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May 01, 2013

Bullish on Big Lake

The Remarkable Productivity of Louisiana’s Calcasieu Lake Promises Fast Action and Satisfaction for Inshore-Slam Seekers


Lousy with Flounder

The next day dawned bright and clear, but with the breeze brisk enough again to make us hide our faces inside neck gaiters. This day’s Stansel, Capt. Kirk (well, that is his name), guided Mark Davis — then with Bomber Saltwater Grade lures — and me to a point of land not far north of the jetties. We anchored (along with a couple of other Rod & Gun boats) a short cast off the gravelly shore.

flounder
The third leg of the Big Lake inshore slam is hoisted in by Mark Davis, a longtime Calcasieu enthusiast.

The target was neither trout nor redfish, but the third item on the usual slam list: flounder

The south-facing point offered some protection from the breeze as all anglers started casting almost to the water’s edge, most with live shrimp hooked to a quarter-ounce jig head, though a few used soft plastics. Once we all had figured out that you almost couldn’t fish your offering too slowly, a fish — or at least an opportunity for one — came on every cast. The flatties ran two to three pounds

Kirk had said this would be a tide bite and, sure enough, once the incoming tide approached dead high, the fish left or developed lockjaw. Either way, few among the group complained: Most who wanted a limit (of five) had that, and many had begun releasing many more flounder early on.

With no reason to linger, we picked up and ran to the West Cove, a large extension of the lake at its southwest corner, hoping to get in on some of the fast shallow-water action that Big Lake is famous for. For a while, we didn’t see a sign of that.

lures
Some of his go-to lures for these waters are shown above. A soft bait under a Bomber Paradise Popper often outfishes everything else.

Then, in the afternoon, the wind finally backed off, the sun warmed the waters, and a few birds started working. Suddenly it was happening — after picking off the occasional trout, we began catching them at a good clip, along with frequent reds. And in short order, all three of us had inshore slams for the day.

While I had success on various lures and soft ­plastics, Davis had the real winning combo: one of Bomber’s Paradise Poppers with a quarter-ounce jig and plastic tail suspended about 18 inches beneath. The trick called for giving the float a good pop or two, then a really long pause. That pause, almost always, was the moment when a trout or red would pounce on the tail. Suddenly, the popper would be yanked under, and it was game on.

Teeming With Bait

The productivity of Calcasieu amazed me — the supply of shrimp, mullet and menhaden seems to be endless. There’s some irony in that, since the lake is far removed from its natural state. Industrial development of the Calcasieu estuary began nearly a decade ago, when large-scale oil refineries and chemical plants began to line its shores. Many major industries are based around this watershed.

Most natural estuaries in this region tend to be very shallow, as is much of Big Lake; in fact, it’s mostly an extensive marsh. But where the ship channel cuts through it — dredged out decades ago by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — depths range from 45 to 50 feet. Occupying much of the 25 or 30 miles separating Calcasieu and Sabine Lake to the west is the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge.

A very short run offshore from the pass sit several oil rigs, known as “short rigs,” that offer fast action from redfish and various coastal pelagics such as tripletail, Spanish mackerel, cobia and jacks in the summer.

I had to fly out after two days, but I got the full report from those in our group who were able to stay for day three. Naturally, that was when the warmer weather and stable barometer had the fish really snapping.

Having experienced Big Lake for a couple of days when conditions weren’t really right, I can only imagine what the action’s like there when all the stars are aligned. Obviously, I’ve got to get back and find out.

A Visit to Lake Calcasieu


Hackberry Rod & Gun has been putting anglers on fish (particularly gator-class trout) and hunters on ducks in fall since 1975. The large facility (with 50 beds) offers a boat ramp, covered moorage and, of course, guide services. One of its most popular options is something called the Night Stalker — a 44-foot aluminum boat purpose-built to carry six anglers out on the lake after dark for eight-hour night-fishing trips. Its six 1,500-watt underwater lights attract teeming bait and predators. For information, visit hackberry​rod​and​gun​.com or call 888‑762‑3391.
Many visitors drive in either from the east (New Orleans, four hours) or the west (Houston, two-and-a-half hours) on Interstate 10. Another option is to fly to Lake Charles; that puts you a little more than a half-hour away, though you’ll still need to rent a car.

Fishing on Big Lake can be good any time of the year, though fall and spring are tops. Note that in late fall, Hackberry Rod & Gun focuses on duck hunting until that season ends.
For specifics of timing your fishing trip, see our Web-extra Calcasieu Lake angling calendar from texas​weekend​angler​.com at sport​fish​ingm​ag.co​m​/big​lakecalendar.