Wade on in to catch big Calcasieu specks

(Photo by Will Drost)

The chase for the illusive monster trout of your dreams may require you to get out of the boat and into the water. 

Capt. Bruce Baugh is a local legend in Southwest Louisiana when it comes to wade fishing for the largest of Calcasieu Lake’s specks. Baugh left the United States Marines, joined the Houston Fire Department, and retired after 31 years of service. While working as a firefighter, he began to fish the waters around Galveston, Texas, and was quickly addicted to the pursuit of all things spotted seatrout.

 In the late 90’s he began fishing the Texas Gulf Coast Trout Masters series and was angler of the year in 1996. This just happened to coincide with the launch of the Corky Lure by Paul Brown, a lure that Baugh uses almost exclusively today. He began to migrate east in the early 2000’s and ended up hooked on the Calcasieu Estuary. A visit to Baugh’s home leaves one immediately struck by the walls covered with 8-pound-plus trout mounts caught in the Calcasieu Lake estuary.

Baugh is focused on the chase for large trout, and while Calcasieu used to produce trout in the 8- to 10-pound range, they seem to have vanished and a 5- to 6-pound trout today is an excellent catch. 

His opinion

Capt. Bruce Baugh regularly puts his customers on some beautiful speckled trout. (Photo courtesy Capt. Bruce Baugh)

Baugh has his own opinion and attributes the absence of the true trophy trout to a combination of things that include fishing pressure, years of over-harvest, commercial fishing impact, erosion and habitat loss.

The ship channel traffic, including giant tankers, push silt over the southern lake oyster reefs in a four mile stretch from 9 mile cut south. This has killed many of the oysters. He added that the oyster reefs were further devastated by oyster dredges that were allowed for a brief period. In recent years, he has seen some return of oyster reefs and some man-made reefs have been created; however, there remains a huge absence of shell structure in the fishery. He feels that after his many years of fishing and watching the fishery change, meaningful modifications must be made if we are to recover the fishery that existed in the early 2000’s. He believes the changes to creel limits and man made barriers to the erosion of the island structure from ship channel traffic could vastly improve the fishery habitat.

Baugh has fished the lake long enough that he has located areas on the lake that have sand bottoms and are suitable for wading. He said that the sand bottoms produce colder temperatures, while mud bottoms with oysters tend to warm more quickly in sunlight. Baugh said while wading, he feels the bottom for structure and finds areas that hold shell bottoms. 

Wade fishing does require gear that makes the fishing experience more productive. 

Baugh has invested heavily in waders, a wading jacket, wading belt and wading boots. A variety of waders will work, but the wading belt is an absolute necessity. The belt holds gear that includes pliers, stringer, and a net. He recommends Simms as a top wader brand. Once the water temperature gets to 70 degrees, he gets rid of the waders.

Capt. Baugh has a great reputation for finding those incredible trout wade fishing at Calcasieu Lake. (Photo courtesy Capt. Bruce Baugh)

Best months

Baugh noted that the two best months for large trout wade fishing are April before the first full moon in May and in November. 

A good way to find areas to wade is to scout the shoreline for shells and that can often be a clue to the sandy bottom and shell structure. He has found sandy bottoms on the east shoreline of West Cove and the south end of Calcasieu Lake. Once you find an area of sandy bottom look for active bait such as mullet jumping or small dinner plate size slicks. 

The method Baugh uses starts with entering the water, moving very slowly, and ensuring that you slide or shuffle your feet along the bottom to avoid stepping on stingrays. He fishes the Corky when temperatures are below 62 degrees but will transition to the MirroLure topwater when the water is warmer. Anglers can also be productive with the use of typical trout fishing rigs that include things such as jigs and live bait.

A surprising experience is that the largest trout will often be mixed in with redfish in areas around oyster reefs in shallow water. If you are wade fishing and catching redfish, do not give up, because the next cast could be a monster trout. 

Specific retrieve

There’s not much in the angling world that compares to the excitement of landing wade fishing trout. (Photo courtesy Capt. Bruce Baugh)

Baugh noted that the biggest trout are often found in the knee deep water and around shell bottoms. When he is fishing cooler water, and working the Corky, he suggests a specific retrieve. Baugh makes a slow retrieve that includes a three-part movement. This technique will move the bait in two short bumps that are followed by a longer slow sweep of the bait. It’s important to sweep to the side and ensure you have enough room left on the top of the sweep to set the hook if a fish strikes. He uses a medium-light action 6 and a half foot rod with micro guides and either a baitcaster or spinning reel. 

Baugh described how he wade fishes using a combination of power poles and a remote-control trolling motor that allows his boat to follow him quietly as he fishes a bank line. He and his clients do not keep many fish and specifically do not keep the largest fish. Anglers may catch that lifetime trout that they want mounted and he recommends a method of photographing, measuring the fish, and getting a replica mount vs. keeping the fish for a skin mount. 

Calcasieu Lake is an incredible estuary, has produced some of the largest trout in the state, and can offer anglers a great experience. Wade fishing is a way to chase these fish by removing boat noise from wave slap and angler movement on the boat deck. This allows anglers to not spook fish and stay on schools of fish for a longer period of time. Finally, he added what he considers to be the most important tip for wade fishing from a boat. Make absolutely sure you check the water depth before you step off the swim ladder! 

About Christopher Harp 7 Articles
Chris Harp served in the United States Marine Corps as a Criminal Investigator, the Louisiana Attorney General's Office as a Criminal Investigator, and is a retired federal Special Agent. Chris was raised in Zachary and is an avid outdoorsman that spends time hunting and fishing.