Sometimes, the end of a fishing charter just kind of fizzles out. Maybe the captain had a hard time finding the fish or maybe the weather is just plain bad. Other times, the ride back to the dock is warmed by a perfect trip and this was that kind of ride. My wife, Cherie, and our friend, Kaylen, were sitting on the console seat chatting and laughing. We had all the fish we wanted to take home in the cooler and our arms were tired from all the fish we’d released. As we ran in brilliant sunshine across Lake Calcasieu under blue skies and fluffy white clouds, I told our captain, Mike Bares with Hackberry Rod and Gun, the only thing that would make the trip better for the girls is if he pointed out a unicorn on the bank on the way to the dock.
As I was saying that, Mike cut the throttle on the big Kenner boat and pointed ahead. It was a school of big redfish, their backs distorting the water’s surface as they moved across the lake. Mike rushed and rigged a couple of rods with soft plastics and we worked our way around to get in front of these big fish. The fish sounded before we could get into position and we lost them but the trip had been so good, I didn’t really mind. I’ve always had a healthy respect for Louisiana fishing since my first trip. I honestly have never had a bad trip in Louisiana but this might have been my best.
The trip didn’t exactly begin that way for me. We left the docks under pre-sunrise grey skies and threatening rain. Our first fishing spot was productive. Finally, I landed a good speck and then another. We caught about a dozen nice speckled trout and the threatening rain turned into actual liquid rain with the sound of thunder in the distance. When fish are biting, it takes a little more rain to push my wife to a dry spot.
Calcasieu Lake is near Lake Charles in southwest Louisiana, about 10 miles from the Gulf of Mexico just off Interstate 10. I’m a big fan of Louisiana fishing and my appreciation is based on experience. I’ve had an occasional slow fishing day almost everywhere I’ve fished, except Louisiana. While this trip wouldn’t have been a bad trip fishing almost anywhere else, had we been rained out with just the early fish, it would have been my worst in Louisiana.
There are a lot of reasons for the excellent fishing in southwest Louisiana but I believe the most important is the state’s commitment to conserving their fishery for recreational fishing. There has been very little commercial fishing for a long time. Like North Carolina, the fishing in Louisiana was fading before the changes were made, their redfish and spotted sea trout populations were on the rocks. With stringent restrictions and emphasis on recreational fishing over commercial, the fishery recovered some twenty years ago and is still going strong in spite of the highest creel limits on redfish and trout anywhere in the country. There still are commercial fishing operations in the state, but they’re carefully regulated to protect the more valuable gamefish species like spotted sea trout and redfish, the same fish we call red drum. The result is that redfish and trout are much more plentiful in spite of the fact that their recreational limits are five times more generous than ours.
In coastal fishing, tide changes everything and tide changes continually. Our first productive spot began to fade, so Mike decided to try another spot for a while. We only moved a couple of hundred yards to a weir in the levee where the lake and marsh equalized when the tide changed. As the tide receded, there was a strong flow and Mike instructed the girls to cast their shrimp into the outflow. The result was instant. Kaylen hooked up first and she squealed with excitement as she fought a four-pound black drum to the boat. Cherie got the next one before Mike could get Kaylen’s fish off the hook. From that one spot, I estimate we caught at least 40 black drum, maybe 50, with almost continuous action. Mike was frustrated because the black drum would get the bait before the more desirable specks could get to it. He promised that when the tide changed, we’d get some specks, and big ones, too.
As the black drum bite began, the sun came out and warmed us, we continued fishing in warm sunshine and light breezes. At this point, we were way past keeping fish. We had all we wanted though we still hadn’t reached the limits on specs, yet.
Mike and I began tight lining the live shrimp for the specks that should have taken over the depths when the tide changed and we got into some really nice speckled trout. The biggest fish of the trip, a 24-inch speck that weighed just under five pounds, nearly jerked my rod from my hands. The bite never faded but I had to get back to do a radio guest appearance so we left with the specks and drum still hungry.
Image by Dick Jones