Searing heat, time-consuming end of the summer activities and the beginning of the real tropical season tend to throw many fishermen off their rhythm in planning trips. Not to mention the fact that the fishing, especially for speckled trout, tends to be on the downslide this time of year.
Calcasieu Lake anglers have the same issues — except for the fishing part, that is. Late summer, in recent years, with high amounts of rain in the spring, has been some of the best fishing of the year at a time when significantly fewer anglers crowd the lake and its surrounding estuarial zones.
August is also a time when anglers have many choices as to where to fish in the system.
Though most widely known as a lake where open-water reefs rule catches, this time of year presents a variety of ways to re-fill the freezer or get that trophy for the wall. A number of the top guiding operations were good enough to break down these options.
Capt. Freddie Beard of Hackberry Cajun Guide Service (337-762-3512) didn't hesitate when choosing his favorite location for the midsummer heat.
"The jetties are where things are most likely to be happening," said Beard. "As long as there's clean water coming through and you've got a decent tide, there's usually plenty of trout all along the rocks (at the mouth of the Calcasieu River)."
Sitting below Cameron at the edge of the Gulf Of Mexico, jetties line the pass for a mile on both sides, providing good fishing on both the inside and outside and either the east or west side.
Beard prefers fishing the inside, and says that while there are holes and higher spots differentiating the rocky shorelines, good numbers of trout can be taken when they're really running, as long as anglers remember a few guidelines.
"You want your bait to be 15-20 feet off the rocks, right along the edge of that slope," said Beard. "If you drop off the edge, you'll get a lot more hardheads and sailcats." Live shrimp is the preferred bait of many frequenting the jetties, but Beard prefers live finger mullet on days when he can secure them with a cast net, either on the way to the location or at the jetties themselves.
"There's usually millions of them there. You can usually get set up and they'll just come along next to the boat," said Beard. "Shrimp are great for catching fish down there too, and I almost always bring some, but you can weed out the trash fish — catfish, croakers, pigfish, dogfish, ladyfish — with the mullet. Everything in the Gulf will eat a shrimp."
Fishing in the preferred trout and redfish zone means fishing amongst the myriad rocks supporting the jetty, as well as assorted anchors, random strands of fishing line and other assorted obstacles dotting the 10- to 12- and occasionally 15-foot depths. That means losing tackle, but it also means you're fishing in the right spot.
"You're going to be losing some tackle if you're fishing in the right spot," he said. "If you're not getting hung every once in a while, you're probably fishing too deep."
Moving water, of course, is a requirement for fishing the jetties, but too much current can mean bad news, either incoming or outgoing.
"As long as it's moving, it doesn't really matter if it's going in (to the lake) or going out. The problem comes from too strong of an incoming tide," said Beard. "The surf along Holly Beach has accumulated so much muck that a strong incoming tide will carry it into the lake."
And in order to get into the lake, the dirty water has to pass the jetties. Fishing dirty water at the jetties is an exercise in futility.
"The water can be so clean that you can see four or five feet down, but too much water coming in can really muddy it up," said Beard. "If it's dirty, you might as well turn around."
Though the preferred gamefish are normally found on the bottom, Beard says they can also suspend 4 to 5 feet down, especially when they're really turned on. Finding out which depth the fish prefer is a matter of experimenting with weights and leaders in order to get the bait in the fish's face.
"You want to throw it upcurrent and let it drift along the bottom for the most part," he said. "But sometimes, they'll hit it on the way down."
In a stretch spanning not far from the jetties all the way to Lake Charles is the Ship Channel itself.
Capt. Kirk Stansel of Hackberry Rod and Gun Club (337-762-3391) says there is excellent speckled trout fishing to be had by working the rocks buffering the island and marshland on the other side.
"One of the best ways to find fish is to concentrate on points with current hitting them head-on," said Stansel who, along with brothers Guy and Bobby, runs the club begun by Terry Shaughnessy.
Stansel explains that the fish relate to areas where bait — mullet with a lot of pogies — is pushed against a hard, steep shoreline, giving it little chance of escape when a school of trout is around. It's a concept making perfect sense, only, like many things in fishing, there is no rhyme or reason why it doesn't take place every time.
"Sometimes, the fish will be right up against the shoreline," Stansel said. "Other times, they'll be well off it in 15-20 feet of water. It's something you have to figure out by fishing it."
Stansel prefers to fish soft plastics such as Bass Assassin Sea Shads in sweet pea (chartreuse/glitter) and glow/chartreuse on as light of a jighead (up to ½ ounce) as he can get away with. Stanley Wedge tails in the smaller size — Stansel prefers the bigger models when targeting bigger fish — also have proven to be top producers.
"You're basically talking about fish from keeper size to about 2 or 3 pounds, with an occasional bigger fish," he said.
Also, using live bait such as shrimp, mullet and croakers entails the same strategy.
"You've got to figure out how the fish want the bait presented. Sometimes they want it cast upcurrent and drifted back, sometimes they want it just hanging in the current and sometimes they want it drifting back at an angle," said Stansel.
Other good places to try are around the Washout, Nine Mile Cut and the Super Cut.
"Those are places where the fish are a little larger," said Stansel. "The 'Super Cut' is a small one just north of Nine Mile Cut, and is really shallow, with an oyster reef on it. You definitely don't want to be running your boat over it."
Capt. Jeff Poe of Big Lake Guide Service (337-598-3268) says that his favorite strategy for attacking August's heat is fishing the lake itself.
Though August's relatively thin crowds make working some of the more popular subsurface structures easier, Poe largely prefers letting nature find the fish for him instead of subsurface prospecting.
"It's mainly fishing the birds pickin' that time of year," said Poe, who hopes to be nearing completion this month of new sleeping and meeting quarters on his property on the eastern shoreline of Big Lake. "And it's mainly topwater fishing so that we can cull out the ladyfish."
Heavier leadhead jigs affixed to Norton Sand Eels — mainly in the junior size — are sometimes effective in getting past the marauding packs of the exceedingly slimy, tackle-tearing and altogether disagreeable relative of the tarpon.
But Poe prefers presenting a bigger bait that the pests generally will only slap at and trout — though they're generally feeding on shrimp they've pushed to the surface — take down with authority.
"Those trout are still mainly fish eaters. They're opportunistic feeders on the shrimp, but they'll definitely eat a baitfish," said Poe. "This year, our best topwater baits have been ones with at least some chartreuse in them. "The She Dog has been a good producer when it's rough, and the Super Spook Jr. has really been good as well. It's a bait that'll catch fish when it's calm, even when it's slick-calm."
So far this summer season, Poe says he's seen a somewhat disturbing trend in the lake. A lot can change in a month, but late June and early July have seen a large amount of not-so-garden-variety ladyfish roaming the lake.
"Based on what we've seen so far this year, I'm not sure if we're going to be able to cull the ladyfish," he said. "We've got some of the biggest ones I've ever seen. I'm not talking about your regular 13-inch ladyfish, either. These things are 20 to 22 inches."
In addition to the confines of Big Lake, Poe says the dry spring and summer have pushed fish far inland with the salty, Gulf water. Prien Lake and even Lake Charles are likely to be surrendering good catches of trout should current weather patterns hold.
"As long as we don't get a big bunch of rain, the fish could be anywhere," he said.
Poe was referring to trout, but he also reports that if 2004 is any indication, there will be plenty of big redfish roaming the lake as well. Historically, the south end of the lake will hold the majority of the redfish — many of which will exceed the 27-inch maximum size limit, keeping fish boxes light — but Poe says the salty conditions will scatter the fish throughout.
"Last year, we caught a bunch right in front of the house (located just north of Hebert's Marina). There's usually a lot of fish working in front of the Washout (on the western side). They're usually working under the birds or slicks," said Poe.
Located to the east or west from the mouth of the Calcasieu River are a couple of sets of rigs making up another good option for mid- to late-summer speckled trout action.
Capt. Erik Rue of Calcasieu Charters (337-598-4700) says that, though there's a significant investment in time and fuel to get there, the Superior rigs to the east and the Johnson Bayou rigs to the west provide the opportunity to cash in big time when weather allows.
"They're spots where you're really rolling the dice and trying to hit a home run, especially running from where we are," said Rue, whose base of operations is at Hebert's Marina. "It's a definite commitment, but late in the year, there's always some fish out there."
The platforms, though mostly situated three or four miles off of the beach, are up to 15 miles down the beach in either direction, making choosing them quite a commitment in the face of discolored water or heavy current.
"I wouldn't bet on it, but I've noticed that if you have real strong current inshore, it's not real strong offshore. Usually, though the water is pretty clear," said Rue. The Superior rigs, which are east of the pass, consist of a field of about six platforms located around six miles out and up to 15 miles down the beach. This set of structures maxes out at about 35 feet of water.
"The Johnson Bayou rigs are a little bit shallower — most are around 27 feet, max of around 32," said Rue. "They've taken a lot of them out, so it's not as good of an area as it used to be. There are some single pipes that can hold fish, but they're not really anything you can count on."
Just getting out there and having fish present doesn't guarantee a good catch. Rue says paying attention to one's depthfinder, having a historical perspective on where fish tend to congregate on certain structures and good old-fashioned experimentation play a big role in finding the right combination for success.
"Live bait is generally what you need out there, whether it's shrimp, croakers or mullet. You can catch some on plastics, but for the most part, live bait is what is going to be most consistent," said Rue.
Live bait mainly involves getting the bait to the bottom, but Rue says that when the fish are really turned on, they'll move up in the water column. Fast action such as this generally doesn't necessitate being too specific with tackle, though a change in weight can maximize a hot bite in an area where anything — like the arrival of sharks — can happen and turn off the light switch.
Rue says one of the best, though most difficult, ways of catching trout on days when sharks and jack crevalle patrol the outside of a rig is to pitch baits inside the rigs themselves.
"It's not the most customer-friendly way to fish, and it is very 'tackle-intensive,' but it can be the only way to catch the trout when you've got a lot of predators on the outside of the rig," said Rue.