possible. He always attempted to make casts that would be retrieved over or along drowned logs. For exposed logs, he routinely hopped the buzz bait over the logs.
"Anywhere there is dark water, you have deep water and there are fish in it, especially under a tree or log," he said. "The deep side of the river is usually along the steep clay bank side, not the sand side. Smaller fish hold in swift water; bigger fish are in slower eddies.
"I catch some nice fish here. I had a pair in one trip. One went over 3½ pounds and one was 4 pounds. I have caught, eaten, bigger ones, but I weighed those because I had two of them in one trip caught from one spot."
The state record spotted bass is 4.88 pounds.
After catching several more spotted bass from the deep holes in the vicinity of the beached boat, Crochet pushed the craft into calf-deep water and mounted up to begin the float.
He lowered his trolling motor and positioned his 8-foot fiberglass Stick It Anchor Pin where he could quickly grab it. He used the trolling motor to position the boat for effective casts and to slow its drift.
"A trolling motor on high will only hold you still," he explained. "Anyone who believes that he can troll up against this river is sadly mistaken."
When he had confidence in a spot and wanted to fish it thoroughly, he vigorously jabbed the Stick It Pin into the sand bottom and tied the boat to it. He often cast six or seven times to one spot.
"The fish don't always get a chance to grab it on the first cast," he said. "And sometimes the little fish will be the first to grab it. You gotta weed 'em out first."
Crochet's casts steadily drew strikes, not slashing blow-ups, but rather what can best be described as slashing slurps. All of a sudden the surface bait just disappeared, and even in the river's clear water, the striking fish seemed to magically come out of nowhere.
While many of the fish were in the 10- to 14-inch range, lots were smaller. Crochet got a kick out of catching any of them. When a youngster popped the buzz bait as it passed over a sunken log, he laughed diabolically,
"Oh yeah, heh, heh, heh. He really spanked it. That's the next crop", he explained, as he tossed the little tyke back.
Soon the boat floated past the river's confluence with Sandy Creek, where Crochet caught his state- and world-record white bass in 2010.
"That's the only white bass I ever caught in this river," he noted in irony. "But the river has lots of other kinds of fish to catch — sac-a-lait, flatheads 60 and 70 pounds, channel cats and pollywogs [bullhead catfish]. You can eat them out of here. They have clean, white meat.
"Lots of bream too — chinquapin [redear sunfish], goggleye, bull bream [large male bluegills] and punkinseeds [longear sunfish]. Ice chests full under caterpillar trees. Just stop at a tree and use the caterpillars for bait."
Shortly after, the boat floated past the put-in point for Tiki Tubing, debris became visible everywhere. Crochet's demeanor changed. Although he was still racking up strikes and catching fish, he grumped disgustedly at the debris left by the tubers.
"They come on this river for one reason — to get drunk," he said. "Tiki Tubing is the worst thing to happen to this river in 5 years!"
The farther the boat floated, the worse the debris got. But as the day wore on, the fishing got better too, in spite of the cloudy, off-and-on drizzly weather, the worst for fishing for river spotted bass.
The ice chest began to thump vigorously as the retained bass protested their involuntary confinement.
"Don't worry about keeping spotted bass from the river to eat," he comforted. "I bring my family a lot to swim in the Amite. When we jump on a tree top, bass by the dozens will run out of every one.
"I've made trips here where we've caught over 100 bass. You get tired of catching them. Sixty is a bad day."
By my reckoning, we were pushing 60, and still had more float time left.
Near the end of the float, Crochet, who recently became involved in competitive redfishing, became pensive.
"Everybody calls me crazy," he said. "I refuse to give this up. It's always an adventure. The river is constantly changing. That's what I love about it — always new fishing holes.