Hackberry Handbook

We’re now entering the best season of the year to catch leg-sized trout on Calcasieu Lake. Follow this guide’s advice to put a trophy on your wall.

What constitutes a trophy? If you ask my 4-year-old son, it’s the Piston Cup from the movie Cars. He knows the movie by heart, and every time he sees a car on TV now, he asks if they’re trying to win the make-believe trophy. In his eyes, the Piston Cup is a trophy.

Of course, anybody who has seen the movie knows that Lightning McQueen also thought the Piston Cup was a true trophy until he learned from a retired race-car named Doc Hudson that what he saw as a trophy Doc saw as just an empty cup. Trophies are truly in the eye of the beholder.

Take trophy trout for example. Anglers in certain parts of coastal Louisiana who are used to catching 2-pound trout might consider a 4- or 5-pound trout a trophy.

There is one place though where the eyebrow of the beholder wouldn’t even flinch at a trout that size.

Calcasieu Lake is known all over the country as one of the best places to catch what many consider true trophies. A few Lake Pontchartrain anglers who have caught some mules under the bridges might take issue with that, but there are more 7-pound-plus trout caught from Calcasieu than any other place in Louisiana.

One set of eyes that gets to see so many of the trophy Calcasieu trout belongs to Capt. Kirk Stansel with Hackberry Rod & Gun. In fact, Stansel remembers the first trophy that came to his dock back in the 1980s.

“Dr. Steve Cook out of Houston came to fish with us,” said Stansel, “and he brought in a 9-pound, 4-ounce giant. We started seeing them show up more and more after the gill net ban. As soon as the ban went into effect in 1995, we went from catching 5-, 6- and 7-pound fish to catching 8- and 9-pounders with an occasional 10.”

The only thing that could disperse the trophy trout parade that was coming from Calcasieu was a direct hit from Hurricane Rita in 2005. Trout bit like crazy almost immediately after the storm, and Stansel recalled catching limits of fish within weeks of its passage.

While limits of fish are great, Stansel missed catching the trophies.

“There was a bunch of school trout after Rita,” he said. “And they were fun to catch, but I can remember only one 9-pounder that came in all of 2006. I think we had that one 9, two 8s and a handful of 7s. We definitely didn’t see the trophy trout last year like we normally do, but we did see some positive signs for the future.”

One of those signs was the enormous number of 4- and 5-pound fish that came into the Hackberry Rod & Gun dock. Stansel says those size fish are the next generation of big ones, and they could begin showing up this spring.

With that in mind, Louisiana Sportsman sat down with Stansel to find out exactly how he plans on catching trophy trout this March, April and May. Anglers looking to put a few trophies in their boat would be wise to follow his lead.


Stansel said that March is the slowest of the three months, but that trophy trout do start showing up some. In fact, the 9-pound, 4-ounce giant that Cook brought to the dock so many years ago was caught on March 12.

“You can catch a 10-pound trout in March,” said Stansel, “but one of the prerequisites for catching trophy trout is good water clarity — something that can be hard to find in March. Many March days are accompanied by wind and rain, so the water stays stained. The big fish are still there, but they don’t bite.”

Historically, the north end of the lake offers the best chance at a trophy during March. Stansel fishes well-known places like Turner Bay to Commissary Point and Long Point. He prefers these areas because they have sandy bottoms that warm up quicker, which concentrates bait. Concentrations of bait bring in big trout.

Stansel joins the party on the days with perfect weather.

“The perfect March day for me would be sunny and 70 to 80 degrees,” he said. “Winds less than 10 out of the southeast would be ideal. A southeast wind seems to clean up the water.

“If I get those conditions, I head to places where I caught fish in the past, but I always keep an eye out for bait, primarily mullet, on the shorelines. I try to stay on the lee side of the lake because it’s clearer.”

Stansel targets the shallow flats where he finds mullet with a suspending bait that he can walk below the surface. A MirrOlure Catch 2000 is his primary trophy bait in March, and he prefers something with chartreuse on it like a pearl belly/chartreuse back or a white/chartreuse head. The key to catching big trout is to fish the Catch 2000 extremely slowly.

“Other than fishing it slow,” Stansel said, “the next best thing you can do to help yourself catch a trophy is to be real quiet. They could be in as little as 2 feet or less, and the only thing holding them there is the mullet.

“If I were looking to catch one big fish, I’d get in the water and wade. Big trout spook easily, especially if the water is clear. Wade fishing has been producing most of the 6- and 7-pound fish that we’ve been seeing lately.”

If the trout don’t come up and hit Stansel’s Catch 2000, he’ll try a soft plastic like the Hackberry Hustler. Dark-colored plastics with chartreuse tails get the nod, and the topwater Stansel most frequently throws for trophies is a MirrOlure She Dog.


Even though Stansel ranks April ahead of March for big trout, he conceded that April can be somewhat fickle on some days, but it can be downright fantastic on others. Stansel caught his first 8-pound trout in April of 1982 while fishing a white grub under a popping cork, and he hasn’t stopped whacking on them since then.

“The big fish start hitting the reefs more during April,” said Stansel. “There are isolated oyster reefs spread throughout the entire lake from Turner Bay to the south end of Big Lake to West Cove. They really cover the entire estuary.”

The problem with reef fishing is that you can’t tell where they are because they aren’t marked. There are some maps that may mark the general location of reefs with some GPS data, but it’s still up to the angler to find their exact position.

Stansel said the best way to find them is to drift an area while dragging a jig around on the bottom. Sometimes they can be found on calm days because bait will be near the surface over the top of a reef.

“Oyster reefs are typically found in areas of clean, moving water,” Stansel said. “So I would recommend focusing on neck-down areas and points — both areas create increased current flow and are likely to have good reefs nearby.

“I really like oyster reefs that rise higher off the bottom than surrounding reefs, and the smaller reefs that aren’t as easily found can be really good. If you were having trouble finding reefs, it wouldn’t hurt to ask a local. They’ll generally point you in the right direction.”

The main key to catching giant trout off the reefs is to shut your engine down several hundred yards away from it and let the wind blow you toward it. Stansel was adamant that even a little trolling motor noise would put the big fish on guard enough to shut them down. Being quiet is important, as is picking the right day to fish.

“April can be just as windy as March,” said Stansel. “I like days when the wind is down, but it doesn’t really matter to me if it’s sunny or cloudy.

“The water temperature is starting to rise in April, and their metabolism is starting to kick in — they get more and more active. For example, whereas in March you have a short window of opportunity because they’ll only come up and feed an hour and be done, in April that window opens up a little more.”

While Stansel will often have a variety of baits rigged for April, he finds the trophies really like hard baits like the Catch 2000 and topwaters like the MirrOlure She Dog. He works the Catch 2000 a little quicker in April because the fish are more active, and he likes the She Dog simply because he gets more bites on the smaller bait than he does on bigger baits like the He Dog.

His best trophy topwater color is a pearl belly with a chartreuse back and an orange throat. Generally, the warmer the water, the faster you can get away with working the She Dog, but Stansel made sure to point out he’s caught some of the biggest fish of his life when he lets it sit still after a couple of twitches.

“You should also have some plastic baits rigged and ready in April,” Stansel said. “You should go to those if the water is a little dirty. The Stanley Wedge Tails work well in off-colored water because of their good tail vibration, which helps the fish find the bait better. I’ll sometimes throw the Bass Assassins because they’re a little bigger and more buoyant, and I can make them hang in their faces a little longer.”


A quick look at the record books reveals that this is the No. 1 month for catching trophy trout. Stansel believes it’s simply a matter of there being more fish in the system in May than there are in April or March.

This is when Calcasieu also gets its big migration of brown shrimp, and that brings in fish from the Gulf that might not normally be in the lake.

“We’ve got big trout that live here all year long and never leave,” Stansel said. “But we just get that little extra shot in the arm in May.

“The best day to be on the water is a calm day because the mullet will be just smoking over the reefs, and the trout will be ganged up and working on them. In fact, it doesn’t really matter what the other weather conditions are as long as it’s calm.”

Of course, Stansel isn’t the only angler who knows May is the best month to catch trophy trout at Calcasieu. Fishing pressure increases in May, and the community holes get pounded. While those holes will give up some big trout, the absolute best way to catch a big one is to get away from the crowd.

“I work hard to find isolated reefs that aren’t as easy to find,” Stansel said. “That way I can get off by myself so I can control the noise factor. You can catch a big one in the crowded areas, but you can’t control what somebody else is doing in their boat, and all that noise can make it tough to catch the really big ones.”

Stansel likes to pick several reefs to fish during the day so he can fish them in a circuit pattern. His reasoning is that if he feels the fish are on a reef but they don’t bite, he’ll come back three or four times during a day until he finds them biting.

“I assume if they’re there they’re going to eat at some point during the day,” he said, “and if I’m there I’ll catch them.”

Stansel’s most productive baits during May are the Wedge Tails and Bass Assassins rigged on 1/4- or 3/8-ounce jigheads.

“The clearer the water, the brighter the color,” he said, “and the darker the water, the darker the color.”

If the water is clear, though, you’ll most likely find Stansel slinging a topwater bait just because he believes a really big fish will hit a topwater quicker than it will anything else. He has caught six trout over 9 pounds, and every one of them came on a topwater bait.

“The next best thing about May other than the number of big fish available,” said Stansel, “is that you can get away with some mistakes that you might not otherwise be able to get away with just because the fish are so active.

“I’m not saying you should go out there and bang boxes around in your boat, but a little accidental noise isn’t as detrimental now as it would be in March or April.”

For more information, contact Kirk Stansel at 888-762-3391.

About Chris Ginn 778 Articles
Chris Ginn has been covering hunting and fishing in Louisiana since 1998. He lives with his wife Jennifer and children Matthew and Rebecca along the Bogue Chitto River in rural Washington Parish. His blog can be found at chrisginn.com.

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