Oodles of Options

Calcasieu is crowded nearly every month of the year, but in October, anglers get to spread out to other water bodies that, for a while, match Big Lake in productivity.

Big Lake has a well-deserved reputation for outstanding speckled trout and redfish angling in its wide-open 52,000 surface acres.

But October provides an outstanding opportunity for fishermen to stretch their wings to other regions north of Calcasieu Lake.

This month is, according to most experts, the best time to scan the horizon for flocks of hungry seagulls, making for outstanding fishing without needing the knowledge of a dozen parcels of shell-covered land hidden beneath the waters.

Given the sky-rocketing popularity of Calcasieu with anglers stretching from Houston to Baton Rouge, the lake itself can become quite crowded in the spring and summer as fishermen jockey for position on community holes and lesser-known reefs, which can become not-so-secret spots quickly.

The movement of huge quantities of bait through the northern stretches of the estuary in the fall also provides anglers the chance to explore other bodies of water not nearly used to the extent of Big Lake.

“The marsh north of the lake has become a really important nursery ground for all of the bait coming into Big Lake,” said Capt. Erik Rue. “Over the past several years, actually since they put up the water-control structures on the east side (of Big Lake), the northern end has had to support so much of the bait coming into the lake.

“That’s not to say that there’s nothing coming out of the marsh on the east side. But certainly, the marshes around places like Lake Charles, Prien Lake and others have a bigger role now.”

The summer season’s lack of rainfall has pushed much of the speckled trout population prematurely into the more northern bodies of water. Capt. Mary Poe of Big Lake Guide Service says this trend should continue as the shrimp begin to move out of the marsh when the first cold fronts arrive and the fish become more tolerant of lower salinity as the water temperature cools.

“This month, you’ll have birds pickin’ all the way from above the I-10 down to the jetties,” said Poe. “We’ll get a few cold fronts, and the north winds will push those shrimp out of the marsh. It’s really a good time for people looking for numbers of fish, and it’s really good for kids. As long as you can stay on the school of fish, it’s really a matter of casting and retrieving.”


Prien Lake

One of the most convenient areas for local anglers just happens to be one of the most productive. Prien Lake is located just south of Lake Charles, and Capt. Ronnie Doucet of the Calcasieu Cardinal Club, soon to be renamed the Cajun Outback, said it really shines this time of year.

Located just south of the I-210 Lake Charles loop, Prien offers outstanding fishing for speckled trout in the shadows of the area’s newest and most luxurious establishment, the L’Auberge du lac Hotel and Casino.

“The rock jetty in between the casino and the Port of Lake Charles is a great stretch where the birds come up pretty good,” said Doucet. “The boat traffic during the weekend from the jet skis and everything will put them off, but it’s OK until around mid-morning.

“The long point on the northeast side of the 210 bridge always holds a few fish, and the points on the other side of the 210 bridge (south of it) hold fish as well, especially on the mud flats off of the Ship Channel.”

Doucet said an important thing for anglers to possess this time of year is something that seems out of place in the frenetic pace of fishing birds: patience.

“When you pull up to a flock of birds and catch a few fish and then the birds leave and the fish go down, it really pays off a lot of time to just sit tight for a little bit and see if the fish will come up again in the immediate area,” said Doucet. “The birds get skittish sometimes, and they’ve got lots of other options out there, so they don’t hang around for long.”


Moss Lake

Moss Lake is hardly one of Rue’s first choices when it comes to October fishing spots, a time when he often begins fishing “as soon as you pull out of the marina” when birds are doing their thing. What Moss Lake is is an outstanding bad-weather area with its small size and deep-water flow from the Calcasieu Ship Channel, which keep the waters fishable even in stiff breezes from most any direction.

“You’ve got the channel moving through there, and it’s 40 or so feet deep. That ensures that there’s plenty of water moving through, and it keeps the water clean,” said Rue, explaining that the fish congregate along the dropoffs, where long drifts can be made and fish can be put in the box.

Good catches can be made by anglers simply lining up drifts as close to the Ship Channel as possible. Making long casts with traditionally productive colors — glow/chartreuse is a hit most anytime in the Big Lake area, but is particularly effective when the white shrimp are as prevalent a food source as they are in October — of soft-plastic baits fills the bill in finding fish in the area.

“It’s not an ‘A1’ spot by any means, but it’s really a good one when the weather doesn’t cooperate,” said Rue. “It’s also a little different in that you don’t get near as many birds in there as other places, but the flats off of the Ship Channel dropoffs can be very productive.”


Lake Charles

Poe doesn’t spend as much time on the water as she used to — managing Big Lake Guide Service’s expanded operations and a nagging hip injury conspire to keep her ashore many days — but she was quick to count October as one of the best months for Lake Charles area anglers to fish Lake Charles itself in pursuit of fast speckled trout and redfish action.

“This is one of our best months for numbers, which is what most people want,” said Poe. “The whole Calcasieu system from one end to the other will be alive with birds in October, and Lake Charles is as good as any.”

Poe echoed the thoughts of many other captains in saying that it’s often hard to justify riding all the way to Lake Charles from their operation on the eastern shoreline of Big Lake when such good action is available a few casts from the dock, but she gave some insight into the fishing in the body of water most convenient to people living in the city.

“The points just north of the I-10 bridge are real good when the birds aren’t pickin’,” said Poe, adding that often birds will only work the schools of shrimp at certain times of day.

Poe was also quick to point out that, while this month can be a challenging one with regards to wind, bird action doesn’t end just because open waters are churned into a murky mess.

“You can actually find birds working in the Ship Channel itself even in 15-20 m.p.h. winds,” she said.


Big Lake

Capt. Freddie Beard of Hackberry Cajun Guides Service says action in the lake itself is as good as any. Just as it makes sense for Lake Charles anglers to keep their fishing close — when conditions warrant — those with boats on Big Lake itself don’t often need to run far up the estuary system to find the hungry hordes of trout and redfish assaulting vast schools of white shrimp from below while hungry seagulls skillfully pluck them from above.

“The bird action will be as good this month as any. When we get some little cold fronts moving through the area — and all it takes is a little bit of north wind — that’s when the shrimp move,” said Beard, adding that this October should see the tremendous numbers of 11½-inch specks turn into keepers in the 12- to 14-inch range.

“This is about the only time of year I like a full moon. For three days before and around three days after, the birds seem to work most of the day instead of just certain times of the day,” he said.

But specks aren’t the only ones prompting the birds into a feeding frenzy. Redfish also school heavily this time of year. The southern end of the lake is famous for producing big schools of mostly oversized — per Louisiana regulations (one fish per person over 27 inches) — reds, but Beard says the lake’s rat-red population takes to the open water as well.

“The reds are the fish that really get the gulls fired up the most. I’ve seen one little 13- or 14-inch redfish hold 50 birds. That’s why I say that the amount of birds doesn’t mean a thing. People will say ‘Look at that flock of birds; there must be a bunch of fish under it.’ It doesn’t work that way,” said Beard. “On the other hand, I’ve seen acres and acres of fish, and only have one bird working it.”


West Cove

Capt. Guy Stansel of Hackberry Rod and Gun Club says there are few better times to hit most any body of water in the Calcasieu Estuary than the month of October, and West Cove is no exception.

The white shrimp population is what gets it going and keeps fishermen happy with loads of school-sized specks.

“You’ll get a lot of schoolies, fish in the 12- to 16-inch range when fishing the birds, with a a few nice fish mixed in,” said Stansel, who runs the operation with brothers Bobby and Kirk and office manager Buddy Oakes. “There are three times when the birds really work well — the spring when the brown shrimp move in, the late summer when the white shrimp move in and fall when the white shrimp move out.”

Also moving out, Stansel says, is a large number of flounder in the Ship Channel. Some of the very best flounder action of the year takes place this month as the delicious flatfish make their way toward the Gulf.

“Spots all along the Ship Channel, — the points, cuts and ledges — have a lot of flounder staging before they make their way to the Gulf,” he said.

Stansel says that while bird action is prevalent in most areas of the main lake, the two main areas are in Turner’s Bay on the northern end of the lake and in West Cove.

“Particularly on the west end of West Cove, where there are a few bayous coming out of the marsh, the birds are really thick,” said Stansel. “There are some nicer fish on the shallow reefs in (West Cove) that can be really good for topwaters early in the morning.”


Black Lake

Off the beaten path of the Calcasieu Estuary system lies Black Lake. Visiting anglers from other regions might find the body of water familiar, though not necessarily in a good way, as Capt. Norman Rester of A-Speck Charters explains.

“It’s a different type of lake in that it’s a little more shallow — it probably averages 3 1/2 to 4 feet — and it does have a lot of underwater oilfield structure,” said Rester, who counts Black Lake as one of his go-to areas this time of year. “The best way to stay out of trouble is to stay by the crab traps.”

Unlike many, Rester utilizes live shrimp — still readily available at most places — as insurance for his customers, even when searching out redfish along the lake’s grassy shorelines and points.

“One of the best ways to find the reds is to toss shrimp a foot under a cork as you work your way down the shoreline,” he said.

Sometimes, Rester has found that it’s necessary to back off of the longer points in order to find where the redfish are cruising through the area. Live shrimp still gets the job done here, as does a little patience when conditions are tough.

“This time of year is full of action, but there are always those days when it really pays to stick it out in an area and pick away at the fish,” said Rester.