The three kayaks looked like sleek raiders fanning out into Prien Lake from a friend’s pier near the public launch on the lake’s eastern shore.
These guys were hard-core.
Craggy, outdoorsy John Williams was the dean of the group at 54 years old. Lee Trahan was the local lake expert. Doug Menefee, the final member of the trio, was possibly the most fishing-addicted of the team.
The technology consultant (“computer geek,” Menefee calls himself) lives in Lafayette, not the best place for people in his profession. Most Fortune 500 companies that can best use his talents are housed outside of Louisiana — in the Northeast and on the west coast in the Los Angeles to Seattle corridor.
Menefee has repeatedly resisted moving in order to stay with Louisiana’s culture, the foremost thing of which, he admits, is the quality of the state’s fishing.
“My wife thinks that I have another girlfriend named ‘Fishing,’” he grinned guiltily.
A past largemouth bass chaser, he now is most passionate about speckled trout.
“It’s not about numbers anymore. It’s about finding that big trout — that special trout,” Menefee said.
In 2015, he won the Southeast Kayak Division of the Coastal Conservation Association’s STAR tournament with a 5.98-pound speck.
All three men had blood in their eyes. But rather than bunch up, they scattered to look for fish.
Trahan immediately went to his specialty — trolling.
Williams followed his lead, putting a rod with a suspending lure in a rod holder and holding a rod rigged with soft plastic on a jighead in his hand so he could give it action by jigging it off the bottom while moving.
Big-trout chaser Menefee wasn’t having anything to do with trolling, racing from spot to spot like a gazelle, flailing the water with one of his four pre-rigged rods.
He drew first blood — a fat 18-incher taken from the edge of the new ship channel just north of the I-210 bridge abutment.
The speck ate his chartreuse Gulp Swimming Mullet partway down the shoulder of the channel, where water depth dropped from 6 to 25 feet.
Williams, who was peddling to compare notes with Menefee, picked up both of his trolled baits and paused to cast a glow/chartreuse tail Wedgetail Mullet into the shallows of an island separating the channel from the lake.
The first cast yielded a healthy redfish.
Trahan, who had been puttering around, pulled in an 18-inch trout from directly under the I-210 bridge on his trout-colored MirrOdine.
Menefee hung in on the channel shoulder and caught two more specks in short order.
Outside of a brisk northeast wind, the day was shaping up beautiful. The blue sky was smeared with high, wispy clouds.
All three men were working on the fish.
One of the advantages to kayaks that Williams pointed out earlier is what he called “the independence factor.”
“Three fishermen can go in three different ways and do three different things,” he said.
“I love fishing (in a motorboat) with my brother, but there are times that each of us wants to go off on our own and do whatever we want.”
It was obvious everything they were doing in kayaks could also be done in a bay boat, but at a fraction of the price.
Besides price and independence, kayaks offer other advantages.
For instance, Williams and Menefee agreed that stealth and quietness are big advantages. Kayaks have no wave slap against their hulls, and there isn’t any motor noise.
Trahan added that he likes being able to see and hear the surroundings better.
“You don’t just crank up and roar off,” he said. “A kayak makes you become more observant — better at reading the water.”
And then there is the enjoyment factor.
“Heck,” Williams said, “it’s just more fun to fish in a kayak.”
Trahan and Williams spotted a slick and trolled through it, something for which a kayak is excellent.
Williams hauled in a respectable 2-pound trout, while Trahan caught one weighing a tad more than 4 pounds on Menefee’s Boga-Grip.
Both fish came on MirrOdines.
That was enough to convince Menefee that water temperatures had warmed up enough to bring the fish out of the channel and into the shallower lake.
So he left his perch on the channel and grabbed a rod with a Broken Back Corky.
It immediately produced a hook-up for the fisherman, who is a self-described “plug kind of guy.”
“Ninety percent of my trout fishing is topwater,” Menefee said. “The other 10 percent is Corky suspending: I hate throwing plastic.”
So the morning went: Menefee casting, Trahan trolling and Williams doing both.
All three caught trout.
Shortly after noon, Williams stowed his rods and peddled out to round up his crew for a foray to Darrell’s po-boy shop, a Lake Charles joint famous for its Darrell’s Special, a deliciously sloppy combination of ham, turkey, roast beef and roast beef gravy.
While the anglers stowed their kayaks on their trailers, Williams suppressed his hunger pangs long enough to talk about the two very different-looking choices available for pedal kayak propulsion.
The “lower unit” of the Native Watercraft Propel drive sports a conventional-looking propeller. Its major advantage is that it can be pedaled in reverse, as well as forward; its big disadvantage is that in shallow water, the whole unit has to be picked up.
The Hobie Mirage Drive looks very much like two long, movable fins projecting from the kayak’s bottom. Its major advantages are that it is very quiet, and it is easy to put in a shallow water mode; it major disadvantage is that it has no reverse.
“Take your pick,” Williams said. “Let’s get lunch.”
John Williams always knows the best places to eat.