Greenwell Springs angler Donnie Courtney was unperturbed.
"We'll find some fish," he said.
Sure, and I was going to win the lottery.
We had hit a couple of muddy canals already, and all the moving around had produced were two bites that Courtney lost at the boat. But those bites kept the Bassmaster Open competitor interested.
That he had any faith in the area was amazing, since we were fishing the waters of Deer Island at the southwestern-most corner of the Bayou Black marshes.
Yes, the area is located at the mouth of the Atchafalaya River and receives plenty of fresh water, but it also was flooded with several feet of high-salinity storm surge when Hurricane Rita passed on its way to Southwest Louisiana.
But Bobby Breaux of Bob's Bayou Black Marina said he never saw a major impact of all that salt water.
"It pushed a lot of saltwater fish into the area, but I never saw any big fish kills," Breaux said. "I don't think it had much effect here, to be honest. Anglers launching out of here have been catching sac-a-lait, bream and bass."
That corresponded with what Courtney has found, with plenty of bream to make days on the water enjoyable.
"I was down there scouting (for a bass tournament) earlier this week, and saw a bream bed," he said in late March.
And I really didn't doubt there were fish in the area: The banks were strewn with laydowns, submerged stumps, logs and scattered aquatic vegetation.
My pessimism was strictly based on water clarity, which was only a few inches. Clear water has been the standard in my bream fishing since my days as a child aboard my dad's little bateau, and it had never failed.
Ironically, Courtney said he stays away from clear water.
"You've got to have what I call that stained spinnerbait water," he said. "You want it to have some color."
Water temperature and visibility were at the heart of his reasoning.
"We don't have the water depth for clear water," he said. "Our deep water is 5 to 6 feet. That clear water will warm up too much, and the fish can see you."
Even if water temperatures remain fishable, Courtney said bream get very skittish in clear water.
"I find they scatter," he said. "If you bang around in your boat, they'll scatter. They'll eventually come back, but you just have to be so quiet.
"In stained water, they don't seem to care. With stained water, you can have 1 to 2 feet of water, and they'll stay put. They just gang up."
The best water we found was still more stained than he liked, but Courtney simply fished a few minutes at each stop before moving on in search of water that provided a little more visibility.
Proof that bream will bite in stained water came as we worked a bank. We began on the side of the canal with thicker cover, and after about 10 minutes without a bump, Courtney moved the boat across to the other side.
A few casts later, I was wrestling a muscle-bound goggleye to the boat. Several casts later, Courtney matched me.
Amazing. I would have run into the canal, and left without coming off plane.
While we were a couple of weeks too early to find many fish on beds, Courtney said late April and May would see the fish pile up along the banks.
However, he is as analytical about catching bream as he is about his bass fishing.
First, he has a definite preference in the canals in the Deer Island area.
"I like the east/west canals," he said. "They'll hold clearer water because of the tidal influence down here."
The tide, Courtney explained, will push water into and pull it out of the canals oriented north/south, which can muddy these waters. That's especially true when the tide first moves hard.
There are numerous canals satisfying this requirement off of Deer Island and Crooked bayous, he said.
As with many fish species, bream seem to bite best on a falling tide, Courtney said.
"It pulls the clean water out of the marsh," he said.
If the canal system in Deer Island proper fails, he'll move into the Turtle Bayou complex of canals just to the northeast off of Bayou Penchant.
In each canal he fishes, Courtney carefully assesses the banks to make the most of his efforts.
"I like the banks that are defined," Courtney said. "A sloping bank is not going to hold as many fish as a bank that's defined."
Lastly he looks for something that will hold fish.
"A bank that's got gravel is going to hold bream," he said.
Gravel banks can be found scattered throughout the marsh. If an angler can find a weir that's had its bank washed out, the odds are there will be gravel at the end of the wooden structure.
Of course, those weirs also can provide bream ambush points, so Courtney will slow down and fish the areas where water is sweeping through or around weirs.
Courtney also likes to see either flooded trees, trees leaning over the water or still-green laydowns.
"I want something that's going to hold the bugs," he explained. "The bugs will get in those trees and fall off in the water, and the bream will gather underneath to feed."
He also said the greenery provides shade, offering bream respite from the sun's rays as waters warm up in late spring.
While he knows bream will gather under leafy cover, Courtney said he never passes up a stump without fishing it hard.
"Those are gathering places for bream," he said. "The bream will just gang up around the stumps to spawn."
Grass is the final piece of the puzzle.
"It's a good indicator," Courtney said. "It usually holds your bream and goggleye. They're going to be in there feeding."
Courtney said crickets under a cork are almost guaranteed to provoke bites, but he has found more-active lures can actually produce just as many strikes.
"My daughter loves to fish, and I would spend all my time rebaiting her hook," he explained. "So I taught her how to cast a Beetle Spin, and now that's all we use."
The regular beetles are great baits to match to the little spinners, but Courtney said he's found that tubes and curly tails are better.
"I just like the action," he explained.
He carries a wide variety of colors, but his favorites include solid white, black with yellow stripes, black/chartreuse and orange.
"That orange bait looks like a wasp, and it's real productive," Courtney said.
Courtney also uses a rather unorthodox casting technique with the spin-cast ultralight he uses. Instead of simply pushing the button and casting, he pitches just like he was bass fishing.
"I don't really know how I got started doing that," he said. "But I'm much more accurate than if I cast."
And in the stained water he fishes, the loss of casting distance doesn't make any difference.
One of the great things about bream ganging up this month is that catching one fish usually means there are other fish nearby.
"If you catch one or two in an area, don't leave," Courtney said. "There's going to be more around there. They hang out in a crowd, so it's worth working it a little bit and see what you wind up with."
That means he makes repeated casts if he gets a bite on, say, a stump. His goal is to work the Beetle Spin from as many different angles as possible, making sure there aren't any more fish hanging around.
Howevere, Courtney's bass-fishing ethic has spilled over into his bream fishing. That means he won't sit on a bed and until he stops getting bites.
"You don't have to catch every one," he said. "Catch enough for a meal, and leave the rest there to spawn so you can come back and enjoy them another day."
That just makes sense to him, he said.
"We're stewards of the environment we have, this paradise," Courtney said.
However, the social nature of bream this month means it's a great family activity.
"You can take the whole family and enjoy time together," he said.
He's expanded "family" to go beyond his wife and children.
"I remember as a kid my dad never went hunting or fishing without us," Courtney said. "He's 75 years old now, and it's my turn. I take him, and he still will fish all day."
It's also a way to get kids, especially those who might not have parents who fish, excited about fishing, Courtney said.
"You know you're going to get bites," he said. "That's what kids want, and you're introducing them to a lifestyle that they'll remember forever."
There is one caveat to the Deer Island area: It can be treacherous. That's always been the case because of the nearby Atchafalaya River, which pushes a steady stream of sand into the area, but Hurricane Rita produced even more changes than normal.
"I ran into a canal the other day that was 5 or 6 feet deep before the storm, and there was only a foot or 2 of water in it," Courtney said. "It was all silted up."
So he suggested making the first run with a buddy, but in two separate boats.
"If you haven't been down here after the storm, bring a map, take two boats and a long rope," he said.
While satellite images can be very useful, Courtney has equipped his Lowrance GPS with a Navionics chip that provides incredibly accurate information even in the ever-changing world of the marshes around the Atchafalaya River's mouth.
The chip, model SD/Prem-S2, covers waters in New Mexico to Georgia and Florida, and from Nebraska to the Gulf Coast.
"It's very detailed," Courtney said. "It gives depths while I'm running, and is pretty accurate even down here in the marshes."
The chip can be purchased at basspro.com for $99.
The dangers of the river system were emphasized later in the day when we ran back to the landing. As we motored north on the Lower Atchafalaya River, we spotted a boat just outside the channel markers. At first, we thought it might be someone catfishing, but we soon realized the man wasn't in the boat — he was standing ankle deep on a sandbar trying to push his bass boat into deeper water.
It took almost 40 minutes to get the boat floating again, with Courtney in the water pushing and me pulling the bow of the boat with Courtney's Skeeter.
"You definitely want to stay inside the markers," Courtney said as we watched the man drive away.