Only a slight ripple tousled the water as Erik Rue streaked across the wide-open reaches of Calcasieu Lake.

Wind had whipped the water body into a froth for a week, but had died to a whisper the evening before, providing plenty of time for the water to clean up.

Rue was excited after his long hiatus from the lake, but he was forced to hold back on the gas. It was the maiden voyage of his newest boat, and he had to break in the motor.

Still, as the sun's first tentacles of light embraced the lake, the veteran guide had a rod in his hand, working a Norton Sand Eel over Long Point reef.

I took up a position and cast out, fully expecting to feel the familiar crust of the shells along the bottom.

But my jig met no resistance as I bumped it along. In fact, it was difficult to feel any bottom.

That my lure was hitting the floor of the lake wasn't a question — we were in only 4 feet of water, and the tide wasn't strong enough to prevent the 1/4-ounce jighead from falling.

The problem was that there simply didn't seem to be any shells for the lure to bump across.

"A lot of these reefs are really flat," Rue said.

Every now and then, I would feel the tick of a shell, but for the most part the jig seemed to be bouncing over mud.

And then I felt weight when I picked up my rod top, and the rod loaded up — only for a second, as the fish let go before I could set the hook.

Soon, however, Rue was fighting a trout to the boat.

The fish wasn't the log we were looking for, but it was nice to break the ice.

The fish was barely swimming away after being released before Rue's bait was sailing back out.

"That's one of the things I like about that Sand Eel," Rue said. "You can catch a number of fish on it before you have to change baits. It's tough."

Sand Eels are strange-looking, being no more than oval blobs of plastic with pointed tails that would seem to have absolutely no action.

But Rue swears by them.

"You can't ever go wrong with the Sand Eel," he said. "It will catch the big ones and the little ones."

That's why he so often chooses these soft-plastics over topwaters, which many anglers think are the best big-trout choice.

"I feel like with a topwater, you're knocking out a lot of smaller fish," he said. "If you don't mind passing up those fish, and fishing for a few big fish a day, then go ahead.

"But I like to sample them all."

And not every soft-plastic offering will consistently catch the big girls.

"That's why I tie on a Sand Eel instead of a swimming bait — because you'll catch more big trout on a Sand Eel," Rue said. "Why I don't know."

Being hard-headed, however, I stuck with my choice lure until Rue had me down about three to nothing.

Then I bummed a Sand Eel.

As I was impaling it on my hook, Rue admitted there are times when a hard-plastic plug can elicit big, toilet-flush strikes more efficiently.

"When you show up on these spots and there are mullet rafted up and swimming all over, you need to have a topwater or a suspending bait tied on," Rue said.

On this day, however, there were no gangs of mullet, so he stuck with the soft-plastic offerings.

The technique couldn't have been more simple.

Rue ran to his chosen location, killed the motor and let the boat drift with the wind.

"The first thing I'm going to do is go upwind," he said. "I'm going to use the wind and trolling motor to drift dead over the top of the reef I'm fishing.

"And it also helps you make longer casts."

Rue said his best-case scenario is to have the wind and current moving in the same direction, but if they oppose each other he doesn't even bat an eye.

"I'm going to go with the wind," he said. "The current usually isn't that hard here, so the wind will overcome the current."

And he said he's never found it necessary to work baits with the current.

"For the most part, the current is pretty slow over here," he said. "It's not like you're fishing a current when you've got to get behind a hump and put your bait just right."

Once baits were in the water, we simply bumped them along the bottom.

"You've got to be to the bottom," Rue explained. "That's where the fish are."

After swinging another trout into the boat, he opened a hatch, pulled out his anchor and dropped it overboard. The boat quickly swung around.

The owner of Calcasieu Charter Service never put the anchor in the box again.

"You just drift until you catch a fish, and then you put out the anchor," Rue said. "They're schooling fish, so there will be more than one fish in the area.

"That doesn't mean they're stacked up like cordwood, but they're in that area."

So he will fan-cast all around the boat after dropping anchor, thoroughly working the waters to pick up a few fish.

When he's sure there are no hungry fish remaining, Rue picks up the anchor and eases along.

We continued drifting, and I continued missing bites.

It was just the weirdest thing.

I was fishing with braid, which everyone knows is supposed to allow an angler to feel everything.

But the first hint that a fish was on the terminal end of my rig was when I would twitch the rod tip to make the lure hop.

One second the lure would feel almost weightless, and the next it felt like a 20-pound dumbbell was tied to the line.

The hookset had to be immediate: no hesitation, no second chances.

It was that split-second hesitation that cursed me.

Rue could only chuckle and continue to provide encouragement.

Finally, I made firm contact, and triumphantly swung a 2-pound trout into the Triton.

That generated a laugh from Rue, especially considering that I promptly missed the next bite.

Over the next several hours, we hopped around the lake, dredging at least a few trout from almost every reef where we stopped.

That's the key to the lake — knowing where the reefs are, and hopping around until you find an active school.

The problem is that there are no buoys on the water and no markings on a map to show anglers where to go.

Rue said there are three reefs that provide great starts.

Long Point is one of Rue's favorites.

"You'll catch some absolute mules there," he said.

The reef is located just past the halfway mark of the lake on the west side, about 4 1/2 miles southwest of Commissary Point.

Its western side roughly follows the contour of the shoreline, and stretches another few hundred yards to the east. The reef is about a mile long north to south.

Rue said the reef is, for the most part, flat. However, there are a few spots that rise subtly.

"The mullet will get on that reef," he said. "When those big schools of mullet get up there, it's a great place to catch big fish."

And it's mainly a trout location.

"You don't catch redfish there for some reason," Rue explained.

Rue said there are about four spots he's found that consistently produce his best catches.

"There's the reef, and then there are the good spots," he said.

He's found these locations over years of guiding, and understandably refused to divulge them.

But he said that doesn't mean the average angler will be shut out of the action.

"You can just start at one end and drift the entire reef," Rue said. "There are fish all over this thing. You've just got to find them."

Next on his list would be Cross Point reef, which is located in West Cove.

Rue ran across the cove with one eye glued to the northern bank.

"See where those power lines line up?" he asked, pointing to Highway 27. "That's how you know you're there."

Once the power lines were lined up, Rue found Rabbit Island to the southeast, and triangulated off its northernmost point.

That put him right on the northeastern portion of the reef.

And whereas Long Point gets a lot of pressure from the average angler, Cross Reef is one that many less-experienced fishermen pass without even knowing it's there.

But it produces a lot of big fish.

"Cross Reef is a guide spot," he said. "We catch a lot of good fish on that reef."

What confuses many anglers is that there will be a few boats bobbing in the middle of West Cove working the reef, but they won't be bunched up like on Long Point.

The reason is simple.

"The thing about West Cove is there are oysters all over. This cove is loaded with oysters," Rue said. "There are reefs all over the place."

That allows anglers — guides and Average Joes — to spread out.

But the area referred to as Cross Reef actually holds the best of the oyster bottoms.

It's triangular in shape, and is large, stretching more than a mile north to south and about 3/4 of a mile across at its widest point.

"You can literally spend hours there if the weather's calm, and you have the reef to yourself," Rue said. "It might take you hours to work the whole reef."

This is one of the reefs that is fairly defined.

"It does come up shallower," Rue said. "There's a definite rise in some places where the shells are thick."

As with the Long Point reef, shells are scattered. Rue simply fan casts around the boat as he makes his drifts, dropping anchor when he sticks a fish.

Unlike its Long Point counterpart, Cross Reef produces both specks and redfish.

"You'll see fish busting the water in schools, both reds and specks," Rue said.

He likes to throw topwaters over this reef, but his Norton Eel will continue to produce.

One potential problem with Cross Reef is the danger that it can muddy up when a hard incoming tide follows an extraordinary low tide.

"It just pushes that mud into the lake from the passes," Rue said.

Water pours in from the ship channel marking the eastern boundary of the cove and through the west fork of Calcasieu Pass to the south. That can effectively stir the water bottom and ruin the fishing.

That's exactly what happened on this day. The mud line could be seen easily as we ran across the cove.

After catching only a couple of fish on the reef and watching water clarity drop, Rue decided it was time to head north.

We were greeted with even more muddy water as we cut across the ship channel and back into the main lake. Rue made one stop at a minor reef on the eastern side of the lake, but quickly called for me to stow my rod.

He pointed the boat to the north, and headed to the upper end of the lake.

The water quickly turned clear and beautiful again, but Rue didn't let off the gas until we were all the way at the top of the lake.

This area — known locally as Turner Bay — is Rue's third suggestion for anglers learning the lake.

The bay is marked on maps of the lake, but Rue said the locals have broadened the name to include all of the waters from the bay proper to just south of Cutoff Point.

But his favorite reefs in the area are located right in West Pass.

There are actually two small reefs he recommends for this area.

The northern-most reef is located where the pass meets Mud Lake, with the second one being southeast in the middle of the pass.

What makes this reef so great is the fact that you don't have to have a big bay boat.

"It's popular with the small-boat fleet because it's easy to get to," Rue said.

However, this is a much different reef than Long Point or Cross Reef, Rue said.

"It's more of a schoolie spot," he said. "You're not going to find a lot of 8-pounders up here."

The fish also can be ganged up around one of the reefs, leaving the other one seemingly devoid.

"There may be tons of trout up here by the channel and not down there in the pass, or vice versa," Rue said.

And if schoolies aren't on your menu, the guide said there are plenty of trophy trout nearby.

"The bigger fish will be lurking in the shallower areas," he said.

These include the shoreline of and south of Cutoff Point, the small island (or what's left of it) between West and East passes and the shorelines east of the bay.

But no matter which of the reefs you choose — Long Point, Cross Reef or Turner Bay — you should be able to put fish in the boat. And that could include some trophies.

"If you've never been here before, if you go to one of these three reefs and if the weather treats you right, you ought to be able to catch something," Rue said.

 

Capt. Erik Rue can be reached at 337-598-4700.