Two years ago, on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, I was having breakfast at a local restaurant in Denham Springs. My cell phone rang. It was my buddy Steve Lee.
“Hey, Steve,” I said. “Thought you were fishing this morning.”
“Catch, I was,” he told me. “I’m at Cajun Fast Mart in Sulphur weighing in a speckled trout for the CCA STAR Fly Division. It’s almost 5 pounds.”
I nearly choked on my egg. That’s about as big a trout as you’ll ever see caught on fly during the summer months.
Turns out it weighed 4.98 pounds. Steve caught it in West Cove around 8:30 a.m., and then decided to go weigh it in immediately.
Good thing he did. Only hours later Robert Garrison weighed in another entry in the Fly Rod West Division. It too weighed exactly 4.98 pounds.
Steve ended up winning the West Division on the tie breaker of first entry.
For those who are unaware, the Coastal Conservation Association STAR tournament, which runs from the Saturday before Memorial Day through Labor Day, has a Fly Fishing category with two divisions — East and West.
The rules are simple. Species is speckled trout. Only tackle designed specifically for fly fishing may be used. Tippets must be at least 15 inches long and no greater than 20 pounds breaking strength. Flies must be designed specifically for fly casting. Fish must be a minimum of 14 inches. No scents or bait tipping allowed. You may be asked to show your tackle and/or flies at weigh-in.
The winner of each regional division receives a $1,500 gift card to Academy Sports.
In addition, there’s a bonus drawing for all entries in the Fly Division. So even if your 14.5-inch trout doesn’t make the leaderboard, enter it in anyway for a chance to win a fly rod.
I asked Steve and other past leaders in the CCA Fly Division to share their advice for success. Here are strategies they suggest.
Fish early in the contest
Catching big trout on fly isn’t a problem. The state fly rod records range from 6.75 to 9.31 pounds. But almost all those fish were caught from November through March.
When it gets hot, big trout get difficult to catch on fly. It gets worse as summer progresses. By late August, fly-casters often struggle just to catch 16-inch fish.
For that reason, Steve advises fishing early in the contest. Anytime in June, even inside waters like Catfish Lake, Bay Sanbois, Lake Barre and Lake Borgne can produce multi-pound trout.
A better bet — especially into July — is along the beaches.
There is one exception: Vermillion Bay. It becomes better in late summer due to rising salinity. Mike LaFleur caught his winning trout from his kayak in August.
Nighttime is the right time
Jonathon Craft suggests fly anglers cast to lighted piers during summer months. Even fly-casting from the Caminada pier at Grand Isle can produce trout up to 3 pounds — provided you can lift them up over the rail.
Never lift big fish up onto a pier or dock using your rod. Grab the line and pull them in or use a net on a rope.
Some like it on top
Craft also suggests going to topwater flies — like poppers and gurglers — for bigger trout. In summer, hefty snaggletooths are most active in the first couple hours after first light.
Match the commie hatch
Steve believes in applying the tactics of master trout anglers and adapting them to the fly rod.
It’s no secret that big trout love suspended lures like the Catch 2000 and the Paul Brown originals. Especially on Big Lake. Steve matches that by using near-weightless flies like Deceivers and Seaducers in conjunction with an intermediate clear sinking line.
His winning trout was taken on a purple-and-white Deceiver fished in this method.
One year, my second-place fish was caught on a Deep Clouser Minnow under a VOSI — the flyrodder’s version of the popping cork.
Bigger flies catch bigger fish
That’s what Roger del Rio believes, and he’s no stranger to the CCA Fly Rod Division Leaderboard.
For example, one of the most-popular flies for trout is the Clouser minnow. Most fly-casters use sizes 2 and 4, but Del Rio throws a 1/0.
Most of his trout fishing is done in the surf. Using a 10-weight rod allows him to punch those larger flies more easily into an incessant onshore breeze.
Bait and switch
No, Jonathon Craft doesn’t advise using bait — this is simply the name for a technique.
The avid kayak angler brings a conventional rod along and searches for trout using that tackle. Once Craft finds a school, he switches to fly rod.
Why not just use the fly rod to scout? When moving along in a kayak (or boat with trolling motor), fly line can drag along much more than regular fishing line. This drag often makes it difficult to detect strikes.
I strongly encourage all fly anglers to sign up for CCA and the STAR tournament. The entries into the Fly Rod Division help promote Louisiana’s outstanding speckled trout fly fishery.