Up And Down The Coast: Big Bayou State Trout

Say "big trout" and many Louisiana residents think "Calcasieu"-- and justly so. But all along the state's Gulf frontage, still more huge trout await your pleasure. Let's explore a few of the month's other options.

Capt. J.Y. Constance of Hackberry Rod and Gun Club, seen here with an 8-pound, 3-ounce speckled trout.
Photo by John Felsher

When it comes to double-digit speckled trout, three Louisiana lakes at opposite ends of the state stand out. Each estuary has potential to produce a fish besting the 12.38-pounder Leon Mattes landed in May 1950 to set the Louisiana speckled trout standard.

LAKE PONTCHARTRAIN

Many believe that Mattes caught his lunker in Lake Pontchartrain on the northern boundary of New Orleans. However, as urban runoff and shell dredging muddied the lake, few people considered the lake a major trout fishery in the 1970s and '80s. Shell dredging ended in 1989, and water quality gradually improved. Sea grass sprouted again in many areas, and good fishing returned.

In February 1999, Kenny Kreeger landed an 11.99-pound speckled trout, currently No. 2 in the state. In April 2002, Dudley Vandenborre landed a 10.50-pound speck from Lake Pontchartrain. His fish ranks eighth on the state record list.

"The day before I caught the big one, I caught a 31-inch fish, but it only weighed 9.5 pounds," Vandenborre said. "It was bigger than anything else we caught that day and we caught a lot of 6-pounders. On any day in Lake Pontchartrain, any bite could be the new state record."

In September 1999, Jason Troullier landed an 11.24-pound trout from the nearby Rigolets. His fish currently ranks third in the state Top 10. The Rigolets (from the French for "trench") and another deep pass, Chef Menteur ("chief liar") connect Pontchartrain with Lake Borgne. Borgne, really an open bay to the Gulf of Mexico, allows salty water to flow through the Rigolets and the Chef into Pontchartrain. Many work the U.S. 90 bridges or the old railroad trestles that cross these passes.

In Pontchartrain itself, anglers troll crankbaits or plastics parallel to the 24-mile-long Causeway. Other bridges, the twin Interstate 10 spans, the old U.S. 11 bridge and the ancient, barnacle-encrusted railroad trestle cross the lake from north to south, linking New Orleans with Slidell. Some flip heavy jigs next to pilings, like bass anglers working standing flooded timber, or slowly bounce baits off the bottom under the bridges.

For booking trips in the Lake Pontchartrain area, call Vandenborre at (985) 847-1924 or Capt. Dee Geoghegan of Geoghegan Fishing Guide Service in Slidell at 1-888-773-2536. (Continued)

CALCASIEU LAKE

Each year, Calcasieu Lake, south of Lake Charles, produces many trout in the 6- to 9-pound range, with several breaking the 10-pound mark. On May 21, 2000, Stuart Roy caught and released a trout 32 inches long with a 17-inch girth. Roy released the giant fish without officially weighing it, but a marine biologist estimated that the trout probably weighed about 13 pounds.

On May 10, 2002, Timothy Mahoney landed the official Calcasieu record, an 11-pound, 2.5-ounce speck with a length of 30.125 inches and a girth of 16 7/8 inches. Mahoney's fish currently ranks fourth in the state record book. It shares the Top 10 with two other Calcasieu trout holding down Nos. 5 and 7.

The lake also produced the state-record trout caught on fly tackle. In December 1996, Capt. Jeff Poe of Big Lake Guide Service landed a 9.31-pounder to set that standard. Each year, people catch potential Top 10 fish, but they never bother to enter them in the books.

Calcasieu Lake measures roughly 12 miles by nine miles and averages about 6 feet deep. During the summer, many trout find comfort in the 40-foot deep waters of the adjacent Calcasieu Ship Channel or head to the deeper waters of the Gulf of Mexico. This 40-mile long channel connects the port of Lake Charles with the Gulf of Mexico.

The ship channel clips the northwest edge of Calcasieu Lake at Turner's Bay. At the southwest end of the lake, the Washout and Nine Mile Cut connect the lake to the channel. Nearby Long Point typically produces good catches. Other honeyholes include Commissary Point, Basket Reef, West Cove or old rock jetties along the southern shoreline.

"In the summer, I cruise around looking for bait," said Will Drost, a local angler with some 9-pounders to his credit. "I stand up in the boat when I'm driving and look for activity. It might be one bird diving on bait. For big fish, I look for mullets. A big trout can swallow a big mullet. Big fish only feed a couple times a day and want a big meal."

For booking trips, call Hackberry Rod and Gun Club at (337) 762-3391 or 1-888-762-3391, Capt. Allen Singletary of Reel Men's Sports at (337) 497-1029, Capt. Erik Rue of Calcasieu Charter at (337) 598-4700 or Capt. Jeff Poe if Big Lake Guide Service at (337) 598-3268.

SABINE LAKE

Largely overshadowed by Calcasieu Lake 30 miles east, Sabine Lake along the Louisiana-Texas line actually produced a larger trout than its neighbor. In March 1999, Dr. Kelly Rising, a Beaumont, Texas, obstetrician, landed an 11.50-pound 30.5-inch fish to set the lake record. If he had weighed the fish in Louisiana, he would hold third place in the record book. The lake produced some trout longer than 32 inches.

Slightly bigger, deeper and more natural than Calcasieu Lake, Sabine Lake stretches about 19 miles along the old Sabine River channel. About nine miles wide, it averages 7 to 8 feet deep. At Sabine Pass and near the state Highway 82 Bridge six miles north of the jetties, some holes drop to more than 30 feet deep.

The Intracoastal Waterway crosses the old Sabine River channel at the northern end. The Neches River enters from the northwest, and the Sabine River flows down from the north. Both rivers can muddy the system after severe rains. Below the Intracoastal Waterway, several flats punctuated by occasional oyster reefs hold fish.

"Calcasieu Lake has a lot more oyster reefs than Sabine," said Capt. Kent Carlson of Cameron Meadows Lodge in Johnson Bayou. "We have a lot of reefs on the south end and a few humps on the north end. We could use more artificial reefs. In August, we start working the north end and looking for birds. There are a few clamshell reefs, oyster beds and humps in that area."

Marshes, primarily on the Louisiana side, provide ample nursery habitat for spawning fish, shrimp, crabs and other creatures. These morsels feed an abundant trout population and allow fish to reach large proportions.

"Acc

ording to the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife, Sabine Lake has five times the amount of nursery marsh as in the entire Galveston Bay complex," said Capt. Skip James of Sabine Lake Guide Service in Orange, Texas. "On the Louisiana side, we have more than 20 miles of marshy shoreline where we don't see anything except wildlife. That doesn't include the natural bayous that flow out of the marshes."

Anglers may fish anywhere in the lake with either a Louisiana or a Texas license. However, in Texas waters, anglers must adhere to Texas regulations, which allow each person to keep up to 10 specks per day, each at least 15 inches long. Although people may legally catch a 25-fish limit in Louisiana waters, they cannot legally enter Texas waters unless they abide by Texas laws. At Calcasieu and Sabine lakes, Louisiana anglers may not keep more than two specks exceeding 25 inches long per day.

To book trips, call Carlson at (337) 569-2700 or James at (409) 886-5341.

All three lakes, really estuaries, share common traits: nearly landlocked semi-closed systems, open to the Gulf through deep passes, that (compared to surrounding marshes) contain large expanses of open, relatively deep water, where big fish can feed, grow and roam; also, the three systems offer access to very deep water in which fish find sanctuary from extreme weather conditions. Surrounding marshes spawn abundant forage: shrimp, crabs, mullets and other baitfish.

VENICE MARSHES

The marshes of the Mississippi River delta near Venice rate a highly honorable mention. Ed Sexton landed a 10.50-pounder in April 2000 near Venice. Unlike other marshes in the state, the bays around Venice also offer access to extremely deep water, thanks to the awesome flow of the Mississippi River.

Near the Southwest Pass of the Mississippi River, anglers often catch trout in the 7- to 9-pound range. Occasionally, some lucky angler lands a 10-pound speck.

Any of these areas could produce a record speck with any cast. The question remains not if, but when someone will finally break the state record after more than half a century.

For booking trips in Venice, call Mike Butler of Venice Marina at (985) 534-9357.

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