The cricket skittered across the water's surface, frantically trying to reach the nearest tree. Ripples that telegraphed its position to every fish within yards radiated from the insect with every kick of its legs.

The insect would pause every few inches, either to catch its breath or to allow the damning wavelets to dissipate. Then it would continue its voyage, drawing nearer to safe haven with every powerful surge.

The cricket took a final rest about 8 inches from a cypress tree, and then it shot forward with renewed vigor, sensing safety.

A loud, splashing slurp erupted under the cricket, and it was gone. A duo of similar strikes signaled the demise of two more crickets that had also been swimming for refuge.

That was all Ira Everett needed to see — he quickly tossed a cricket, this one threaded onto a hook and weighted so that it would sink, into the area.

"I wanted to see what was out there," Everett said as he watched his red-and-white cork begin to bobble. "If you get five or six hits (on crickets thrown from the boat) in the same place, you know there's something going on."

Everett's cork plunged beneath the surface a moment later, and the angler began fighting a big, knot-headed bull bream to the boat.

"That's what we're looking for," the 32-year-old Mobile, Ala., resident said.

Everett was one of 16 Alabama anglers who recently spent a week pursuing these big Lake St. John bream.

The group, usually much larger, has for decades made an annual pilgrimage to the small oxbow lake in Concordia Parish.

"It started as a bunch of railroad guys," said Gene Everett, Ira Everett's father and a 63-year-old firefighter from Mobile. "They made their livings on the telephone, so they came over here to get away from the phone.

"Now everybody's got cell phones."

But that's the only way to reach these men — they stay at Spokane Resort, which provides rooms mercifully free of the potential irritation of telephones.

When the original group began hauling their boats to Louisiana more than 30 years ago, Gene Everett said, the targeted waterway was Lake Concordia just a few miles south of Lake St. John.

"The fish are much more prolific down there, but the bream are a lot bigger up here," he said.

This morning, a handful of the men had gathered on the porch in front of one of the rooms long after the sun had risen above the trees. While part of the Alabama travelers already were on the water, these anglers were unwilling to get up too early.

"We're not that mad at those fish. We came over here to relax," the elder Everett joked. "You don't catch any more fish up here if you get out there early anyway."

The men are there to get away from the bustle of life, but they also like to catch bream — and they come prepared.

Ira Everett said he was a little unsure of the exact count for this trip because the number of men participating was smaller than normal, but he said the normal number of crickets hauled in from Mobile hits 15,000.

"We buy them over there because they're a lot cheaper," he said. "You can get crickets for $10 a thousand."

By 9:15, the gathering broke up, as pairs of anglers headed for boats.

Minutes later, Ira Everett's little flatboat was bobbing around in a small flat on the east side of the lake, two boxes full of lively crickets sitting in the bottom.

Cypress trees lined the open area on each side, but the 32-year-old registered nurse fished well away from the trees.

By this time of year, the bream usually have moved into the flats in 2 to 5 feet of water to fan out beds and begin the spawning ritual.

"When the fish are spawning, they like a more open area like this because it lets the light penetrate better, and the water warms up quicker," Everett said.

When the water is clear, the beds can be seen as bare spots amid the green grasses covering the bottom.

"I like to look for those nests because you can catch some really nice bream," he said. "All we need is that one bed.

"That's the difference between catching a few and catching a hundred."

Instead of reaching for the live bait, Everett grabbed a rod rigged with a small, silver-bladed Beetle Spin.

"I like to use these because you can cover so much more water," Everett said.

Unlike many Beetle Spin afficionados, however, Everett doesn't use the small split-tailed beetles. He opts instead for tube jigs because of the action provided by the skirts.

On this day, he was using a crawfish-colored tube, but he admitted that he would change colors readily.

"I carry every color you can imagine," Everett said. "You just never know which one they'll want."

The angler also buys his blades separately in bulk, as opposed to buying the pre-rigged packs. The advantages are twofold.

"They're cheaper when you buy them that way," Everett said.

Also, he buys two different sizes of blades so that he can adjust to the conditions.

"On windy days like this, you can put a little bit bigger blade on it and get more weight," Everett said. "That makes it easier to cast."

The casting technique is pretty simple — Everett just casts, waits a second or so and begins a steady retrieve to the boat.

"That Beetle Spin sinks a foot or so every second, and I like to keep it about a foot below the surface," he explained.

When the strike occurs, there's no mistaking it — the bream slams the flashy lure.

On this day, however, the fish either weren't interested in the spinner or simply were not in the areas Everett expected.

After boating several small catfish, the angler moved to a similar flat down the lake, but the results were the same.

With only two bream in the boat, Everett decided to make a last-ditch effort in the shallower waters on the southern end of the lake.

That's where he encountered his father, fishing in less than a foot of water and using his trolling motor as an anchor.

"We've caught 20 or 30 nice bream," the elder Everett said. "They're in tight.

"What's happened is that this water is shallower, so it's warmed up already. That water that y'all were fishing just hasn't warmed up yet."

Armed with that information, the younger Everett eased several hundred yards north.

He retired his Beetle Spin in favor of what his dad was using — a cricket under a sliding cork.

"We use these sliding corks because you can cast back into stuff easier because you don't have all that hanging down," Ira Everett said. "Once you get it in there, you can still fish at the depth you want."

The rig consisted of a very small, plastic strip through which the line is threaded on both ends so that it doesn't easily slide up and down the line. This strip is what stops the cork from moving too far up the line.

Everett said he likes to set the depth so that the cricket is well above the bottom, usually a foot or so deep.

"Bream will come up to feed," he said. "They're not like (white) perch, which feed down."

Regardless of whether using a Beetle Spin or soaking crickets, Everett uses Zebco spin-casting reels on short, light-action rods.

"The reels are cheap, and they're durable," he said. "You can also cast easier."

The angler also likes spin-casting reels because he can use a bit heavier line.

"When you use that 4-pound line, you break off so easily," Everett said. "That's 10-pound line on that reel."

The heavier line becomes particularly important when fishing with crickets, since it's much easier to hang up. The heavier line makes it possible to retrieve his sliding-cork rig.

To up the odds of getting untangled, Everett uses light-wired hooks.

"I like these because they straighten out when they get hung up," he said. "If you get hung up with those bronze hooks, you're not getting them out," he said.

When he straightens a hook, he simply bends it back and continues fishing.

One of the first things he did was toss out four or five crickets to gauge his chances of success. The hungry slurping that claimed three of the insects led to several bull bream being tossed into his livewell.

When the action would slow down, Everett would just troll down a bit and fish another area for a while.

If he lost the fish's attention, he would reach into his cricket box and send offerings out to excite the bream. More fish would quickly land in Everett's livewell.

The rest of the trip was circular, with the john boat moving around in one 50-yard stretch of bank.

"When they quit biting, you just move on," he said. "You can come back, and there will be more."

He proved that by going from two bream to about 15 in less than an hour.