The call of the wild and its variations
BY DALE BOWMAN email@example.com June 22, 2013 12:34AM
Joe Glyzewski caught this gaspergou on a jig on the Fox River. You might know it by another name. | For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 24, 2013 6:46AM
Jeff ‘‘Woody’’ Roberts called last week to ask if I was interested in a photo of a gaspergoo (at least that’s how I heard it) caught on the Fox River.
He owns the quick, wicked wit of a good car salesman, aptly enough, so I figured he wanted me to bite and then he would reel me in on the joke.
But he was serious.
He sent the photo at right of a gaspergou (official spelling) caught by Joe Glyzewski on Father’s Day just below the dam in St. Charles on the Fox.
That intrigued me enough to look up the word, because it sure looked like a freshwater drum.
I found no mention of gaspergou in Philip W. Smith’s The Fishes of Illinois. But in the discussion of freshwater drum (Aplodinotus grunniens) in the 1920 second edition of The Fishes of Illinois, by Stephen Alfred Forbes and Robert Earl Richardson, I found: ‘‘ ‘Gaspergou’ is a name used for it in the southern territories formerly occupied by the French.’’
OK, this stuff interests me. So I emailed Mike Conlin. Before he retired, he spent some 30 years as fisheries chief for Illinois, among other duties.
‘‘ ‘Gaspergou’ is one of a number of names folks use for the freshwater drum,’’ he replied. ‘‘The name ‘gaspergou’ is one used mostly in the Southern states. I have always used it because I thought it was such a unique term and when folks heard me say it, they always said, ‘What?!’ Use of the name ‘gaspergou’ by anglers in this neck of the woods is exceedingly rare. The most common term I hear used for freshwater drum here in Illinois is ‘perch’ or ‘white perch.’ ’’
I think in the northern edges of Illinois, freshwater drum are more often called sheephead.
‘‘Wow, you would win a trivia contest,’’ replied Dan Stephenson, assistant fisheries chief. ‘‘Yes, ‘gaspergou’ is the Cajun, I believe, terminology for freshwater drum. Not many know that. ‘Soc-a-les’ (not sure of the spelling, you’ll have to look it up) is their word for crappie. I used to know a couple more but have forgotten in my old age.’’
Stephenson has more than three decades in fisheries. I trusted his memory enough to look it up.
The Cajun term for crappie is ‘‘sac-a-lait.’’ Jerald Horst gave this explanation in an article for the Louisiana Sea Grant: ‘‘ ‘Sack of Milk’ is the English interpretation of ‘sac-a-lait,’ the Cajun French name for crappie. The fish are called ‘white perch’ in north Louisiana, but in both places they are so esteemed for their mild, sweet flesh that the Louisiana legislature has declared them the official state freshwater fish.’’
That reminds me of the first time I was seriously fishing down South and heard the locals talk about ‘‘perch’’ — only they meant about any of a variety of panfish, mostly in the sunfish family.
It’s not just differences between North and South. One of the first fishing reports I took, back in the 1990s, from Art Frisell at Triangle Sports and Marine in Antioch, included a few sentences on ‘‘stripers’’ on the Chain O’Lakes. I started taking notes, thinking there had been some big hulking striped bass or hybrid striped bass caught on the Chain. But he meant white and/or yellow bass.
It helps to ask.
I think burbot are the ugliest of freshwater fish, but what intriguing other names — ‘‘eelpout’’ or ‘‘lawyer fish’’ — for them.
It hooks me.