“Look at the camera! Look at the camera!”
Keeping him looking at the camera was almost impossible. Erik Rue’s brown predator eyes kept darting toward any sign of another fish to which to feed his artificial bait.
The 30-year veteran charter captain with Calcasieu Charter Service (337-598-4700) was out to show me there really is life after summer.
“The old tradition was that after Labor Day you put away your swim suit, parked the boat and put your rods up,” Rue said with a grin. “Then you get your shotguns out, go to football games, and begin to dove and teal hunt.
“But Labor Day to late November is some of the best fishing of the year. Plus, you have smaller crowds on the water and pleasant, cool weather.”
The options are varied.
“ Redfish is the name of the game, although some trout are available,” Rue said. “Some awfully good flounder fishing occurs, too, in October and November.
“I am starting to get people who just want to charter a trip to catch flounder.”
Finding fish becomes predictable moving into fall.
“Redfishing then is shallow-water fishing,” the guide explained. “Lower water levels push fish normally up on flats and in the marsh in the summer to more-accessible areas where they are easier to spot.
“At that time of the year, the fish also school up and are aggressively feeding.”
Feeding redfish can actually be seen blowing up on minnows. Other signs are pushes (bulging V wakes), muds (mud stirred up by the fishes’ tails), and some tailing.
Diving birds are important, too. Birds working the water’s surface usually mean feeding fish beneath. But Rue stressed the importance of watching large terns (probably royal terns), as well as the laughing gulls.
“Redfish here, this time of year, are a little different than elsewhere in the state. They school into packs,” he said. “If you see birds diving, you may catch two, three or four, and then they break up.
“Keep fishing in the vicinity and keep an eye out for any activity; often you can get right back on the same group of fish.”
This day started out leisurely, after a big breakfast at Erik’s and Tina’s (his wife) lodge.
“It’s different this time of the year than in the summer,” Erik Rue said. “Then, we try to be on location before the sun comes up. Things are a lot more tense then.”
It was well after daylight when he left the lodge, running south-southeast to Grand Bayou and pushing upcurrent through the Grand Bayou Boat Bay.
Three boats were already just inside the bay with anglers fishing, while two more boats held cast-netters.
“Sometimes there are 15 or 20 boats cast-netting right here,” Rue explained. “They make bait balls with pogie meal to concentrate the shrimp. When it’s really good, they will catch their 25-pound-per-person limit in five or six casts of the net.”
The interior of the marsh looked like coastal marshes anywhere: broken patches of marsh grass laced with ponds, bayous, sloughs and lagoons, most of them unnamed.
At first it looked a little intimidating. This wasn’t going to be a matter of beating down a bank at random, blind casting for individual fish.
He was going to be looking for signs of feeding fish. Fortunately, as the day proved, when he found one redfish, he almost always found more.
Rue did certain amount of blind casting, but he was always acutely alert to any sign of bait movement, feeding fish and — above all — diving bird activity.
As soon as he spotted anything of interest, the guide rapidly trolled the boat to within striking distance. Redfish, most of which he had to release because he quickly filled his limit, were the majority of his caught.
But a surprising amount of the feeding activity was created by doormat-sized flounders, each of which brought a beaming smile to Rue’s tanned face.
Icing on the cake was provided by several chunky speckled trout late in the morning.
The day was less than ideal. An upper-level low pressure system had dumped 4-plus inches of rain on the area with 25 mph winds the day before. This day was overcast and still gloomy, and winds had slackened to a brisk 15 mph.
In spite of the somber outlook, Rue confidently predicted he would find redfish.
“If you fish a spot and you don’t see sign, move to another spot,” he said. “When you begin to see signs that fish are there, then you have to figure out exactly where they are.
He started pecking at fish. Small, but legal-sized redfish, he dismissively called “rats” and promptly returned to the water. The rest of the fish were sized like they came out of a mold — all 21 to 24 inches long.
Bigger redfish can be found on refuge waters in the fall, he noted. Interestingly, the larger fish are more often found in schools.
“Just right-sized” reds — good eating and hard fighting — were found both in schools and singly.
The day warmed and Rue shucked his jacket. The pace of the bite began to pick up, as well. By early afternoon, he had enough of wrestling with the bronze bruisers.
With a limit in the box, topped off with several good speckled trout and flounders, Rue looked contented.