These aren’t your typical redfish making wakes along the shoreline. You won’t see their tails or silhouettes darting on the water’s surface, and you’ll rarely see a bird picking overhead.
But slot redfish love cold water, and they recently returned to the northern portions of the Calcasieu estuary.
Eyeing the ripples of water pouring over a rock structure in the Old River channel north of I-10, Lake Charles’ Ken Chaumont cast a 3.75-inch suspending plug — Egret Baits’ Zombie R.I.P. Stik — and worked it down 3 feet.
It didn’t take long for his first strike.
“These schools of slot reds are just now moving in here in better numbers,” Chaumont said. “There’s a lot of shad moving in here from the river, and these schools of reds along with hybrid stripers are following them.”
A few minutes later Chaumont picked up another red working the same area.
“They think this lure is shad, and they’re hitting it hard,” he said.
Another good slot red was picked up to the south as Chaumont worked a plastic VuDu Eel in a saucer-like depression on the northeast shore of Lake Charles. He located pods of redfish by noting larger blips following clouds (schools) of shad on his Lowrance.
“Anywhere there’s deeper waters like this depression, the shad will suspend in here and the reds will be after them,” he said.
Eventually Chaumont worked his way to the Saltwater Barrier in Westlake. Water was pushing and foaming south of the structure, and he cast a few Wedgetails on ½-ounce jigheads along the columns — but he got no takers.
“They’re not quite here, but it won’t be long,” he said. “The waters just have to get a little colder. “But year after year they show up, and it doesn’t take long to get limits of reds and a few good hybrid stripers.”
Chaumont said that anywhere there’s deeper water starting at Prien Lake and heading north of I-10 into the Old River Channel near the Saltwater Barrier, there will be slot reds mixed with a few larger bulls.
“They could be in a dead-end canal, the entrance of a bayou and even north of the Saltwater Barrier in the Calcasieu River itself,” he said. “There will be some shrimp left in the system, but they’re primarily there for baitfish.”
According to biologist Sean Kinney with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in Lake Charles, threadfin shad are probably the major baitfish species reds follow as they move toward the Saltwater Barrier in Westlake.
“I am sure there are other species that they consume, but that is just based on their general diet,” Kinney said. “I know that lots of people target the hybrids around the Hwy. 171 bridge with live shrimp, and that species has an affinity for that bait, too.
“I’m sure both species encounter shrimp in this watershed, and would not hesitate to eat them.”
If temperatures do get cold for an extended period, the Saltwater Barrier becomes more important when north winds and tidal flow force river waters south.
“There’s a lot of big hybrids attracted to that structure,” Chaumont said. “You’re looking at fish weighing 10 and 12 pounds at times.
“And big redfish will be even more numerous than the hybrid stripers.”
Near the structures, swimbaits such as the Wedgetail Mullet in chartreuse-pepper and opening night colors work well.
“You may have to use ½-ounce jigheads if the fish are deep,” Chaumont said. “Sometimes the reds and hybrids will be shallower and you can catch them on ¼-ounce jigheads.”
Access to the Old River Channel and the south (saltwater) side of the Saltwater Barrier is via a small public landing — Riverside Park located in Westlake at 1700 Miller Avenue.
Access to the north (freshwater side) can be gained directly on the side of the Saltwater Barrier itself at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers public landing at the end of Mims Road.
The landing just north of the I-210 bridge allows anglers access to both Prien Lake and Lake Charles.