Where The Water Runs Red
September 28, 2010
On southwest Louisiana's Calcasieu and Sabine lakes, there is now a near-perfect opportunity to tap into a redfish feeding frenzy. Stop what you're doing, and get on the water now! (April 2009)
Mark Davis shows off a Louisiana redfish caught on a Heddon Super Spook.
Photo by Patrick Hogan.
Everything was looking good about three years after the wrath of Hurricane Rita, and most folks on Sabine Lake and Calcasieu Lake were moving forward and catching plenty of redfish. Then, much to our horror, Hurricane Ike came calling on Sept. 13, 2008, taking no prisoners. It would turn out to be the third most destructive hurricane in U.S. history.
Even though Ike made landfall near Galveston, Sabine and Calcasieu were on the nasty east side of this vicious storm, and they took a beating.
"It wasn't the wind that tore us up so much," said guide Buddy Oakes of Hackberry Rod & Gun Club. "It was a water event. We had 11 1/2 feet of water cover us up. Rita was devastating. But Ike came in with a storm surge that leveled everything in its path."
At Sabine Lake, on the Texas-Louisiana border, a wall of water from 12 to 20 feet high moved onshore and wiped out just about everything that had been rebuilt after Rita.
So, in retrospect you would think that the fisheries on Calcasieu and Sabine would be wiped out.
In fact, since Ike came calling, the fishing is good on both of these bays.
"I don't know what happened," said Capt. Jerry Norris, who operates a guide service on Sabine Lake. "The fishing after Rita turned on. And now, after Ike, it's about as good as I've seen it in over 40 years of fishing."
Ditto that on Calcasieu. Oakes said that he believes there are more redfish on the lake than anytime in recent years.
"Since Ike, our guides have been getting daily limits on reds," said Oakes. "It's great fishing that has saved many of our trips."
One thing is certain: Both of these bays have been top producers of reds forever. But following the storm surges from two hurricanes, things have only gotten better.
I've done quite a bit of fishing on Sabine since Ike, and I can say from hands-on experience the action for reds is something you have to see to believe. Last fall, the action under the birds was phenomenal. It wasn't unusual to go out and find an acre-size school of reds chasing baitfish.
So where do you find reds on Sabine during April?
The best tactic is to work the lower lake shoreline. The causeway bridge (that connects Louisiana and Texas) is where you want to start fishing. There is a ramp on the Texas side of the causeway bridge. That's also where you'll find a store selling tackle, food and drinks. From there, you have two options. One is to head south and fish Sabine Pass. The other is to head north and fish along the Louisiana shoreline.
UPPER SABINE LAKE
Let's start on the Louisiana shoreline. The area from the causeway bridge up to Blue Buck Point is very good. What you want to do is work your way up from the bridge to the point. That's about a half-mile of water. This particular stretch of water can load up with hungry reds, because this is the tip of what you might call a redfish tunnel.
Fishing for redfish in the mouths of bayous on both Calcasieu and Sabine lakes can be excellent in April.
Photo by Robert Sloan.
The reds move up from the Gulf through the jetties, then Sabine Pass and into the lake. Their first stop is the big, shallow flat from the causeway up to Blue Buck Point. That particular flat is among Norris' favorite spots to fish.
"That area holds lots of reds because it attracts lots of baitfish, like shad and mullet, during early spring," Norris said. "Harvesting oysters on Sabine has been illegal for years. Because of that, we have a lot of oyster reefs on the lower reef, especially along that particular shoreline."
Since the water in that area is shallow, it's best to do one of three things -- drift, stake out or bump and go with a trolling motor. Reds are skittish when they are feeding across a shallow flat. There are several isolated oyster reefs just south of Blue Buck Point. I normally drift within casting range of the reef, then stake out my shallow-running Maverick HPX. At that point, I can fan-cast over and around the reef. You never know where reds are going to be feeding in a situation like that.
Often the water on the lower end of Sabine Lake will be stained. That's when you might want to fish with a black spinnerbait. My favorite is one with a black grub tail and gold blade. You might be surprised at how aggressive reds can be on spinners worked over shallow flats. I found that out one day while fishing with Billy Murray. He's best known as a bass fisherman, but one day while fishing shallow flats for reds, he and I caught easy limits of 5- to 10-pounders while fishing spinnerbaits over scattered shell reefs.
Norris said his favorite lures over shallow oyster reefs include a She Dog, Super Spook or Bass Assassin.
"I'll almost always start out with a topwater, then move to a soft plastic," explained Norris. "Reds will smash a topwater if you can get it over them. I'll fish a She Dog in black/chartreuse. If nothing happens, I'll switch to a soft plastic like an Assassin in chartreuse or red/shad."
The entire shoreline from the causeway bridge and up to Blue Buck Point can hold pods of reds. That's a lot of water and can take up a whole morning or afternoon of fishing if you do it right. The main thing is to go slow, look for mullet and fish every inch of water thoroughly.
LOWER SABINE LAKE
On the lower end of Sabine Lake is a huge reef that's in 6 to 20 feet of water. This is probably the most popular spring fishing spot on Sabine. It's easy to fish and more often than not holds plenty of reds. This is a massive reef that stretches for several hundred yards. It begins at the causeway bridge and heads north up toward Blue Buck Point.
The best way to fish this deep-water reef is with soft plastics. And fishing is simple. You make a cast
and allow the jig to sink to the bottom. As the boat drifts with the current, the jig will bump over the oysters. Hang on and wait for a bite. April is one of the best times to be fishing this reef. When it's right, you can get easy limits of reds, along with a number of speckled trout.
Something else you might try is fishing topwater plugs right up against the grass along the south shoreline of the lake. That's usually best on a high tide or when the tide begins to fall. The reds will be feeding on crabs and mullet along the grass. This is also a very good area to fly-fish with big poppers. Reds will climb all over anything that's moving along like a struggling mullet. My Big Eye Poppers made of foam are killers on reds. The trick is to pop them, then just twitch them along like a crippled finger mullet.
One of my favorite redfish lures is a Super Spook Jr. Reds love to explode on this particular plug. It looks just like a finger mullet and has an excellent action on a slow and steady retrieve. Another excellent choice for redfish is a MirroLure She Dog. In fact, it's an all time favorite on Calcasieu and a go-to lure for guides out of Hackberry Rod & Gun Club.
"A She Dog is one of those lures that you tie on and have a lot of confidence in," said Oakes. "That lure in glow/chartreuse or black/chartreuse is tough to beat. It's especially good along the shorelines during April. That's when you can find numbers of shallow reds along the south shoreline of the lake."
Those areas include the mouths of bayous like Mangrove and Grand. On outgoing tides, you can usually find plenty of baitfish at the mouths of these two bayous. And the reds will usually be stacked in with them. There are two ways to fish these areas. One is to wade. The other is to ease up on the flats and stake out the boat while you fan-cast one area at a time.
Staking out a boat to fish a particular area is popular on both Sabine and Calcasieu. What I've been using the past couple of years is a Stake Out Stik. It's made by an engineer in Beaumont, Texas. This is basically a thin-diameter stick that's made in various lengths. You can get more info at www.stakeoutstick.com. This flexible pole with a shackle at one end is basically a shallow-water anchor, without the hassle of a rope and anchor getting a bite on bottom. It's quiet to use, easy to stick in mud or sand and designed to be used for anything from a kayak to the big center console rigs. It's similar to a Power Pole, but much cheaper.
A good area that'll produce Calcasieu reds during April is off Commissary Point. There is a big reef just off this point, and it's a very, very popular area to fish. I've caught many solid reds off this particular reef. One morning I was out and the wind had created a pretty good chop on the surface, but there were plenty of mullet on the reef. Just to see what would happen, I made a long cast and worked a bone/chartreuse He Dog -- a slightly larger version of the She Dog -- across the reef. That first cast was blasted by a big redfish. Three of us fished that reef and caught limits of reds.
There is nothing quite like catching big reds on topwater plugs. I love it. They can be very aggressive, and when you've really got 'em going you can have an entire school racing toward a topwater plug. Talk about exciting -- that's it.
If I had to produce a redfish on any given day at any given time, I would head to West Cove on Calcasieu. I've caught more reds on West Cove's shallow-water flats than anywhere else on Calcasieu Lake. And most of the reds were caught while I was fishing with either Kirk, Guy or Bobby Stansel, all brothers that guide out of Hackberry Rod & Gun Club. On one particular afternoon, I was with Bobby on the south side of West Cove. We were easing along the shoreline when Bobby saw several wakes.
"Those are reds," he said. "Let's ease up on them, and see what happens."
What happened was that those reds absolutely unloaded on our lures. I was using a bone-colored Super Spook. Bobby had a black/chartreuse She Dog on and Bob Hood, the third angler in our boat, was fishing with a gold spoon. Although, at that particular time we could have been fishing chicken necks and caught those reds. They were very aggressive. But the ticket to hooking up was to make a long cast. Reds are notoriously spooky when prowling the flats.
Oakes says that during April the north entrance to West Cove can be a redfish hotspot.
"That's an area with a lot of water flow that attracts a lot of baitfish and reds," said Oakes. "Another area that's good during April is the Long Point area, where you can find lots of oyster reefs in 3 to 5 feet of water."
You can reach the Long Point area by running down the Intracoastal Waterway toward West Cove. Hang a left around the end of Long Point and head north about a half mile.
Another hotspot for reds on Calcasieu is up on the far end near the Mud Lake marsh. That's where you'll find the West Pass reefs. You can drift the area, or ease in and anchor. This is shallow water and a quiet approach is always beneficial.
Regardless of where you'll be fishing on Calcasieu, there are two things to remember. During April, you're apt to find more redfish running the bank early. Once the sun gets up and warms the shallows, you'll often do best by moving out to fish the reefs in 5 or 6 feet of water.
"What we like to do is fish shallow along the shorelines early with topwater lures, then move out to the deeper reefs after about 9 or 10 in the morning," explained Oakes. "Once you move to deeper water the bite is usually best on new penny- or copper-colored Gulps rigged on 1/4-ounce jigheads. Soft plastics bumped along the shell reefs can be deadly. During the summer months, we'll be free-lining live shrimp on the reefs. But during April and May, shrimp are scarce. That's why something like a Gulp is a very good option.
TARGET THE JETTIES
Both the Calcasieu and Sabine jetties are excellent areas to fish during April and May. Fishing the jetties is simple, if you've got a trolling motor. What I've done for years is ease along these jetties while fishing crankbaits or lipless cranks like a Cordell Super Spot. Soft plastics like a Stanley Wedgetail also work.
"All sorts of lures will catch reds along the jetties," said Norris. "But on a daily basis it's tough to beat something like a Stanley Wedgetail in bone or chartreuse. The water along the Sabine and Calcasieu jetties is usually slightly stained. That's why something like a vibrating Wedgetail is so good. I'll usually rig them on 1/4-ounce jigheads. The idea is to fish the baits deep so that they are tipping the tops of the rocks."
At times, the redfish will be right up on the rocks running finger mullet. That's when you can use something like a Super Spook Jr. to catch them.
When fishing the jetties you need to remember that the base of the rocks will slant out into deeper water. That's why crankbaits can be so deadly. The Cotton Cordell Super Spot can be fished parallel to the jetties at just abou
t any depth.
At last year's FLW redfish tourney on Sabine Lake, almost all the final-day reds were caught on deep-running crankbaits fished along the jetties. I talked with top anglers in that tourney and they all fished a variety of cranks that ran anywhere from 3 to 12 feet deep. Roland Martin said the key on the second day of the tourney was to fish shallow-running cranks. But on the final day, he and his fishing partner used deep-running cranks to catch upwards of 50 reds.
When fishing the Calcasieu jetties, I've done best by working the channel side of the rocks. The tips of both the east and west jetty tend to hold reds when other areas won't.
If you're out to catch bull reds during April, I highly recommend fishing either the Calcasieu or Sabine jetties with hunks of fresh mullet on bottom. The most consistent way to catch big reds is to fish the deep-water washout holes at the end of the rocks. Big reds will often hold in those deep-water areas where the baitfish will wash through with the current. The outgoing tide is usually best when fishing for bulls at the end of the jetties.