A fishing trip with everything but pink dolphins and unicorns
Sometimes, the end of a fishing charter just kind of fizzles out. Maybe the captain had a hard time finding the fish or maybe the weather is just plain bad. Sometimes, the ride back to the dock is warmed by a perfect trip and this was that kind of ride. My wife, Cherie, and our friend, Kaylen, were sitting on the console seat chatting and laughing. We had all the fish we wanted to take home in the cooler and our arms were tired from all the fish we’d released. As we ran in brilliant sunshine across Lake Calcasieu under blue skies and fluffy white clouds, I told our captain, Mike Bares with Hackberry Rod and Gun, the only thing that would make the trip better for the girls is if he pointed out a unicorn on the bank on the way to the dock. As I was saying this, Mike cut the throttle on the big Kenner boat and pointed ahead. It was a school of big redfish, their backs distorting the water’s surface as they moved across the lake. Mike rushed and rigged a couple of rods with soft plastics and we worked our way around to get in front of these big fish. The fish sounded before we could get into position and we lost them but the trip had been so good, I didn’t care. I’ve always had a healthy respect for Louisiana fishing since my first trip. I honestly have never had a bad trip in Louisiana but this might have been my best.
The trip didn’t exactly begin that way for me. We left the docks under pre-sunrise grey skies and threatening rain. Our first fishing spot was productive. The girls caught several spotted sea trout or specks as they’re commonly called. I caught nothing. This was Kaylen’s first ever fishing trip so I was happy to see her doing well but Cherie began talking smack on her second fish. I made a statement about her being on the end of the boat where the fish were and she came to my end promptly landed the biggest trout, so far. By the time they were up four fish each on me, both were smack talking me incessantly. Finally, I landed a good speck and then another, and the threatening rain turned into actual liquid rain with the sound of thunder in the distance.
When fish are biting, it takes a little more rain to push my wife to a dry spot. I think Cherie’s bravado helped to pump Kaylen’s resolve up and the girls soldiered on with no mention of ending the trip. I think my humiliation in being out-fished helped. In coastal fishing, tide changes everything and tide changes continually. Our first productive spot began to fade, so Mike decided to try another spot for a while.
Calcasieu Lake is near Lake Charles, in Southwest Louisiana, about ten miles from the Gulf of Mexico just off Interstate 10. I’m a big fan of Louisiana fishing and my appreciation is based on experience. I’ve had an occasional slow fishing day almost everywhere I’ve fished, except Louisiana. While this trip wouldn’t have been a bad trip fishing on the coast of North Carolina, had we been rained out, it would have been my worst in Louisiana.
There are a lot of reasons for the excellent fishing in Southwest Louisiana but I believe the most important is the state’s commitment to conserving their fishery for recreational fishing. There has been very little commercial fishing for a long time. Like North Carolina, the fishing in Louisiana was fading before the changes were made, their redfish and spotted sea trout populations were on the rocks. With stringent restrictions and emphasis on recreational fishing over commercial, the fishery recovered some twenty years ago and is still going strong in spite of the highest creel limits on redfish and trout anywhere in the country. There still are commercial fishing operations in the state, but they’re carefully regulated to protect the more valuable gamefish species like spotted sea trout and redfish, the same fish we call red drum. The result is that redfish and trout are much more plentiful in spite of the fact their recreational limits are five times more generous than ours.
A little rain can’t dampen spirits when the fish are biting but our first spot had quit producing and Mike was moving to another spot. We only moved a couple of hundred yards to a gate in the levee where the lake and marsh equalized when the tide changed. As the tide receded, there was a strong flow and Mike instructed the girls to cast their shrimp into the outflow. The result was instant. Kaylen hooked up first and she squealed with excitement as she fought a four pound black drum to the boat. Cherie got the next one before Mike could get Kaylen’s fish off the hook and the smack talk started up again. From that one spot, I estimate we caught at least 40 black drum, maybe 50 with almost continuous action. Mike was frustrated because the black drum would get the bait before the more desirable specks could get to it. He promised that when the tide changed, we’d get some specks, and big ones, too.
As the black drum bite began, the sun came out and warmed us, we laid our soaked gear out on the back of the boat and continued fishing in warm sunshine and light breezes. The fishing was so good that when it came time to eat a sandwich, we ate in shifts, enjoying a break from the fishing while watching the others. At this point, we were way past keeping fish. We had all we wanted though we still hadn’t reached the limits on specs, yet.
The girls continued to catch black drum on popping corks and Mike and I began tight lining the live shrimp for the specks that should have taken over the depths when the tide changed and I finally redeemed my masculinity. The biggest fish of the trip, a 24” speck that weighed just under five pounds nearly jerked my rod from my hands. The biting never faded but I had to get back to do a radio guest appearance so we left with the specks and drum still hungry.
We did have a little time for dolphin watching. We spotted a couple of pods and stopped the boat in their path. They came to within less than ten yards of the boat, some swimming right under the boat, not a unicorn but pretty good. Mike told me there’s a pink, albino dolphin in the lake. Maybe next trip we can see the pink dolphin or the unicorn. That would be the only way the trip could have been better.
Dick Jones is an award winning freelance writer living in High Point. He’s a member of the board of directors of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association. He writes about hunting, fishing, dogs, and shooting for several N.C. newspapers as well as national magazines. He’s an NRA Certified Instructor, a Distinguished Rifleman, former High Master, and teaches shotgun, rifle, and pistol at Lewis Creek Shooting School. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or offtheporchmedia.com