Then Stansel announced with a grin from ear-to-ear: "That's a good speck."
On a good day of fishing, Stansel and his party will catch as many as 50 5- to 8-pound speckled trout at Lake Calcasieu.
"The fishing at Lake Calcasieu is better this year than it's ever been," Stansel said. "October is my favorite time of year to fish because we're coming off a long, hot summer, and finally getting some cooler weather, which really causes the trout and the redfish to bite.
"Another advantage to fishing in October is that any method will produce fish, whether you fish with live, suspended or topwater baits. You can fish down the banks, drift over oyster reefs or fish under working birds. You have to work hard at not catching fish to come home with an empty cooler."
And a natural happening every October causes speckled trout, redfish and flounder to go on a feeding spree — cool fronts.
"Those first cool fronts make baitfish and shrimp leave shallow-water estuary areas and move out to deeper water," Stansel said. "Sport fish like speckled trout, redfish and flounder feel that cooler weather, and know they need to pack on fat to get ready for winter."
Beat banks for trout
Three-basic techniques will pay big speckled trout and redfish dividends in October — fishing on the banks, over the reefs and under working birds. To catch big trout, fish the banks.
"Big speckled trout are loners and generally like to stay away from schooling trout and fishermen," Stansel said. "Since most fishermen look for schooling trout under birds, the big trout know they can feed close to the shore and not have nearly as much fishing pressure."
You also will find larger baitfish running the shoreline. At this time of year, big trout often prefer eating big baits because they can conserve energy and put on more weight in a shorter time than if they have to chase smaller baitfish or shrimp. When Stansel targets good 'uns (5- to 8-pound speckled trout), he spends most of his day fishing down the bank.
"My favorite areas to fish in October are Long Point, Commissary Point and West Cove," he said.
At first light, Stansel will fish topwater lures like MirrOlure She Dogs.
"I've caught more fish on the She Dog than on any other lure I've ever used," he said. "I especially like the pearl-colored She Dog with a chartreuse back and a chartreuse belly."
As the sun rises and gets brighter, Stansel prefers suspending lures like the MirrOlure Catch 2000 in chartreuse with a white head or white with a red head for fishing the banks.
"I keep this lure moving with a twitch-twitch-pause, twitch-twitch-pause action," he said. "Also, I like the Mepps Little Wolf spoon because you can catch a lot of redfish and big trout with it."
When the sun's high, and the day's bright, Stansel will fish jigs. Numbers of redfish will feed down the bank.
"You can get into an area where there's nothing but redfish or a spot where you'll only catch speckled trout," Stansel says. "There are other places where the trout and the redfish are mixed together. However, many times, large trout will hang around a big school of redfish. If I'm catching redfish, I won't leave because I'll often catch big trout in or around the school of reds."
If the weather's good, Stansel and his customers often will catch 100 trout that weigh 5 to 8 pounds each in 10 days. Most of the time, Stansel fishes the shorelines early in the morning, and then drifts over oyster reefs later in the morning and throughout the middle of the day.
Wade for big specks
If you're serious about catching big trout and don't mind getting your feet wet, Stansel suggests wading.
But he does have a caution.
"You either need to wear some type of wading shoes or waders, because the bottom often has shells on it that will cut your feet," he said. "Because you're so quiet, the trout never will know you're there, and you can slip up on them before they know you're coming. Even in October, you still can wear your bathing suit and tennis shoes to sneak up on the big trout — unless a strong cold front has passed through the region. Since you don't know what the weather will be until you get there, you'll be well-advised to carry a good pair of waders with you."
Drift the reefs
You often won't get as much action on the shoreline as you will drifting oyster reefs. To make sure Stansel's customers not only take big trout but also have the opportunity to catch plenty of fish, he usually recommends that they fish the reefs later in the morning.
"The real secret to catching trout on oyster reefs is to avoid spooking the fish before you begin fishing for them," Stansel said. "I'll motor my boat about 100 to 150 yards upwind and upcurrent from the reef I'm planning to fish, use my trolling motor to keep my boat in position so that my party and I can drift over the reef without making any noise, and then set the anchor as soon as someone catches a fish."
Stansel doesn't drop or throw his anchor, but instead, he eases it out over the side of the boat, and lowers it very slowly on the rope until the anchor touches the bottom.
"You want to lower your anchor to the bottom as noiselessly as possible so you don't spook the fish," Stansel said.
Stansel and his party will fan-cast around the boat and remain in that location until the fish stop biting. Then, Stansel will quietly lift the anchor and allow the boat to drift until someone catches another fish before lowering the anchor again. If Stansel sees other anglers fishing the same oyster reef, he'll move his boat 100 to 150 yards away from the reef before he cranks his big engine to travel to another reef.
Although you can catch a big trout drifting the reefs, you generally will catch a good mixture of speckled trout, redfish and flounder. If Stansel's fishing for big trout, he'll cast the She Dog. If he wants to catch large numbers of fish, he'll fish with some type of jig or spoon, like the Mepps Little Wolf.
"Normally, some of the same reefs will hold large speckled trout every year, so I have certain reefs I fish when I want to target big trout," he said. "But the average reef fish will weigh 1 1/2 to 8 pounds each."
Shorelines and reefs
Stansel fishes both the shoreline and reefs in October with 10- or 12-pound-test line, and ties on about 18- or 20-pound-test Berkley Big Game monofilament line as a shock leader. He also likes Stanley Wedge Tails, Bass Assassin lures and a locally made jig called the Hackberry Hustler.
"If the water's clear, I like bright baits like glow with a chartreuse tail," Stansel said. "If the water's murky, I'll fish black with a chartreuse tail or purple with blue flakes and a chartreuse tail. You want some type of chartreuse on any jig you fish in Lake Calcasieu."
Birds for a bunch
"Birds are your fish finders," Stansel said. "When you see birds diving on bait, you know there are specks and reds under them."
Stansel recommends you fish the birds the same way you fish a reef — get upwind and upcurrent of the birds. Then let the wind and current push the boat quietly toward the school.
"I use my trolling motor to get within 50 yards of the school, and then I turn my boat sideways, so everyone in the boat can cast to the school of fish," Stansel said.
Stansel generally drifts right under the birds, and casts in all directions. However, if he sees the fish leaving as he comes close to them, Stansel will set up his boat to drift on the outside of the school, make long casts into the middle of the feeding fish and sometimes catch fish there for a long time.
For the most success under the birds, don't spook the fish by running into the school with your big engine or trolling motor, throwing an anchor out or making noise in the boat. Instead, stop about 100 to 200 yards away from the school, and watch the direction the birds travel.
"Once I know the direction the fish are traveling, I try to get ahead of the school, keep my party quiet and let the school of specks and reds come to us," Stansel said. "You'll take more fish like this when you're fishing below working birds. Once we catch a fish, I'll set my anchor. After we've caught a number of fish, and the fish have moved past us, I'll circle the school, get in front of them again and let them come to us again."
Don't forget flatfish
During the month of October on Lake Calcasieu, flounder move out of the marshes and toward the mouths of the cuts, out to the main lake and even to the Ship Channel.
"We fish for flounder by bouncing jigs along the bottom," Stansel said. "I like to use 1/4-ounce jigs with bright-colored grubs like glow, chartreuse or white. I often will tip my jig with a small piece of dead shrimp to give the bait an odor. I also use Berkley Gulp grubs with shrimp flavor to catch flounder."
To learn more about Hackberry Rod and Gun, call (888) 762-3391 or go to www.hackberryrodandgun.com.