September 28, 2010
When it comes to truly heavyweight trout, nowhere in the state beats the Big Lake. And spring is the optimal time for hooking fish in double digits.
Even when you're catching schooling trout, you have a very good chance of catching a large fish at Calcasieu.
Photo by John E. Phillips
For more than 25 years now, captains Jeff and Mary Poe, of Lake Charles, have guided on Lake Calcasieu, spending nearly every day of May on the large lake searching for jumbo speckled trout. During this time they've learned that everything from the salinity of the water, the direction of the tide, the location of the baitfish and the water's clarity has an impact on the trout.
And thanks to that knowledge, the pair, along with the other guides at their Big Lake Guide Service, will generally concentrate most of their fishing efforts on oyster reefs.
"The salinity of the water determines on which oyster reefs in Lake Calcasieu the trout will be holding," Jeff Poe said. "If this area doesn't have much rain, and the lake stays really salty, the trout may be holding all the way up to the northern end of the Lake. But usually in May, if this region has had a lot of spring rains, the fish will mainly concentrate on the south end of the lake."
In the vicinity of the old jetties in the southwestern corner of the lake, you can drift almost anywhere and fish successfully for trout over oyster reefs. As you get further away from the cuts that bring Gulf of Mexico water into Lake Calcasieu, the reefs become more scattered.
Ordinarily, Calcasieu anglers seeking speckled trout watch for diving seagulls, which home in on the numerous schools of trout that push shrimp and baitfish to the surface, thus providing easy pickings for the birds.
Said Poe: "Usually when you fish under the birds, you'll catch smaller trout weighing from 1 to 2 pounds each. Last year we didn't have that much bird activity in May, but in 2003, there was quite a bit of bird activity during the month of May. That year I caught one trout under birds that weighed over 9 pounds.
"Don't overlook the old jetties themselves, because they've produced numbers of really big trout. One year I caught a 6 1/2-pound trout fishing a topwater lure around the jetties. However, usually the jetties will pay off better later on in the summer."
In May, the beach just outside of Lake Calcasieu also yields large trout for anglers willing to wade. According to Poe, beach anglers in search of these brutes should look for any troughs running between two sandbars. "Most of the time with two sandbars out from the beach, the trout will be in the trough between the first and the second sandbar," he said. "But if you can find a cut through either the first or the second sandbar, those cuts are usually the most productive for trout."
Poe notes that if the tide's high, the big trout may be right in the surf where the waves break. Yet if the tide goes out, he looks for the fish to move to deeper water. "If some people are wade-fishing and others are fishing from the boat, the wade-fishermen will be casting as far out as they can," he observed, "and the anglers in the boat will be casting as far in as they can."
THREE TOUR-FISHING HOTSPOTS FOR MAY
During the month, Poe usually does best all along the oyster reefs near West Cove, Long Point and Commissary Point. His lures of choice are soft plastics such as Norton's Sand Eel and the 5-inch Saltwater Eel by Bass Assassin.
"Depending on the current, I'll either put a 1/16-, a 1/8- or a 1/4-ounce lead up the line," said Poe, who mainly uses 12-pound monofilament. "Next I'll tie 24 inches of 20-pound-test fluorocarbon leader to my main line. Then I'll use a No. 2/0 hook with a leadhead and attach one of those eel-looking baits on the hook, rigging it Texas-style."
The topwater action for trout is also considerable in these areas. Fish the oyster reefs in 6 to 8 feet of water using lures such as an L&S Bait Company Top Dog or She Dog and the Super Spook from Heddon.
These walking-type topwaters are simply awesome to use on redfish feeding aggressively in shallow water. Frequently, a big, clunky topwater lure is hard for trout near the surface to resist. Anglers need only target a location that's likely to contain fish and then bring the lure through the area, allowing it to work from side to side and make lots of noise. On calm or windy mornings at Calcasieu, these lures can produce numerous trout, many of significant size.
SLICKS: BEST LOCATIONS FOR FINDING LARGE REDS
Although oyster reefs consistently pay the biggest dividends for trout anglers, Poe believes that the bigger trout come from the slicks created when a large school of trout attacks baitfish beneath the surface. As the trout eat the baitfish, the oil released from the bodies of the prey rises to create a smooth spot on the surface.
"The most productive slicks to fish are those when you get to an area out in the lake where you see three or four slicks close to each other," Poe said. "A series of slicks will show you which way the trout are traveling, because as the trout attack the bait, usually they'll be moving, chasing and killing the bait. So in most instances the slicks show you where the trout were -- not necessarily where the trout are."
To fish slicks successfully, anglers have to determine the direction the slick has come from, since winds and the tides affect the slick's drift, in some cases making it difficult to determine the exact position of the moving trout.
"We have some highly-educated speckled trout on Lake Calcasieu," Poe admitted. "I'm convinced these fish know what a trolling motor is and what it means. If you run that trolling motor wide open to chase a school of trout, then that's all you'll do -- chase trout." He added that what you won't do is catch many fish. These trout have indeed come to associate the noise of a trolling motor with danger, and when they detect that sound, they shut down. His advice to anglers is to use trolling motors only sparingly and to rely more on the wind to aid in drifting quietly near the fish.
A perfect slick is created when the wind is blowing in the opposite direction of the tide. For example, if the tide's outgoing, the water moving south and the winds blowing to the north, a slick will generally remain with the trout, indicating the position of the fish.
"The trout are much easier to find when you have a slick like this, because most of the time the trout will be feeding into the tide," Poe explained. "I'll expect the trout to be ahead of the slick moving into the tide."
But when wind and tide move together, the fish are far more difficult to locate, so Poe keeps his clients well away from the slicks and has them fish an assortment of lures, including topwaters and soft baits. Among topwaters, the Top Dog, She Dog and Super Spook are still ideal, while among the soft plastics, several lures work well, including the Yum Samurai Shad, Berkley Power Mullet and Stanley WedgeTail Shad. The colors available for each lure are all over the place, but anglers fishing for trout at Calcasieu can't go wrong with white/chartreuse tail, holographic glitter/chartreuse tail, and black/chartreuse tail.
"Regardless of the color you select, the chartreuse tail seems a must," Poe said. "All these colors of soft plastics can produce trout that may weigh over 8 pounds each."
THE LOSS OF THE BIG TROUT
Just because the big trout bite at Lake Calcasieu this month doesn't necessarily mean that you'll put one in the boat; you have to know the correct way to boat that plus-sized catch to get it on your side of the gunwale. Often the big ones will get away -- and here's why.
"If you try to horse the trout and put a lot of pressure on your rod, you'll create a bigger hole in the trout's mouth than the hook's initially created," Poe explained. "This bigger hole will allow the hook to fall out of the fish's mouth. Therefore, you have to take your time to play the fish down as you bring it to the boat. However, if you play the fish too long, you'll also create a big hole where the hook's entered the fish's mouth, and that fish will get away.
Also, if the trout has the whole lure in its mouth, especially a soft-plastic lure, its sharp teeth will cut the line.
Calcasieu anglers seeking speckled trout watch for diving seagulls, which home in on the numerous schools of trout that push shrimp and baitfish to the surface.
What's more, Poe said, "If you're lucky enough to get one of these big trout close to the boat, don't let the other angler in the boat chase the big trout around the boat trying to net it. More than likely, the angler will knock the trout off the lure."
The inexperience of netters results in anglers losing a large number of fish each year. He recommends that anglers attempt to land their own fish, relying on someone else to help only when the fish is exhausted and safely at hand.
"By taking your time and not netting the fish until it's played down and ready to be netted, you'll lose far fewer trout than if you have an angler who's in a hurry to get the fish into the net and accidentally knocks the fish off the line," said Poe."
Also, remember not to put the net in the water until the fish is ready to come into the boat. If you hold the net in the water in hopes that the angler will pull the fish into the net, the line can become tangled in the net. Or, perhaps even worse, the hook may get caught on the outside of the net and the fish may swim free. If you're swinging and swatting at the fish with the net when the fish has swum close to the boat, you'll lose that fish nine out of 10 times, because you'll probably hit the trout before you net it.
THE MISCONCEPTION ABOUT CALCASIEU
Some fishermen come to Calcasieu and tell Jeff and Mary Poe that they just want to catch big trout. However, even if anglers are planning to fish solely for big trout, and in areas that usually yield up big trout, they're going to catch redfish as well, and a good number of small trout, too.
"If you're hoping to catch big trout, you have to fish in spots with lots of fish on them," Poe asserted. "Generally, big trout aren't loners. They feed on the same baits in the same places that smaller trout and redfish feed. And where the bait is, that's where the big trout will be -- as well as the smaller trout and the redfish."
Poe once caught a 9-pound trout from the midst of a school of 13- and 14-inch trout, which points out one of the problems that anglers can encounter at Calcasieu. A big trout may show up anywhere at any time, but most of the time, when you're catching 2- to 4-pound trout, you'll have a much greater opportunity of catching a trout that weighs 8 pounds or more than when you're fishing a school of trout with primarily 13- to 15-inch fish in it.
Most anglers will fish for trout under the birds and over oyster reefs because of the ease with which someone can locate diving birds or go to well-established oyster reefs to exploit the dependability associated with fishing them.
NUMBERS AND SIZES
An angler can keep one trout 12 inches or longer and two trout more than 25 inches long. Each fisherman can keep 25 trout per day. Many anglers (like Poe) release the large trout, preferring to see the fish fight another day.
"We usually release all the big trout we catch unless our anglers want to mount them," Poe said.
The biggest trout Poe has landed on his boat weighed 10 pounds 5 ounces, and each season he'll see quite a few 8-pound-plus trout. Also, you may retain only five redfish with a minimum length of 16 inches and a maximum length of 27 inches. However, your limit of five redfish can contain one redfish more than 27 inches long.
If you trailer your boat to Calcasieu, four excellent public-access areas are present at the lake: Hebert Marina and Calcasieu Point, two landings on the eastern side of the lake; Spicers Landing, located in Hackberry; and the Ellender Bridge just north of Hackberry on the western side of the lake.
NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT
There's really no bad time to fish for trout during the spring and summer months at Calcasieu. The fish will likely be in plentiful supply this month. And, Poe notes, the odds on an angler crossing paths with a large trout are better than average as well, as the big specimens should be as numerous here as anywhere else.
"Since the net ban was enacted five years ago, we've seen more big trout being caught in Calcasieu than ever before," Poe reported. "I don't believe we're seeing more trout, but the trout that our anglers are catching are definitely bigger."
According to Poe, you'll probably catch a big trout if you fish for three to four consecutive days during good weather in May. But, he quickly added, "Last year we had a lot of rain in May and a goodly amount of fresh water coming into the lake, which made producing really big trout very tough. The weather and the water conditions have more to do with when big trout appear than any other factors."
But the first requirement for catching a large trout is to fish for them -- and Calcasieu's the place to do it.
To learn more about trout fishing at Lake Calcasieu, phone captains Jeff and Mary Poe at their Big Lake Guide Service -- (337) 598-3268 -- e-mail them -- firstname.lastname@example.org-- or vi
sit their Web site --