The Rat-L-Trap marketing guru gave us just enough time to place our rods in the holder before he hammered the throttle and his Pathfinder jumped out of the water pointed west. In a few moments, I spotted the white flashes that were gulls bobbing just at the horizon, and I pointed them out to Chaumont, who had lost sight of them upon liftoff.
A light south wind was blowing into the lake, so Chaumont aimed the bow south of the action and finally eased up on the gas when we were just a hundred yards out. We paused for a few brief moments to gauge the size, speed and direction of the school, and when we had that figured, Chaumont killed the engine and let the wind take us into the school.
Now we had already encountered action similar to this, and, though I did not see much of a difference, Chaumont knew that this was definitely speckled trout. The flocks we had worked before were less erratic, and the birds actually hit one or two baitfish or shrimp then just sat.
When we hit those groups of birds, we would catch half a dozen sand trout.
This bird movement was very different. The flock was far greater in number than the others, and within this one big group, three or four smaller packs were slamming the water while others hovered a few feet above waiting for the next flash of bait near the surface.
"Oh yeah, this is a big school," said Chaumont excitedly. "Look how these birds are working differently than those others we saw earlier."
I agreed that it was, but I wanted proof.
"This has got to be trout," he continued.
And it was. Chaumont launched a Slap-Stik, and our other guest, Rod Haydel, cast out a chrome-chartreuse Spin-Trap with a gold blade trailing behind. Right away, they hooked up and were reeling.
Chaumont was a lesson on fishing enthusiasm because he steadily talked and narrated what was going on with his fight. Haydel was completely opposite, stone cold and in deep concentration.
I went with our third option bait, an H&H Cocahoe, green with red specks and a chartreuse tail. I let fly at the same time Haydel and Chaumont hoisted two nice specks in. I was just letting the 3/8-ounce jig head take the plastic bait down when "wham!" the rod bent over, and I pulled firmly back to set the hook.
Here we go, I thought. Finally a Big Lake speckled trout, and this one felt like a good one. Then all of a sudden my rod lurched down even farther and my Ambassadeur Torno started screaming. The12-pound-test mono began to peel off.
"Whoa!" Chaumont screamed. "You must have a redfish."
A redfish. Now I love catching redfish, but this was Big Lake, the hottest trout destination on the Gulf coast. This was the place where trophy wall-hangers cruise, and at the first legitimate trout school I catch a redfish.
Then more line peeled off, and I literally had to stick the butt of the rod into my stomach to maintain leverage. Then the reel started to sing more, and I had to adjust the drag so my line wouldn't break.
Well, I thought, this isn't too bad.
Haydel and Chaumont kept fishing, but because of my fight and need to stay still, the school of trout we hit moved on with the birds. My two partners kept casting and reeling but were more watching me on this fight. Finally the brute surfaced after a few minutes of fighting and sweating.
When it broke, Chaumont was ecstatic.
"Look at the size of that thing!" he yelled. "That must be a 35-pounder! Be careful! Watch the trolling motor! Get him up by the boat!"
I didn't know what was more entertaining, this fight or Chaumont's zeal.
We finally netted it and then released it back into the water. I was beat.
Chaumont would have nothing of resting though, and he was already scanning with his binoculars. He found them quick and just told us to hang on so he could idle up to the east-moving school.
Within a few minutes, we were back on them, and we hooked up with our baits. This time I threw the chrome-chartreuse Spin-Trap along with Haydel, and Chaumont threw the Slap-Stik. Two more speckled trout entered the livewell before the throng of birds and underwater beasts broke up.
Before we moved again, Chaumont scanned the horizon.
Chaumont is a believer in high-quality, long-range optics to maximize his fishing opportunities on Big Lake. It gets the moniker "Big" for a reason, and time is valuable to men like Chaumont who aren't able to be on the lake every day.
"You want a good pair of optics out here because it is a real life saver," he said. "Go for the 6x30, 7x35 or 8x30 models so you can see far out but still have a wide enough angle of view. I carry the Steiner, but Alpen is good and so is Bushnell. You want them to have a coating on the outside too. It has to have a coating on salty waters like this.
"You'll see how much time we save by doing it this way. This is just too much water to waste time driving around. I always scan the horizon when I hit the lake and before I take off to try another spot. It would be foolish to take off and just run while a big school of birds might be working just a few hundred yards away."
So he keeps his binoculars handy on the console of his bay boat. That way they're always in arm's reach so once a school breaks up, he can quickly scan the horizon for more birds.
As for the schools of birds to locate schools of fish, three dominant styles developed, and we all took a lesson in Sea Gulls 101.
First of all, throughout the rest of winter and spring, weather patterns will change regularly. The old adage that if you don't like Louisiana's weather, then wait 15 minutes is appropriate here because that was happening as we fished. A moderate winter weather system was beginning to move in across the state, and the birds and fish knew it. The next few days would be cold, so the birds and fish were trying to feed as much as possible, although food was apparently a little scarce.
The first flocks of sea gulls, about 10 to 20 in number, would fly around in a pack and all of them would try to strike what small amount of bait was there. One bird would hit the water, and four others would try to take his prize from him. There was bait there, just not much of it. Many of the gulls would just sit and wait on the water.
"What that shows me right there," said Chaumont, "is that these birds are hungry but trying to conserve their energy. They know a cold front is coming, so they are trying to eat as much as they can. But they can't fly all over wearing themselves out because they'll need all the energy they can get over the next few days because this front will slow everything down."
So we would throw Rat-L-Traps, Spin-Traps and Slap-Stiks near the area where these birds thought food was, and would latch on to a few dozen small sand trout. These sandies were actually foraging on the scraps, avoiding areas where big trout and redfish were also ravaging for food before the frontal system.
On the other hand, we did find massive flocks of birds, 50 to 100 birds together, slapping and diving on a large spread of water. These birds were aggressive, and their body language spoke that there was a major flow of baitfish under the water. We would cast the Spin-Trap with the gold spin blade, and 2- to 3-pound speckled trout would just hammer it.
"Not bad for a lure that was designed for fresh water," Chaumont said. "This is, without a doubt, the best trout bait on Big Lake."
The most challenging flocks were those that guided us to the redfish runs. For the same reasons that the gulls, specks and sandies were working, so too were the redfish.
The birds that hovered over schooling redfish numbered about five to 15 in size, but the schools moved fast and were very difficult to keep up with. Even Chaumont's 74-pound-thrust Minn Kota Riptide had a difficult time keeping up with them.
"Redfish move fast and cover a lot of ground," Chaumont said.
The proof was right before us because we had to use the speed of the trolling motor with proper wind position to put us in place to intersect the fast-moving schools.
Payoff was sweet. Again the Spin-Trap proved its worth taking numerous redfish weighing 5 pounds or greater that were coming out of the eastern marshes to feed. The strike was strong, the fight a definition of power, and the color of those marsh reds was beautiful. The lure itself never failed us on these big fish, although the paint job was roughed up quite a bit.
Unlike the other two types of bird action, these were very fragile and they broke easily when we could catch up with them. We had to try different strategies to keep pressure on the schools, even ditching the trolling motor to move in on a high idle and make direct casts. This only resulted in one or two strikes before it was all over, but it was necessary to win at this game.
At day's end, Chaumont, Haydel and I were all well-versed in bird watching and understanding Calcasieu Lake gulls and their feeding activities. What was going on in the sky was a direct sign as to what was happening below.
Big feeding and tightly compressed flocks meant speckled trout with some redfish. Smaller groups with one or two feeders and the majority sitting and waiting mostly meant sand trout (if anything at all). Small, tight groups moving rapidly while trying to feed meant angry redfish.
When it was all said and done, Chaumont guided us back to Hackberry Rod & Gun Club to "debrief." Back at the clubhouse, I took stock of the day's events and was extremely pleased. Although I did not get the big trout I daydreamed about, I did get some great Calcasieu Lake action.
To contact Hackberry Rod & Gun Club, call (888) 762-3391.