Weather or Not

Conditions don’t have to be perfect to catch fish at Calcasieu.

With the wind blowing at 20 knots, Lake Calcasieu looked like a chocolate milkshake. Most fair-weather fishermen had cancelled their trips, but Kirk and Guy Stansel, who fish there 250 days a year, would brave rain, sleet, snow or bright, hot sun to get you in a boat and try to find you fish.

The day before I arrived, Michael and Dan Sheldon of Sheldon’s, Inc. (the maker of Mister Twister and Mepps lures), had traveled from Antigo, Wis., to enjoy fishing Lake Calcasieu. Both had limited out with their guide, Bitty Drost, on speckled trout.

“We saw the birds working, got up close to them and began to catch speckled trout on every cast,” Michael Sheldon explained. “We had our limits by 8:30.”

The Sheldons had caught more trout than anyone in camp that day. Generally, at Calcasieu, if you can find birds working, you can pinpoint the fish.

The Sheldons had come to test two new Mister Twister baits, the Mister Mino and the Mister Shad, hand-painted, hollow-tube baits. They knew because of the number of fish in Calcasieu that their new lures would get a fair test.

“The weather doesn’t get too bad for us to fish here at Hackberry,” Kirk Stansel said. “We have enough marsh and out-of-the-way places where we can generally locate protected water.

“Finding and fishing that protected water is what’s required to take redfish and trout on bad-weather days. I’ll usually run to a lee shore, go back into the marsh and look for redfish when the weather is really bad.”

Finding marsh reds

“In May and June, the shrimp, the mullet and baitfish will move back into the marsh and will be holding in 12 to 18 inches of water,” Kirk Stansel said. “The redfish will follow the baitfish out of the main lake. Everyone knows that out on the main lake you can find a school of birds working and catch speckled trout and redfish under them.

“But what most people don’t realize is that the birds will work deep in the marsh, much like they do out on the main lake, if the lake has heavy wind and bad weather.”

Schools of speckled trout and redfish will herd and corral schools of shrimp, small mullet and other baitfish, and push it to the surface of the marsh as they feed on it. As the schools of mullet, minnows and shrimp come to the surface, the seagulls overhead spot the bait and dive on it.

“Now, the bait has a real problem,” Kirk Stansel said. “It has speckled trout and redfish below it trying to eat it, and seagulls diving from above like World War II kamikaze pilots to feed on the bait as it tries to get away from the redfish and the speckled trout.

“If you see the seagulls diving on the bait, you know where the schools of speckled trout and redfish are holding.”

You may see birds working water that’s as shallow as 12 or 18 inches back in the marsh on bad-weather days. To catch the redfish in the marsh, try to determine the direction of the redfish schools, and position your boat so that the school of redfish will come to you to get within casting range. But you have to stay far enough away from the schools of redfish to keep from spooking them before you can cast to them.

“The redfish will stay in the marsh until the water temperature climbs to the high 80s or low 90s,” Kirk Stansel said. “Then they leave the marshes for summer and return again in the fall.”

Many fishermen avoid the marshes on windy days, but not the Stansel brothers.

“You can get in a marsh on a high tide, become stuck in the marsh if the tide starts falling and not be able to get out until the next high tide,” Kirk Stansel said. “However, we duck hunt in this marsh as well as fish in it, so we know where the little creeks and channels are and how to navigate them.

“Often the real secret of being able to take the redfish in the marsh is to have enough room to get your boat up on-plane and keep it on-plane until you reach the area where you want to fish.”

As long as the Stansel brothers can cross the lake without swamping their boats, they can fish.

“But, you have to find clean water in the marsh,” Kirk Stansel saaid. “We locate clean water by winding our way back into the marsh and getting into some really protected regions where the wind hasn’t turned over the water.”

Productive lures for redfish include the Mister Twister RT Slug rigged weedless when fishing in the grass or fished on a jighead.

“The jighead gives the RT Slug extra weight, making the lure easier to cast on a windy day,” Kirk Stansel said.

He rigs the RT Slug on either a No. 4/0 or 5/0 Gamakatsu hook rigged weedless, just like you’d rig it to bass fish. Redfish also like the Mepps Little Wolf Spoon, especially on windy days.

Though Kirk Stansel prefers darker colors, any color will work with schooling and heavily feeding redfish.

“Funky chicken and fire tiger are two of my favorite colors,” he said.

The fish in the marsh that the Stansels catch usually measure 23 to 25 inches long.

Catching hemmed-up reds

On the second day of our trip in bad weather, I fished with Kirk’s brother, Guy, and we had one of the most unusual redfish trips ever.

Since Hurricane Rita, erosion has occurred on the ship channel that runs through Lake Calcasieu. To stop the erosion and keep the channel open, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a large riprap wall and brought all the riprap to about a two-mile area to protect the bank. As the channel got dredged each year, the workers put the sediment dredged up from the bottom in the spoilage area behind the riprap.

Guy Stansel had noticed that apparently with the building of the riprap wall, some fish became trapped on the back side of the riprap, between that rock wall and the old bank.

“We recently had seen birds working this area that’s about four miles wide by two miles long and from ankle-deep up to about waist-deep,” he said. “It was completely enclosed by riprap on the front and by land on the back.”

When we got behind the riprap, we saw three different schools of redfish working under birds. We went to the first school. Stansel threw a topwater bait, and I threw a Mepps Little Wolf Spoon. We caught our limits in about 45 minutes.

We could see the redfish pushing wakes as they chased schools of baitfish. We caught some reds in only 18 inches of water, but that little cut-off pond held numbers of fish.

Guy Stansel plans to fish this section of the lake as much as he can and as hard as he can because the fish won’t survive when the corps starts dumping the sediment it dredges from the bottom of the ship channel over into that pond to reclaim the channel.

Wade-fish on windy days

You’ll find wade-fishing for redfish deadly effective on windy days once you find protected water.

“You can move in quietly, make long casts and stay well away from the redfish,” Guy Stansel said. “We have a lot of people who come to Lake Calcasieu who prefer to wade-fish. When you see the redfish pushing a wake, take a Mister Twister RT Slug or a Mepps Little Wolf, and cast it in front of the fish. You can have a great day of catching redfish and speckled trout.

“Out on the main lake and even out on the beach, we do quite a bit of wade-fishing for both speckled trout and redfish.”

Guy Stansel usually uses 12-pound-test line all the time for both reds and trout.

“I like the 12-pound-test because it’s heavy enough to allow me to hook the fish, but it’s light enough to let me cast a really long way,” he said. “So I haven’t found a reason to change from 12-pound-test line. I like to make long casts and stay as far away from the fish as I can.

“Most of the time, there’s nothing for the fish to get hung-up on, so you have plenty of room to play them. On that 12-pound-test line, you can have a good time with the fish and break off very few of them.”

Guy Stansel fishes a 6-foot, 5-inch American Rodsmith Ultra, which weighs just a few ounces.

“Over the last few years, I’ve gone to stronger and lighter rods, and I set my drag fairly loose,” he said.

I’ve learned that at Lake Calcasieu, a muddy lake, a blowing wind and falling rain doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy bent rods, screaming drags and an ice-chest full of limits of speckled trout and redfish.

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Weather or Not

Cocodrie anglers who go where the weathr tells them will have much happier trips than those who try to buck it.

Many centuries ago, when Houmas Indians needed precipitation to water crops, their leaders would get together at night around a fire and join in a rain dance.Capt. Bryce Michel can relate.

Back in his more nimble and frisky days, he could cut quite a rug at Houma-area nightclubs. Crowds would part to watch, and the women would swoon.

Or at least that’s the way Michel tells it.

Being a saltwater fishing guide, he’d still dance today if he thought it would help him control the weather. There’d never be a morning when Michel would get up and head out the door before doing his “calm-winds” incantation.

But until the veteran angler discovers some witch doctor’s ancient book of spells and dances, he’ll be at the mercy of whatever Mother Nature gives him.

That’s why he’s so glad he fishes the Cocodrie area.

Especially in the summertime, there may not be another destination along the coast that offers more options to anglers than this port in the lower Terrebonne Parish marsh.

There’s always something biting somewhere, no matter what the winds —untamed by any dances or spells — are doing.

That probably explains why Michel was about 15-m.p.h. calmer than the breeze in the inky black pre-dawn hours one morning last month.

The prior day, Michel had taken Louisiana Sportsman Publisher Tony Taylor and television show host Kevin Ford to the Enstar rig, where the non-stop action was interrupted only by the requirements of shooting a TV program.

The anglers quickly boated their limits while the slightest hint of a breeze tickled the surface of the translucent, green water.

Michel was delighted to find the summertime game kicking off right on cue, and that fast action assured him that for the next four months, he could go to any of the perennial hotspots where Terrebonne Parish meets the Gulf and give his clients all the trout bites they could ever want.

But few clients want any trout bites when the only way to get them is to take a back-breaking, filling-jarring ride over, under and through 4-foot seas rolling in from the open Gulf.

And Michel’s crew this day was no different.

Taylor, his father Otis, a Sportsman sales representative, and Mark Hilzim, vice president of sales and marketing for the magazine, have all taken enough trips in unfavorable conditions to know that sometimes it makes a whole lot more sense to punt on fourth down than to go for it.

But Michel was confident the day would still result in plenty of action — and a painful boat ride didn’t have to be part of the equation.

“We’re going to head to Lost Lake, and make a few stops along the way,” he said.

The trout-crazy crew, assuming redfish would be the exclusive targets of the day, was more than a little disappointed.

But their countenance changed when Michel assured them that a box full of specks was still much more than just a remote possibility.

“Trout stay in this marsh year-round,” he said. “We’ll definitely catch some today.”

With that, Michel backed his new Black Jack out of the slip, and headed south down Bayou Petit Caillou, passing densely packed camps on his right that seemed to fare pretty well in last season’s twin terrors.

“I had 8 feet of water under my camp in Rita, but in Katrina, (Cocodrie) didn’t have any water,” he said. “The storm sucked it all out. Many places in the marsh were bone dry.”

After passing Pointe Cocodrie Inn, Michel turned west, and lowered the throttle for a winding 20-mile journey through the marsh to an area known as L’il Deuce, a section of ponds, bayous and small lakes south of Lake DeCade.

After a couple of stops under birds resulted in a few trout and more gafftops than anyone cared to catch, Michel steered the boat into a no-name bayou off of Bayou Chevreau, one of his favorite spots for windy weather fishing.

“This water’s always pretty in here, and it always holds some trout,” he said.

It didn’t take long for Michel to be proved right. Hilzim’s cork danced for a split second before disappearing below the rippled surface of the water. His live cocaho had apparently looked like free filet mignon to an unsuspecting trout.

The action wasn’t as frenzied as the day before at Enstar, but the Sportsman crew put 10 to 12 trout and three or four redfish in the boat during each pass through the bayou.

After making a few drifts, Michel wanted to check out other spots, so he pulled up the trolling motor and guided the big bay boat to a canal off of Bayou DeCade. At one point in the canal, a pond adjacent to it had broken through its bank, and now provided a nice cut.

Michel threw down the Cajun anchor, and the anglers on board cast into the cut. The action was nearly non-stop as trout after trout sucked down the live baits.

Many were throwbacks, but the crew caught enough keepers to add to the poundage in the box.

Undersized trout are impossible to avoid in the inside waters during Cocodrie’s blistering-hot summers. But the great news is that anglers can almost always pick up a bunch of keepers while fishing the school.

“The bigger fish are outside,” Michel said. “But you come back to the dock on a windy day with 50 trout in the ice chest, and you feel like a hero.”

But given his druthers, Michel would spend every June day casting to the heftier fish that are always stacked up in Cocodrie’s bays and near-shore waters.

That’s most easily accomplished on days with winds of 10 m.p.h. or less, but days with such favorable conditions present anglers with a new set of problems.

“Sometimes you almost get confused because you’ve got so many productive areas to fish,” Michel said. “No matter where you go, you’re always passing up trout.”

Michel admits, however, that’s a wonderful problem to have.

His first choice most often is the series of wells in Lake Barre. Michel favors these fish magnets because of their proximity to his camp, which is between Highway 56 and Bayou Little Caillou.

“A lot of people pass up Lake Barre because it’s almost too easy; it’s too close,” he said. “But we catch so many fish there.”

The area seems to be especially productive as a falling tide is pulling water from the interior marsh that surrounds the lake.

“I’ve got a lot of spots that I prefer on a rising tide, but Lake Barre is one of the few that I actually prefer on a falling tide,” Michel said. “You can definitely catch fish there on a rise, but it’s great on a fall.”

Michel said the most productive rigs in the lake are those that feature a limestone or clam-shell base.

“There’s really no magic way to find these,” he said. “You just have to go out there and hit a bunch of rigs until you start catching fish. If you’re catching fish there, it’s probably got a hard bottom.”

At these wells, Michel throws his summer standby — live croakers fished on Carolina rigs.

If the tide is rising when he starts the day, Michel may go to Lake Barre, or he may opt to head in the opposite direction to the mouths of a series of bayous that empty into Caillou Bay and Lake Pelto.

His favorite is Bayou Grand Caillou.

“There’s a clam-shell reef at the point on the south side (of the mouth),” he said. “On an incoming tide, the green water from the Gulf washes over that reef, and the fish stack up in the gully between the reef and the shore.”

Even though currents are swiftest at this time, Michel most likes to fish the reef during the heart of an incoming tide rather than at or near the beginning or end of the rise.

“In the middle of the tide, you’re going to have everything you want — the water will be clean because it’s had a chance to push in from the Gulf, and the fish will have a chance to get set up to eat the bait being washed in with the tide,” he said.

To compensate for the fast-moving water, Michel will replace the 1/2-ounce egg sinkers he typically uses on his Carolina rigs with 3/4-ounce weights. He’ll also shorten his leaders.

“In a weak tide, I’ll go with a 14-inch leader,” he said. “But when the tide’s really rolling, I’ll shorten that down to about an 8-inch leader.

“There are many times we’re fishing next to people out there who are using long leaders (in strong tides), and we’re outcatching them three to one.”

Another important consideration is how to fish the croakers. Michel likes to cast the baits, let them settle to the bottom and then hold his rod tip straight up, waiting for a strike.

“When the fish hits, you let him take the bait until he pulls your rod down, parallel with the water,” he said. “Then you set the hook.”

Too many anglers, he said, set the hook on the first hit of a croaker. Trout seldom engulf croakers on the first hit, but will stun the baitfish before returning to consummate the meal.

Michel really likes the reef at Bayou Grand Caillou because of the size fish it produces. Cocodrie isn’t really known for lunkers, and that rule holds true for this spot as well. But Michel frequently catches 4 1/2- to 5-pound trout there.

“The biggest trout in Terrebonne Parish are at the mouth of Bayou Grand Caillou,” he said.

Michel also loves Pass Wilson, Taylor Bayou and Grand Pass des Ilettes. Even though he doesn’t catch fish of a similar size to those at Grand Caillou, he always catches plenty of 2- to 3-pound trout there when the conditions are favorable.

If, for whatever reason, the water is dirty at the mouths of the bayous and passes, Michel will run on the flat seas to the wellheads and rigs in the green, salty water of the Gulf.

That was the case when he shot the television show with Ford. The water was off-colored at Grand Caillou, where he had walloped the fish the previous day, but it was clean only a few hundred yards off the coast, so he ran to Enstar, where the action was non-stop.

Michel also likes Ship Shoal 28 and 58, as well as Mardi Gras, the Pickets, the Ship Shoal Lighthouse and other no-name wells in the area.

The rigs are especially productive during the week because they tend to draw huge crowds on weekends and holidays, Michel said.

They’ll deliver even on dead-tide days when the action at the passes and bayou mouths is sluggish.

“The water seems to always be moving somewhat at the wells,” he said.

The veteran guide also loves a series of wellheads positioned on top of what used to be Wine Island, just to the east of Wine Island Pass. One particular well head is dubbed the Monkey Bars by local anglers.

“That’s just an awesome area to fish (with) croakers,” he said. “It’s like fishing the rapids on a river. You know how you get those eddies behind a boulder? Well, that’s what it looks like at those wells. The fish just stack up in those eddies.”

Michel said for some reason, these wells tend to hold a bunch of rat reds in addition to the trout, so anglers can fill their limits on both species if the weather isn’t windy.

But what about the days when nature isn’t so kind?

Michel said the bayou mouths and passes between Caillou Boca and Grand Caillou can still be productive on any wind out of the north, northeast or east because of the configuration of the coast in that area.

On a south or southeast wind, the back side of Last Island also remains productive. Michel particularly likes to throw Rat-L-Trap SlapStiks in this area.

“You fish it on a falling tide at all the points and reefs,” he said. “A falling tide pulls all that clean water out of the interior of the island.”

Bay Round is also productive in a light to moderate breeze.

“It’s protected on almost every side,” Michel said, adding that the bay is almost solid oyster reefs from one side to the other.

Sustained winds will dirty up all these areas, however.

“If it’s been blowing hard a couple of days, forget about it,” Michel said. “But if it’s been calm, and you get up in the morning and there’s a little breeze blowing, you still have time to catch some fish (before the water gets dirty).”

But if the outside areas are all roiled or are too rough to fish comfortably, anglers are better off staying inside and falling back on an option that many anglers would consider their ace in the hole.

There are too many outstanding inside areas to mention, but one of Michel’s favorites is the Four Isle Dome area just to the east of Moncleuse Bay. Michel eases into the area’s duck ponds, and throws live shrimp to the points on the wind-blown side.

“People think the wind blows the bait,” Michel said. “It doesn’t actually blow the bait, but it blows the plankton and other microscopic organisms that the bait feeds on.

“For some reason, you seem to do better with trout on the lee side, but everything else goes to the windy side.”

On either side, proper leader length is again vital.

“The key is to have a very short leader,” he said. “People fish the ponds with these 2-foot leaders, and they don’t catch anything because their bait spends the whole time buried in the bottom.

“You want that shrimp about 6 inches under the cork. No more. And you want to cast that shrimp so close to the point that he’s almost on land.”

Anglers in this area are liable to catch redfish, sheepshead, flounder, black drum and even trout. Michel said on a typical day fishing inside with three clients, he’ll return to the dock with 12-25 redfish, 30-40 sheepshead, 8-20 trout, 4-8 flounder and 12-25 drum.

“You’ll load the boat inside,” he said.

Anglers will likely catch many more trout, but as stated earlier, plenty will be undersized. Those who want to target them specifically can find good action over the oyster reefs on the lee side of Moncleuse Bay itself, Michel said.

Or they can head outside — but only after trying the calm-winds dance.

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Todd Masson
About Todd Masson 460 Articles
Todd Masson has covered outdoors in Louisiana for a quarter century, and is host of the Marsh Man Masson channel on YouTube.

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