At either end of the Sportsman’s Paradise, two top honey holes bracket the Louisiana coastline like piscatorial bookends. They look nothing alike and offer completely different fisheries, but they share one prime attribute. They each put multiple fish into the state record book.
When it comes to speckled trout, one lake stands out for consistently producing trophies over several decades. Known locally as Big Lake, Calcasieu Lake south of Lake Charles measures 12 miles long by nine miles wide and covers about 52,700 acres. Surrounded by marshes and studded with oyster reefs, the lake averages less than 6 feet deep, but looms large in the world of speckled trout angling.
Calcasieu Lake produced three of the top 10 trout caught in Louisiana and routinely gives up fish in the 5- to 8-pound range, with an occasional 9- to 11-pounder. Tim Mahoney set the official lake record on May 5, 2002, with an 11.16-pounder that currently holds fourth place on the state list.
Anglers sometimes catch bigger trout, but never submit the paperwork or officially weigh the fish before releasing it. On May 21, 2000, Stuart Roy caught and released a 32-inch trout with a 17-inch girth. A state biologist estimated that the fish possibly weighed between 12 1/2 and 13 pounds.
To keep more big fish in the estuary, the state lowered the daily creel limit on speckled trout in Calcasieu Lake and other waters in southwestern Louisiana from 25 to 15 per day. Anglers can keep no more than two trout 25 inches or longer per day. Many anglers who fish the lake already release larger fish to keep the estuary healthy.
“Calcasieu Lake still produces some big trout, but not like it did seven or eight years ago,” advised Capt. Erik Rue. “Trout are cyclic. We’ve caught some over 8 pounds in the past couple years on my boat, but nothing over 9 pounds in that time. “May is typically one of the key times to catch big trout in Calcasieu Lake. In the summer of 2010, fishing was consistent, but never red hot.”
A deeper, wider and straighter version of the old Calcasieu River course, the Calcasieu Ship Channel cuts a swath 40 miles long, 400 feet wide and 40 feet deep from the Port of Lake Charles to the Gulf of Mexico. The ship channel enters Calcasieu Lake at Turner’s Bay on the north end. Farther south, several openings connect the channel to the lake, allowing tides to bring in baitfish and game fish from the nearby Gulf.
These cuts serve as choke points, concentrating fish waiting to attack anything entering the system. Several excellent places to look for trout are the Washout, Nine-Mile Cut, and nearby Long Point. Anglers may also try Commissary Point, the old rock jetties in the southern part of the lake and marshy drains along the southern and eastern shorelines.
At the southwest corner, West Cove extends across the channel. The shallow bay filled with oyster reefs averages about three feet deep. Many people fish Cross Reef, Juniors Cut at the south entrance to the cove and around Rabbit Island.
“The shallow areas with oyster reefs on the southern end of the lake and the flats where baitfish accumulate are always good areas to look for big trout,” Rue advised. “Go where the bait is. Look for big wads of mullet. That’s where the big trout will be.”
South of Calcasieu Lake, the ship channel flows through a marshy area until it hits the Gulf at Calcasieu Pass. Two mile-long rows of rock jetties line Calcasieu Pass, creating a magnet for big fish. As the summer progresses, big trout often move from the estuary into cooler Gulf waters. Anglers can catch them near the jetties, under several oil platforms and along the Cameron Parish beaches.
In September 2005, Hurricane Rita churned right up the Calcasieu Estuary, devastating southwest Louisiana. For months, the estuary received very little fishing pressure as people rebuilt their lives.
“Right after Hurricane Rita, the storm surge opened up a lot of impounded marsh,” Rue recalled. “That doubled the habitat for production of baitfish, shrimp and other creatures. Right after Hurricane Rita, fishing went through the roof. Since the storm, we haven’t had a time when the fish was really slow except during periods of bad weather. The biggest change since the hurricane is the redfish population in the lake. Now, it’s astounding how many reds are in the lake.”
Many people fish the reefs and cuts with jigheads tipped in soft plastics or use live bait under popping corks. In the summer, look for diving birds that might indicate feeding fish. As trout herd shrimp, mullets and menhaden to the surface, birds dive on them.
“I watch what the birds are doing,” Capt. Guy Stansel said. “Birds dive into the water all the time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re feeding. People can waste a lot of time chasing every bird that splashes the water. If birds hover over one spot and get in a frenzy or all dive at once, they’re over fish.”
Anglers may catch a 10-pound speck anywhere in the Calcasieu Estuary on any cast, but to consistently catch lunkers, specifically target big trout. To target big trout, first find big bait. Look for mullets jumping or frenzied pogies. Anglers may load an ice chest with tasty small trout under a flock of birds, but probably won’t catch too many lunkers around schooling fish feeding upon shrimp.
“Bait is the key to catching big fish,” Stansel said. “Look for a reef with good tidal movement and a good supply of bait. I also look for big redfish. I catch plenty big trout mixed with big redfish. If there’s a big school of redfish, there might be some big trout hanging around with them. Trout won’t necessarily be in with the redfish, but they will be near them.”
Once a trout reaches about 3 pounds, it prefers to eat fish instead of shrimp. It feeds primarily upon mullets, menhaden, pinfish and croakers, but may eat just about anything it can catch, including juvenile trout. Since many topwater baits resemble mullets or other baitfish struggling on the surface, they often produce bigger fish.
Anglers might catch big trout on any topwater bait including many specifically designed for largemouth bass, but various “walk-the-dog” baits typically work best. When jerked, they slant from side to side, mimicking the movements of crippled mullets. Interior clackers simulate the sound of croakers. Some hot colors are bone, black and white, chartreuse and white, chartreuse and gold, or clear.
Anglers also catch trophy trout on live bait. Attach a live croaker or mullet about 6 inches long to a circle hook and free line it over a good reef. Anglers can also rig it on a Carolina rig with a slip sinker and a long leader. Some anglers prefer to dangle live baitfish under corks.
For something a little different, hook a fresh finger mullet onto a 1/2-ounce jighead. Rig it just like a plastic bait with, the hook coming out of the fish’s head or back. Work this rig just like an artificial bait, running it slowly near the bottom and occasionally popping it or letting it drop. It probably won’t catch many trout, but it might entice some monsters in the right area.
To Capt. Erik Rue for a day of fishing on the lake, contact him at Calcasieu Charter Service on (337) 598-4700, or visit www.calcasieucharters.com.
Capt. Guy Stansel of Hackberry Rod and Gun Club can be reached at 1-888-762-3391. The Web site is www.hackberryrodandgun.com.
For area information, contact the Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-456-SWLA or go online to www.visitlakecharles.org.
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