Oh my Gauche!

Catching bream at this Southeast Louisiana honeyhole is about as easy as it gets, and while you’re there, you never know who you might run into.

The red torpedo cork hit the duckweed and just kept going. For a moment I could only imagine the terror that fat cricket must have experienced as it plunged below the water’s surface only to find itself being sucked between the lips of a giant warmouth.

But then I remembered crickets don’t know terror from a week’s vacation in Hawaii. They’re just crickets, blindly living moment to moment. They remember no past and look forward to no future. No emotions, no point of view, just pure, instinctive responses to whatever stimuli are randomly applied during their brief watery journeys.

That’s the kind of thoughts a place like the Bayou Gauche canals in St. Charles Parish can conjure. Thoughts like, “Where did the name Bayou Gauche come from?” Pronounced “Gawsh” by most fishermen familiar with the bayou, technically it should be pronounced “Goe-sh.”

But call it that anywhere from Westwego to Larose, and you’ll be labeled a Yankee for life. Gauche is a take off from the word “gaudy.” It’s used to describe a whole bunch of uncomplimentary qualities like tactless and tasteless to vulgar and uncouth.

So did this sleepy little bayou get its name from some lowlife that once claimed squatter’s rights along its banks?

Most of the freshwater anglers who venture into the oil-field canals that link Bayou Gauche with the Salvador Wildlife Management Area marshes to haul in bass, sac-a-lait, catfish and bream probably couldn’t care less.

The Bayou Gauche area is home to all of the above species, but it may be one of the top-10 best bream holes in South Louisiana. And unless you fish from a bank, it’s one of the easiest runs a bream fisherman will ever make.

Just about anything that floats can become a worthy bream boat here. You can literally paddle to the series of interconnecting canals that hold gobs of bedded-up bluegill, redears and goggleyes.

Bayou Gauche, Bayou Des Allemands and all their connecting waterways get lots of attention from marsh bass fishermen, but the real treasures here come in small packages.

And the wide range of anglers who pursue them do it in a number of different ways. The cast of characters you’ll likely meet up with on any late-spring or early summer day are amazing.

One of the rarer sights you might see is fly fishermen. During one particularly successful trip there, I vividly remember one guy who really stood out from the ordinary panfishermen you encounter in South Louisiana.

It was during a late-afternoon trip in early May many years ago when a buddy and I were wearing out bluegills and a few goggleyes by the simplest but one of the most efficient ways to fill a basket. Yep, I’m talking the cane pole, bobber, BB split shot and a gold Aberdeen perch hook. Oh yeah, don’t let me forget an important part of the formula, a small, screen cage full of fat, Southern gray crickets.

Now, there’s lots of ways to hook crickets. If the bite is on, it probably doesn’t matter where you put the hook, at least not to anyone except the cricket. Until I find a mess of bream, I like to take my time and slip the hook up under that hard “collar” around the cricket’s neck. Hooking them that way allows the cricket free mobility, and since the point avoids the vital organs, it doesn’t kill it.

But during the bream spawn when the action gets fast and furious, you can insert the hook from the top, bottom or middle — it won’t be there long enough to matter.

When you fish bream with crickets in these canals, here are two pieces of advice.

First, bring plenty. If you think you need 50, bring 150. You don’t want to run out in the middle of a perch attack.

Secondly, make sure you keep your cricket cage closed and be careful not to drop it into the boat. Otherwise you’ll spend more time catching crickets than fish, and you’ll instantly have a singing boat.

The typical spot I expect to find bream beds in these canals is under overhanging tree limbs like willows, cypresses or swamp maples. If the water has a nice thick coat of duckweed on it and a root beer color underneath, I’m sending a cricket down immediately.

Some bream anglers shy away from duckweed; I love it. For some reason, they don’t think the floating green mass is particularly attractive habitat for fish. I guess they figure it smothers out the oxygen or something, but I think it has the opposite effect. I’ve found it provides shade from the heat of late-spring days, and that keeps water temperatures cooler in the shallows.

It also provides bream and bass, for that matter, thick cover from which to ambush unsuspecting insects who venture out on it above them.

Grass beds of all types also provide cover of a little different type, and I’ll drop live and artificial baits right at the edge where the grass ends to lure a hungry panfish out. I use those coontail or widgeon grass beds as markers where the bank drops off into deeper water.

These are the same places to drop a popping bug or a dry fly and listen for that popping sound that I call “duckweed music.” It’s when a bream, especially a nice big goggleye, will suck in bait from underneath the duckweed. It’s somewhere between the pop of a corn kernel and a turkey’s cluck. It’s an unmistakable sound and whether you hear it or see the rippling strike first, it’s an indistinguishable sign bream are in a feeding mode.

Back to my unusual fly fisherman. In about two hours of fishing, we already had about 80 bream in our basket. And by the way, a basket with a spring-type opening that can be tied to the boat is really the best way to keep bream fresh and lively right up until the time you bring them to the cleaning table. Stringers are a pain and leave your catch vulnerable to gators, turtles and snakes, of which these canals have plenty when those cool mornings turn into sunny warm mid-days.

All right, back to the fly fisherman sighting. We were close to the launch when he pulled up in a beat-up old truck with a long, narrow 16-foot flat in the back.

To give you an idea of how long ago this was, the launch was made from clam shells. Sun-whitened, Rangia clam shells, the kind that used to be dredged up from the bottom of Lake Pontchartrain and other waterbodies. These were the same clams that conservationists saved by forcing legislation to stop the dredging that was so damaging to the clams and other marine organisms. You used to see these clams either as the roadbed itself or lining the shoulders of almost every highway in South Louisiana.

Anyway, this guy stepped out of the truck barefoot onto the sharp clam shells. He looked a lot like Elvis. Just like the pre-banana-and-peanut-butter-sandwich Elvis looked when he was in his early 30s. Black, well-greased, slicked-back hair complete with ducktails and dressed in a white T-shirt and blue jeans.

I watched him slide the motor-less flat boat into the canal, jump in and begin what I can only describe as fishing poetry in motion. In one hand he held a 2-foot sculling paddle that he dipped silently into the water and propelled and guided that flatboat better than a remote-controlled trolling motor.

With his other hand, he reached down and grabbed a fly rod armed with a popping bug that I really couldn’t see exactly what style and color it was.

From the opposite side of the bank where we were busy dunking crickets, he started to effortlessly toss that bug in tight spots against our side of the bank perfectly. His first cast was about 20 feet behind our boat, and immediately he pulled in a chunky male bluegill. He continued this sculling and casting and catching as he disappeared down the bank away from us.

But before he was out of sight, he continued to entertain us even more. With the short sculling paddle in one hand and the fly rod in the other catching a bream on about every third cast, this barefoot Elvis alternated putting both down long enough to allow him to remove the pack of cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve of his T-shirt, light one up and enjoy a good smoke without missing a fish or veering off course.

About an hour later, as the sun was getting ready to set beyond the willows, he returned about the same time we were loading up. In the short time he fished, he almost had the same amount of bream in his basket as it took two of us twice as long to catch. You don’t easily forget a guy like that.

Say, you don’t think it really was …