For decades, anglers from Texas as well as other Gulf Coast states have flocked to Lake Calcasieu, just outside Lake Charles, Louisiana, to sample its legendary fishing. Located a scant 2 1/2 hours from downtown Houston, Lake Calcasieu is close enough to be convenient, yet far enough to be 'exotic' for fishermen from the Lone Star State. Most often, Texas fishermen take their initial trip to Big Lake to "do something different." But, after that first foray, they are hooked and become regular Lake Cal fishermen.
Much of Big Lake's reputation has been built on producing big speckled trout. While it is true the two bookend Gulf states - Texas and Florida - boast most of the IGFA World Records, no other single bay system spits out as many over-two-foot fish as Lake Cal. So, though there are areas that may be more appealing to record-seekers willing to catch just one or two giants, no place on the Gulf Coast gives anglers a better opportunity to catch fish in the five to eight-pound class. And, catch them in volume. Catching multiple fish in this size range is not uncommon on Lake Cal. For most fishermen, being in steady action with very large speckled trout beats spending several days on the water in search of one bite from a record-size fish.
Like big trout on other water bodies, Lake Cal trophy trout are susceptible to topwater plugs, slow-sinking lures and big soft-plastics. Because the water often has a tint and many of Big Lake's big trout are found over muddy bottom flats on the northwest side of the lake, loud topwater plugs generally work best. MirrOlure She Dogs and Bomber SWG Badonk-A-Donks (high pitch), are among the best bets. Ditto soft-plastics. Using baits with large paddletails, like the Stanley Wedgetail Mullet or TTF KFM XL increase the odds fish will be able to "feel" the lure moving through the water. When throwing slow-sinking baits, go with lures that have a shad-like profile such as the MirrOlure Catch 5 or Corky Fat Boy.
Lake Calcasieu isn't all about trophy trout, however. In fact, fishermen looking for fast action would be hard-pressed to find a bay the yields more "eaters" - trout in the 14 to 18-inch size class. Especially during the summer months, Lake Cal's mid-lake reefs are swarming with keeper specks. Live shrimp under a popping cork is practically a guarantee for success. But, keeper specks can also be taken on artificials. Reaction Chub Minnows and TTF Hackberry Hustlers are two traditional favorites of Big Lake trout fishermen. With a generous 25 fish daily bag limit (12 inch minimum length), anglers heading to Big Lake are assured to take home plenty of fillets.
Although trout grab most of the headlines in Lake Calcasieu, there are plenty of redfish around, both in the lake and, seasonally, around the jetties. In the Lake, reds can be found roaming along the shorelines from late spring through fall. During summer and fall, big bull redfish will be found along the jetties and beachfront. In spring and fall, reds will be schooled up under flocks of birds throughout the lake. Quite often these pods of reds will be mixed in with or near schools of speckled trout, pushing shrimp and shad to the surface to feed on.
When targeting reds along the shorelines, Lake Calcasieu fishermen can score well with spoons, soft-plastics and topwater plugs. Under the birds, anglers looking for reds should use soft-plastics with a heavier head, as the reds are most often holding below the trout. Around the jetties, bull reds will readily gulp natural baits such as finger mullet and cracked crab. They will also attack soft-plastics and spoons, as well as traditional beachfront plugs such as 52 Series MirrOlures.
Flounder are another major draw for Lake Calcasieu fishermen. There is a bit of a "spring run" on Big Lake, but the best flounder action is found during fall. Beginning in October, flatfish will begin staging around the points and marsh drains. As the year's first few "hard fronts" pass through and chill the water, flounder will start leaving the lake. At this point, they are found in good numbers along the channel edges and in the passes. Finger mullet, mud minnows and soft-plastics all work well for flounder. Generally the weeks immediately following Thanksgiving offer exceptional flounder fishing.
A "bonus" option for Lake Calcasieu fishermen is a series of gas and oil rigs found just offshore, within sight of the beach. Known locally as the "short rigs," these nearshore production platforms are extremely productive, especially during the summer months. As the Gulf waters warm, a myriad of species, including tripletail, trout, Spanish mackerel, ling, king mackerel, shark, redfish and jack crevalle congregate around the short rigs. The most reliable short rig action occurs in August, although fishing around the short rigs can be good anytime between July and September. With the right conditions - light winds and calm surface waters - anglers can safely make the run to the short rigs in a bay boat, opening up an entirely different world of fishing possibilities.
Regardless of the time of year or target species, a trip to Lake Calcasieu is bound to create new angling memories. And, with it closer for many Texas fishermen than many bays in the Lone Star State, it's a convenient change of pace. In any event, a fishing trip on Lake Calcasieu is well worth the drive.