BY ANDY CRAWFORD
|The numbers of fish in Sabine Lake
aren’t as high as in nearby Lake Calcasieu, but guide Jerry
Norris believes there are more big fish in the border waterway.
He put Barry Partos on this 30-inch, 10-pound speck back in
January. The fish was released after a few pictures.
The big Parker slid smoothly under the bridge, and the south
end of Sabine Lake spread out before the anglers.
The waterbody was absolutely featureless, with not a hint of
structure anywhere to be seen.
Guide Jerry Norris, however, knew better.
“There’s oyster shells as far as you can see,” Norris said over
the engine noise. “A lot of times, the fish will be all over those
The wind was humming hard out of the southeast, so Norris hugged
the eastern shoreline and headed to waters in the mid-lake area
that he knew to hold big trout.
The water had been putrid, churned up by regular fronts that
had blown through the area. A shift in the wind, however, had
pushed clean, salty water back into the lake, and Norris was excited.
“This water is beautiful,” the Texas guide said. “We should
be able to catch some fish in this.”
As the anglers moved north of Garrison’s Ridge, Norris explained
that the bottom structure changed from solid oyster shells to
mainly the remnants of freshwater mussels.
“There are a few oyster shells, but it’s mostly mussels because
this lake used to be fresh,” Norris said.
Ten minutes later, the anglers were drifting a cut, throwing
soft-plastics in hopes of snagging a fish.
It didn’t take long.
One of Norris’ clients, Justin Ward of Colorado, was the first
to hook up. Ward’s rod bowed sharply as a large fish tugged on
the end of the line.
“That might be a redfish,” Norris said, but when the fish rolled
on the water’s surface, everyone could see the silver sides of
a big trout.
The fish was scooped out of the water, and Ward grabbed a trout
that would tip the scales at about 5 pounds.
That turned out to be only the first sow trout pulled from Sabine
Lake by Norris’ boat that day. The heaviest fish topped out at
That is what Sabine Lake offers Louisiana anglers — the potential
to catch monster speckled trout.
In fact, the lake is almost an identical twin to Calcasieu Lake,
which is renowned for its big-trout production.
“Sabine and Calcasieu are almost identical,” Norris said. “But
Calcasieu doesn’t have Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn dumping fresh
water into it.
|Photo by ANDY CRAWFORD
|Plastics produce numbers
of bites during the spring. Ward snagged this 5-pounder with
a Riverside Samuri Shad.
“That’s why Calcasieu has more fish — the salinities are higher.”
But anglers should not interpret this to mean that Sabine Lake’s
trout population is not worth fishing.
“I think Sabine has more big fish than Calcasieu, it just doesn’t
have the (total) numbers,” Norris explained.
What this border lake does is it pulls fish from the same Gulf
waters as Calcasieu.
“The water from High Island over to Calcasieu is shallow. That’s
a whole other bay system that never gets fished,” Norris explained.
“I think Sabine trades fish with Calcasieu. They don’t know whether
they’re going into Sabine or Calcasieu.”
One of the guide’s customers discovered just how big the trout
can grow in Sabine Lake when he sank the hooks into a 10-pounder
The difficulty with Sabine is that salinities vary widely over
the course of the year.
The reason is fairly simple — the lake drains two major freshwater
reservoirs, and the deep-water channel of the lake skirts its
western edge and is separated in large part from the main lake
by a barrier of land.
The fresh water spilling into the lake from the north might
make for varying conditions, but it’s also one of the reasons
big fish prowl the waterbody.
“You’ve got two rivers coming in, and that adds a lot of fertility
to the lake,” Norris said. “The amount of bait that’s produced
out here is unbelievable. The food source is so great.”
The key to the lake’s trout-producing potential is how much
salt water flows up the ship channel from the Gulf of Mexico.
As in Calcasieu Lake, saltwater surges northward through Sabine’s
ship channel and spreads out into the lake.
But Calcasieu’s ship channel transects the southern part of
that lake, allowing salt water direct access to the waterbody.
In Sabine, salt water has to bleed out of the channel and push
through a fairly narrow pass at the southern end of the lake,
or salinities have to push far enough north to spill out of the
northern portion of the ship channel.
This unpredictability means that anglers have to be willing
to adjust on a day-to-day basis in search of fish.
“You just have to come out and see,” Norris said.
|Photo by ANDY CRAWFORD
|Land-bound anglers even
get in on the Sabine Lake big-trout action by driving along
the revetments on the west side of the lake looking for bait.
Then they hop out of their cars and work topwaters through
But springtime is the one period of the year in which salinities
are fairly predictable because of the lake’s proximity to the
Norris said that even when heavy rains fall or the two reservoirs
feeding the lake dump a lot of fresh water down the Sabine and
Neches rivers, the lake quickly purges itself.
“What happens is, the Gulf sucks it all out,” Norris said. “That
salt water will come right back in.”
And even in the transitionary period, anglers can catch fish.
“These trout will feed in the freshest of fresh water and the
saltiest of salt water,” Norris said.
The veteran guide’s April strategy centers around baitfish.
“You get these big pods, rafts of mullet pushed in with the
south winds,” he said.
So he cruises about on the lake, looking for these pods of mullet,
knowing that trout will be in close proximity.
“I don’t have a general spot in mind most of the time. I just
cruise around looking for bait,” Norris said. “When you have a
featureless lake like this, there’s nothing for them to be on.”
Many times, mullet can be found because the vegetarians are
nervously jumping out of the water.
When Norris spots jumping mullet, he throttles back, gets upwind
of the apparent baitfish school and drifts the area.
Other times, however, Norris has to look more carefully.
“Mullet graze (on algae) on the bottom, and a lot of times you
won’t see fish jumping because (trout) are not actively feeding,”
This is when fishing might mean a little more work.
|Photo by ANDY CRAWFORD
|Jerry Norris caught this
sow just on the outside of a flat. Norris said the trout travel
from point to point in the deeper water, moving into the shallows
Norris will simply move from area to area, drifting or trolling
while he fishes. The entire time, he’s looking for schools of
mullet swimming around.
When he finds mullet, he knows his odds of landing sow trout
have just increased.
“The trout will be mixed in with the mullet,” Norris said. “Even
when the trout aren’t active and the fish aren’t feeding, your
best chances will be to fish around those mullet.
“Those trout will get in with the mullet and swim along.”
While some anglers won’t hang around if all they see are large
mullet, Norris said he fishes any baitfish school hard.
“I don’t pay any attention to that. If there’s big mullet, there’s
little mullet,” he said.
Besides, trout are notorious gluttons.
“A little trout will try to eat a big mullet,” Norris explained.
Norris rarely resorts to live bait, preferring to stay with
his tried-and-true soft plastics.
His two baits of choice are Bass Assassins and Riverside Samuri
Shad, with a bent toward the former during the springtime run
of mule trout.
“Later in the year when the water warms up, you need a bait
that swims,” Norris said. “That’s when I get on that Samuri Shad.”
Bass Assassins work well in the spring because they mimic crippled
“It’s a do-nothing bait, but it’s proven to me it will catch
fish. It’s like a topwater bait under water,” he said.
Unless fish are stacked up on the oyster reefs on the southern
end of the lake, Norris is mainly working the flats along the
The lake’s topography on that side is typified by a flat holding
a few feet of water before the bottom drops into deeper water.
“See that point?” Norris asked, pointing to a protrusion of
marsh about a half mile away. “The flat runs from that point to
that one north of us.”
He said trout usually won’t be ganged up in the flats, but will
instead be making feeding forays into the shallow water from deeper
“What the trout will do is travel out here in about 5 feet of
water from point to point,” Norris said. “The majority of the
time, they will be out deeper.
“They’ll move in and out of the shallow flats.”
So what he does is drift away from the bank with the wind, working
his bait through the congregated mullet. He extends his drifts
well into the deeper water to pick up any fish that are staging
for a run to the buffet.
|Photo by ANDY CRAWFORD
|Once it warms up and the
reds begin feeding heavily, Norris loves to work a Heddon
Sonar on the banks. The bait has an aggressive wiggle that
drives Sabine Lake redfish nuts.
When there is tidal movement, either incoming or outgoing, Norris
focuses his efforts around cuts in the lake.
“I want to fish the downside of where the current is moving,”
he said. “Anywhere there’s a cut like that, I want to be where
the current is breaking on the bank.
“It’s a defining feature.”
On an outgoing tide, his preference, that means drifting past
the bank on the southern side of the cut.
“I want to be on the shoreline where the water’s coming out
of a bayou and running down the bank I’m fishing,” he said. “There
will be an eddy on the other side of that point.
“You’ll notice the mullet will be balled up next to the bank
in that eddy.”
But the same can be true on an incoming tide, although it requires
a slight change of location.
An incoming tide will produce an eddy on the inside of the southernmost
point of the cut, he said.
If salinities in the northern end of the lake are low and the
trout begin to gang up on the southern oyster flats, Norris joins
the crowds there.
“The mullet will get over the oyster shells,” he explained.
This is when the soft plastics are replaced by Heddon Super
“That’s my favorite,” Norris said. “I fish it slow, fast, whatever
The southern half of the lake is most targeted by Norris, but
if salinities skyrocket, he’ll head north.
“As the salinity moves up, the fish will move farther north,”
he explained. “It’s all dictated by the salinity.”
When conditions permit, Norris will fish the spoil islands north
of the Neches River.
“They get on the flats in front of those islands,” he said.
High salinity in the lake also opens the possibility of fishing
the western side of the lake, which is completely different from
the eastern side.
“It’s all revetment. It’s like one big, long jetty,” Norris
An east or southeast wind can make that side unfishable, but
when conditions allow, big trout can be yanked from the rocks.
“We go along those rocks throwing topwaters,” he explained.
In fact, those without boats get in on the action along the
“It’s got a road on top of it, and people will drive along it
and look for bait,” Norris said. “When they see some bait, they
get out and throw topwaters.
“They’ve caught a lot of good trout like that.”
Capt. Jerry Norris can be reached at (877) 258-5288 or by
logging onto his Web site at sabinelakefishing.com.