Sunup to Sundown

Teal in the morning, trout in the afternoon are all in a day’s work for Southwest Louisiana sportsmen.

Southwest Louisiana has a special place in my fishing heart. There, on the border estuary of Sabine Lake, guide Chuck Uzzle introduced me to a large harem of speckled trout some six years ago. It was the biggest stringer of gorilla trout I have ever caught — nine fish over 28 inches were released that day.Since fishing with Capt. Erik Rue on Calcasieu Lake, Southwest Louisiana now has a bigger piece of my heart — a 31-inch sow made sure of that.

September in Cameron Parish offers the waterfowler and plugger ample opportunities to score, and if you are tough enough, you can do both in the same day. Not many folks can say they have shot a limit of ducks and caught a limit of trout on the same day. In Southwest Louisiana, you can.

Rue operates Calcasieu Charter Service just south of Lake Charles. His speciality, other than calling ducks and geese in the winter, is locating fat girls on topwater plugs. He is a man after my own heart.

Rue’s baseball background seemed to bond us before we hit the water. Our college playing days crossed paths with several acquaintances, making for constant conversation and reminiscing.

Rue’s competitive athletic nature spills into his salty environment. When the boat leaves the dock, his playing face goes on — a trait that bodes well for the success of his charters. His customers have the option of meals and lodging in a clean, comfortable, outdoor-motif setting that sleeps 20 just a cast from Hebert’s Marina.

The tiny towns surrounding Calcasieu Lake inhabit simple people, good people who wave when meeting a passing car, give information to out-of-towners and eat egg-bacon-mayonnaise-toast sandwiches for breakfast, a delight city-dwellers would be hard pressed to find in their local corner store.

Before sunrise, Rue idled one of his Triton bay boats out of the slip and jumped it on top outside the channel markers. Fifteen-knot winds met us as we edged around the corner of the bulkhead.

Calcasieu Lake runs north-south, so the wind canceled our mid-bay plans of drifting deep shell reefs early in the morning. Our only option was to head to the protective cover of the south shoreline.

Rue started a drift around the old Steam Engine, then headed for West Cove, adjacent to the Intracoastal. The narrow entrance to the small bay was packed with anchored butterfly shrimp barges waiting for the next night tide to push brownies to the surface.

The captain looked for signs of life and found it in flipping mullet; however, sunrise coincided with low tide for the day. Half an hour of drifting with no returns, Rue put the Mercury in motion and motored to the southern portion of Big Lake.

We began drifting an elongated strip of shell around 8:45p.m. Rue was getting antsy.

“We need a fish,” he said.

Within 30 minutes of those words, Rue’s Super Spook sparked a blowup from a speck. Just as I was contemplating changing my black/chartreuse-headed Top Dog for another shade, a tug of a 3-pound trout awakened me. Rue eased the anchor overboard.

The next two hours we took turns catching and releasing 3- to 5-pound trout. Rue intermittently threw a green/chartreuse Hogie’s Major Minnow; I stayed with the Top Dog. Every fish was a solid speck, living up to the lake’s reputation.

Some guides in the area play on the liberal Louisiana limits as a marketing scheme.

“One hundred fish a day” flashes across web sites and brochures targeting the “meat hunter” crowd. And, according to Rue, the summer months produce fish of these proportions.

Rue chooses to promote the conservation route.

“Taking that many fish out of the water hurts our fishing,” he said. “I have noticed a decline in the past three years in the number of fish caught. The fishing is still great, but I have seen a difference. No one needs that many fillets.”

As the morning grew older, the wind lightened, giving us the opportunity to work the middle of the lake. Rue punched a few buttons on his GPS and headed north, stopping on a hidden reef in 6 feet of water.

One of Rue’s guides was already anchored. A bent rod told us the sweet spot held promise.

“This spot can be good for topwaters,” said Rue.

I wondered in disbelief as Rue tossed a soft plastic to the bottom. If this place was good for topwaters, why did the expert cast a soft plastic? Nevertheless, I live and die with the topwater. To take it off would be treason.

Rue immediately hooked up with a fish. It was a good one, bettering 6 pounds. Rue quickly deposited the trout back into its saline environment. More fish of that magnitude found his jig ticking across the scattered shell. I stuck with the surface plug, though some would call my dog-walking foolish when approaching high noon.

Midway through the retrieve of my next cast, a large, agape, yellow mouth slurped the dark, melodious plug, and raised a monstrous wake as the mullet imitation disappeared.

“Good fish,” I muttered as my heart and drag began to labor.

“My gosh, it is at least 30 (inches),” Rue said while fumbling for the net.

The only thing that stopped the entire Top Dog from vanishing in the sow’s gut was the back treble that snagged the upper and lower lip.

Rue believes the abundance of trophy trout on Big Lake is the direct result of conservation attitudes aimed at the protection of big fish. Many guides and outfitters on Calcasieu have adopted the policy that all speckled trout over 24 inches go back into the water. Without conservation and respect for the resource, all good things will come to an end.

“I have a rule on my boat that every fish over 5 pounds goes back into the water, unless you want to mount it,” said Rue. “I have many customers on my boat who like to target big trout, and that seems to be the trend for other anglers on the lake. By releasing the big fish, our lake can withstand the pressure that good fishing brings.”

I am definitely a believer.

Flashes of Blue

By the time September rolls around, avid waterfowlers are itching to please their trigger finger. The special teal-only season, set for Sept. 18-26, quenches that fire burning in a duck hunter’s belly from a long offseason.

Acrobatic blue-winged teal are just what the doctor ordered to shake the rust off your shotgun. Bluewings are the first ducks to begin their migration south, usually arriving in force during the first full moon of August or September.

Bluewings arrive in three migrations. The first wad of birds are mostly drakes; the second group, which arrive traditionally sometime around the last two weekends of September, are hens that did not raise a brood.

Finally, during the end of September and first part of October, hens that did raise a brood begin to show with their juvenile offspring.

By November, most blue-winged teal are in Mexico or South America.

Teal hunting is not rocket science. It is all about location. Be where the birds want to be, throw out a few dozen decoys and pick your shot.

You’d better be quick though. These gregarious birds do not fly straight or slow. Many a shotgunner has been embarrassed after the first flock of birds buzz the deck and leave the pond unscathed.

Rue hunts rice fields a half-hour from his lodge, and uses temporary blinds so his customers can go where the birds are. Teal do not stay put long. If they are using a field one particular morning, there is no guarantee they will be back the next sunrise. A weak north wind or bright moon often sends them packing farther south.

“If you have rice with water on it, all you have to do is wallow out a hole, and it is on,” said Rue. “Most of our hunts are done by 8 o’clock, then we hustle back to the lodge, eat a bite then get in the boat and fish the lake.”

Hackberry Rod and Gun’s Bobby Stansel says their marsh hunting near Cameron is fast and furious during the nine-day season. All hunters need besides a gun and shells is a pair of ankle boots and applicable camouflage. HR&G transports their clients to and from their fiberglass pit blinds with aluminum boats rigged with Go-Devils.

“We hunt pit blinds with two customers and a guide,” said Stansel. “The shooting is so quick we are usually on the water fishing by 10 o’clock.”

The limit for teal during the special season is four birds per man, including blue-winged, green- winged and cinnamon teal only. Non-toxic shotgun shells, a shotgun that holds no more than three shells, a federal duck stamp and a Louisiana hunting license with state duck stamp are required.

September Pattern

Stansel expects to work the entire Calcasieu Lake area from West Cove to Turner’s Bay to the south shoreline to the mid-bay reefs during September.

Expect to see flurries of bird action with each passing cool front as north winds drop tide levels and drain marsh ponds that hold this year’s white shrimp crop. As shrimp are deposited in Big Lake, trout and redfish find them and push them to the surface in a feeding frenzy. Sea gulls hovering over shrimp are like a neon sign reading, “Fish here!”

Stansel expects the HR&G crew to score on glow/chartreuse and fire tiger Bass Assassins and Stanley Wedgetails; however, don’t put away surface plugs like Top Dogs, She Dogs, He Dogs, Super Spooks and SkitterWalks. Big Lake is a big-trout haunt, and trophy fish are only a cast away no matter what month of the year you fish.

Opportunities abound for Southwest Louisiana outdoor enthusiasts on Calcasieu Lake in September. Graphite or gun powder? Take your pick. Better yet, try both.

Capt. Erik Rue can be reached at (337) 598-4700 or www.calcasieucharters.com. Hackberry Rod and Gun can be reached at (888) 762-3391 and on the web at www.hackberryrodandgun.com.

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