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 Lake Calcasieu

Wading in on Trophy Trout

by Chester Moore, Jr.

Lake Calcasieu (Big Lake) was the most talked about speckled trout fishing destination on the Gulf Coast in 2002 and 2003. And all things point to the same kind of top shelf action this year.

For anglers who have never fished on this popular body of water, the big question is "How do I catch Big Lake's monster trout?"

Some of the answers might surprise you.

Take wadefishing for example.

Five years ago if you were running across Lake Calcasieu and saw somebody wadefishing you might think you were dreaming.

The media generally does not portray this area as a wadefishing hot spot. But that could be changing.

Last year anglers caught numerous trout up to 10 pounds while wading on the north end of Lake Calcasieu in late winter and early spring

Many people do not realize that the biggest trout of the year bite in winter and a growing number of anglers catch them by getting in the water with them and using a stealthy approach.

If you plan to catch a Louisiana limit of 12-inchers stay home, but if it is a wall-hanger you want break out the waders now.

"On the wadefishing trips my friends and I made, the smallest fish we caught weighed more than three pounds. I'll take that kind of small fish any day of the week," said veteran Big Lake angler Danny Hernandez of Lake Charles.

"Now don't get the idea that we were just mopping up on the fish. Out of three of us, we might only catch three or four fish apiece, but they are usually very big fish. It's a trade-off. Either you look for numbers or size," he added.

Hernandez said he catches these trout while wading the shallow, flat areas adjacent to deeper water.

The trout like to hold in deep holes during cold weather, but will move onto the flats to feed on sunny days.

"The water temperature rises a few degrees in the shallow areas and it draws in bait which in turn draws in the trout. You just have to search around and find conducive wading spots," Hernandez said.

Hernandez said the key to his success has been the slow-sinking hard plastic Catch 2000 made by MirrOlure.

"It's really a trout killer. I have never fished with a lure here in the early part of the year that produces like this one," he said.

A lure I had good luck with on Big Lake and neighboring Sabine Lake last year is a new one called the Chatter Tube, that Houstonian Steve Walko produces. It is a slow-sinking soft plastic with a rattling tube inside that seems to drive the trout crazy.

I fish the Chatter Tube and any slow-sinking lure during winter on super, low stretch line like Berkeley Fireline or P-Line. Fish this time of year are lethargic and they are sometimes difficult to feel when they strike. The super lines give me the ability to feel anything that encounters the line.

Bass Assassins are the most popular lures for area waders, especially during the early morning period. That is when water temperatures are the coolest and that is when trout are the most lethargic. Slow-sinking plastics are good for this application.

Corkys and their many imitations including the Little Sof-T and Big Kelly are in heavy use here during winter.

Afternoon fishing is the most reliable.

This time of year, we often get slack wind from about noon until three and by this time, shallow flats have warmed up several degrees.

Under normal conditions, topwaters would be the obvious bait of choice in this situation.

However, with the prevalence of high winds in the morning, muddy water conditions have been commonplace and have convinced some anglers that fishing topwater plugs will not be affective.

That is not necessarily so.

Galveston area guide George Knighten is a wadefishing specialist and he said using topwaters in murky water could often be the ticket.

"In the spring we get a lot of murky water in the Galveston system and I will often go to a very loud topwater plug to catch trout under these conditions. They can't really see very well when the water looks bad but they can hear a topwater plug and many times that's enough to get them to hit," he said.

I agree.

While wadefishing the Chandeleur Islands when water conditions were poor, topwaters were the go-to bait. At the time, the trout were feeding heavily on mullet and I guess the sound of an injured mullet was what they wanted to hear.

Since then, I have experienced the same thing on Sabine and in East Matagorda Bay.

Remember, the truly big speckled trout feed mostly on finfish, and mullet are usually the top choice on their menu.

That is not to say mullet are the only thing to look for but if you want to get into the water after big trout they are a good starting point. And you don't necessarily have to find big schools of mullet.

Small pods can often harbor big trout and it's important to keep in mind trophy trout fishing is not a numbers game. It's all about quality.

By now, you are probably wondering exactly where to go wadefishing on Big Lake.

Hernandez mentioned the deep water near the ship channel on the north end of the ecosystem, but there are hundreds of hot spots. Virtually any of the shorelines are wadeable although the mud is quite thick. This is not an area I would recommend wadefishing alone.

Some of the local anglers don't recommend wadefishing on Big Lake at all. In fact, they discourage it.

Some of those who saw the flood of waders the last year were shocked. I got several calls from readers of my Port Arthur News column saying things like "Those people wading are asking for trouble. You could sink up to your eyes out there. You can't wade on Big Lake."

Now many of the same people are out wading themselves and catching lots of nice trout. Still others are angry with the anglers who mainly hail from Texas who are "screwing up their fishing" as one Big Lake local likes to put it.

This man called me last year and said he and a bunch of other locals would like to set up a check station on Interstate 10 and if anyone had wading gear they were going to send them back home.

I told the man that could never happen and he said it should and he would love to see wadefishing banned on the lake. I thought this was just one angry angler, but apparently some people in Sportsman's Paradise just don't get or appreciate wadefishing.

The man's complaint to me was that waders often block their drifts and cut them off from getting into some of their favorite shallow water areas.

That is what many anglers thought until they tried wading Big Lake and found out it can be the ticket to catch the fish of a lifetime even if it makes some of the natives restless.

Down-Sizing for Winter Specks

Sometimes we fish with such large bait that I think we might actually scare some fish. Let's admit it, not every trout we catch is going to be a fat sow.

More often than not, we would gladly catch some two to three pound fish and many times when the big ones are not biting, we should downsize our bait to increase our catch. I think this is especially true in winter when we must take a more delicate approach to fishing.

If you are not catching fish on your five-inch grub, fish with a three-incher. If you do not have any, just cut the big one in half.

The same goes with lipless crankbaits. You might want to try your 1/8 and 1/4 ounce crankers if your big stuff isn't delivering the goods.

Often we run into trout that are not responding to our shrimp tails or plastic shad. Once again, cut an inch or so off your bait and fish a smaller jig head and you might just surprise you with what you catch.

We can overgun ourselves on line, too. Heavy line has its advantages, but if you are having a hard time, detecting fish switch to something lighter. Set your drag accordingly and you should have no problem with it.

Not all of this means that you will catch all small fish because you fish with small bait. The big boys are not going to pass up an easy meal. What it does mean is that you can turn an unproductive day into some real fun and that is what counts in the end anyway.

Anglers visiting any new body of water should be wary of the customs of those who fish there all the time.

Most anglers fishing Big Lake are unfamiliar with wadefishing and as I noted in the story some do not appreciate it.

That does not mean you should not do it, but certainly go the extra mile to be courteous to those fishing in boats. Try not to block the mouths of cuts and be friendly.

It could save you an unpleasant shouting match.

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