Calcasieu Lake calls out to trout anglers like whale-rich waters beckoned Ishmael and Captain Ahab. The lure of landing a trophy or just the pure mystery behind why it is such a strong speckled trout producer summons anglers from hundreds of miles out.

And for that reason, this body of water, known more often than not as Big Lake, grows considerably smaller because the secret is out. From Texas to Mississippi they come with boats in tow, aiming for the passes, cuts, reefs and shallows to haul in a possible record or simply a limit of spotted sea trout. Either way they come, and in big numbers.

So what attracts anglers from across the western longitudes will, for this spring and summer, depend on a latitudinal migration of trout from south to north. The No. 1 factor in that is salinity. Considering that February was extremely wet with over 8 inches of rain falling in that month, March fishing has been slow to erupt, but April and beyond may just be superb.

Capt. Jeff Poe of Big Lake Guide Service (337-598-3268) has chartered trips for 20 years, and he knows a thing or two about what to expect this spring. April is the time when things start to crank up for the veteran fishing guide.

"Everything depends on what the salinity is like," he said. "You need to start in the south and work north. West Cove will be the best area to fish in April. That's where everything will start. We'll start to see our first limits in April. Of course you'll have to hit that just-right day."

It is this time of year when Poe likes to attack West Cove, and the entire southern portion of the lake, with topwater baits.

"I fish first with topwaters when the water temperatures start rising. We'll use Top Dogs and She Dogs," he said.

Color varies from year to year, says Poe.

"One year it's bone, the next it's chartreuse. Other times they like the mullet color or red/white. I like darker colors when the water is off. When the water is clear, black is good.

"Soft plastics are also good, especially the Norton Sand Eels and H&H Cocahoes, and we use Bass Assassins when they get finicky."

As for April weather, Poe says that "you never know what you're going to get.

"We just wait and see. Some times we'll get some big freshwater event, while other times it's great. Usually it's the wind. The south wind will dictate where to fish, and that is usually the south part of the lake because it pushes in the salt water."

Capt. Erik Rue of Calcasieu Charter Service (337-598-4700) has been watching the water and weather as well, and like Poe, he feels no need to be alarmed.

"If the weather continues like it is," said Rue, "the fish will be stacked on the south end of the lake. We had a lot of rain this winter, and we haven't really had this over the past few years. For the long-term average though, this is normal.

West Cove is relatively safe from steady winds that will turn the main body of Calcasieu Lake into a mess. A long, shallow bank, Rabbit Island and plentiful oyster reefs also make West Cove a local favorite.

"There are reefs all over, literally, all over," continued Rue. "Some reefs are small and some are giant. These can sometimes hold up to 50 boats. People like to just drift over the reefs and fish. Working the shoreline is also good. You just have to be careful in West Cove on a real low tide because the water depths range from 2 to 5 feet."

Poe and Rue agree that in the main lake, the Old Jetties, Washout, 9 Mile Cut and the shoreline will hold fish as well. From there, as the salinity increases farther north, Long Point and Commissary Point will also attract trout.

Weather from April to May can still vary, but it is improving. More importantly, water temperatures are rising, signaling that wonderful time of year when little trout are soon to come. Just prior to the time that the little ones enter the fold is a magic time for trophy hunters. Big mommas get bigger during this time.

"Usually weather-wise, May is better than April," stated Poe, "then we start to see more consistent fishing. That's when the largest fish get caught because they're usually full of eggs. The majority of the double-digit fish get caught during this time."

Big trout can be caught all year, but the odds of catching a wall-hanger, or better yet, a state record, improve in April and May during the spawn.

Rue says that "the heaviest fish are caught in April and early May. Most are done with the spawn by June because the spawn is triggered by water temperature.

"The record fish is there. So many of those fish are going up in weight range. The 6- and 7-pounders are 7- and 8-pounders now. It's bound to happen.

"I kept a record, and in my boat we landed 88 trout over 7 pounds between April and June 15. And we threw them back."

The big trout are in Big Lake, and they are there in relatively large numbers considering the size of the waterbody and the surrounding wetlands.

Topwater baits have historically been the go-to lures to catch mammoth trout. They still do, but like all sports, the game changes, and fishermen must change with it to stay ahead of their quarry.

"It used to be that topwaters caught the big ones," Rue said. "But last year, I really found that I didn't catch as many big ones on topwater as I did with Norton Sand Eels."

Rue jokingly added that "all colors are good (of Norton Sand Eels) as long as they're chartreuse," which goes to show why his tackle box is full of glow/chartreuse colors.

"They catch every day," he said.

But that doesn't mean that topwaters are no longer useful on Big Lake. In fact, far from it.

"We throw Super Spooks and Top Dogs, but they all work," Rue said. "Throw what you like. The She Dog did real well last year, but technique is the key. Develop a good technique and build confidence with it. Once you catch a fish, then you'll realize how it works, and you'll get comfortable with it."

That doesn't change after May, even though summer's heat alters the action somewhat and actually increases the parameters of where fish can be caught.

"Generally, everything spreads out to almost everywhere," Poe said. "This is a great topwater month, and the fishing is real consistent. Fish the cuts coming out of the ship channel, the Washout and 9 Mile Cut.

"Soft plastics in chartreuse, lime, pearl and glow/chartreuse work well. When the water is off color, I use purple/chartreuse, avocado/chartreuse or avocado/white, and black/chartreuse. These baits are ideal across the lake where the salinity and clarity is the best."

Sea gulls are adored by trout fisherman because of their ability to help anglers know where to fish. Poe acknowledges that they will start to work a little in April and May and more so in June and July, but they are most active in the fall months.

"Late June and July are not really big trout months," says Poe, "although the biggest ever landed in my boat was caught during this time. But you do catch a lot of fish at this time.

"During this time, we'll go to the beach and close rigs. I go no farther out than 35 feet of water for the rigs. There is real good fishing out there. Use soft plastics and live bait. Mullets, pogies and croakers work the best.

"We'll also fish more in the Ship Channel. The shell reefs near Cameron are good, mainly in about the 10- to 15-foot depths.

"Inside the lake, we fish the flats with topwaters. There's just so many places you can go."

June and July fishing is best according to Poe, for one reason — because the increased fishing terrain "disperses the boats."

Fishing pressure, while high for Calcasieu's offerings, is reduced some during summer.

"This is also a good time for wading. Go toward Johnson's Bayou and fish a rise in the tide. A good high tide works best," Poe said.

The Cameron Parish beaches offer some incredible fishing opportunities and ease of access too. The Holly Beach area on Louisiana Highway 82 has easy drive-up areas to start your walking stalk.

By July, the outstanding trout fishing stretches from the beach and rigs to Interstate 10 at Lake Charles.

"It's in that time that the fish start to head north into the estuary, like the smaller Prien Lake, Lake Charles and sometimes north of I-10. It just depends on what the weather does," Poe said.

The weather has been harsh on Calcasieu Lake in early 2004, but the one thing about the bleak winter deluges is that it will only get better. With good numbers and big trout, spring and summer look to be fantastic on Big Lake.