Seeing Red on Calcasieu

Lake Calcasieu, Louisiana

On The Fly Saltwater

November 2021

Article and Photos by Jimmy Jacobs.

Down in southwest Louisiana, Calcasieu Lake has a well-earned reputation for providing outstanding angling for seatrout, flounder, and especially redfish. This 52,000-acre brackish water protrusion is connected to the Gulf of Mexico via a ship channel that allows ocean-going commercial vessels to reach the docks of Lake Charles, roughly 17 miles to the north.

Stretching through Cameron and Calcasieu Parishes, outside that shipping channel, the lake averages just 6 feet deep, making it a perfect place for fly fishing. This situation is made even better by the expanses of salt marsh estuaries that line the east side of the lake. There also are an abundance of oyster beds, offering great places for the redfish to forage.

In Calcasieu, which is often referred to by locals as the Big Lake, there is no shortage of that forage. The lake is loaded with shrimp, finger mullet, pogies and glass minnows. Fly patterns mimicking any of those are likely to draw the attention of the redfish.

Though the fish are around all year, as a rule of thumb, Labor Day through the end of November produces the best redfish action on Calcasieu. Often at this time of year you find the reds traveling in pods or larger schools. They also provide abundant signs of their presence.

The fish may be busting the top, scattering bait fish schools. Or they may be creating “muds” as they stir up the bottom while feeding. Other signs to look for are gulls diving on the surface, which likely means the reds are chasing bait under the water, and, finally, the pods may be pushing V-shaped wakes on the surface.

That last option is one the crew from On The Fly South took advantage of a while back, while fishing with Capt. Jeff Poe. Capt. Jeff ran Big Lake Guide Service on Calcasieu for roughly 35 years, before recently relocating to Dauphin Island, Alabama. That business was a family affair, since his wife Mary and son Nick also are licensed guides.

Given all the ways for locating the reds, the action did not involve any blind casting. Rather we were constantly standing and scanning the water for tell-tale signs of the fish. That did not demand a lot of gazing across sunlit water either. The redfish were quite accommodating in showing up.

On the look out for signs of redfish.

Our day on the water started at a gentlemanly hour, since these fall fish did not require being on the water at the break of dawn. The temperatures were a bit nippy at first, but warmed up to shirt-sleeve and shorts weather quickly.

We were used to pursuing reds in the clear waters of Florida, where they are quite skittish, or casting to them in the murky swirls of the Georgia coast, where getting them eat a fly is difficult, Calcasieu provided a welcome alternative. The fish we encountered did not seem at all boat “shy,” often swimming directly toward us. Also, hooking up with one of the reds did not mean the rest would scatter and disappear. More likely, they went about their business cruising the backwater. That may or may not hold true all the time, but once we found a school, they did hang around.

Our first hook up fell to Polly Dean, as she dropped a fly in front of a pod of reds coming at us. Those fish were no more than 20 feet off the bow when one of them ate her offering. After a couple of respectable runs, she was posing on the casting deck with a nice slot-limit red.

Capt. David Poe and Polly Dean with the first redfish

That fish was soon followed up by others, most of which required longer casts, but nothing more than about 40 feet from the vessel. Though we stuck to fishing from the boat, there are a number of areas on the lake that are accommodating to wade fishing during warmer spells of weather.

When it comes to flies, color doesn’t seem to be all that important on Calcasieu. Making the fly match what the forage does is the ticket. In the cooler fall, giving the fly very short strips to imitate the movement of bait fish is more important. Long strips are far less effective.

You are not going to need to go really heavy on gear and leaders here. The reds in the marshes and backwaters are mostly under 30 inches. While bull reds do show up in the lake, they likely will be in deeper water out on the shipping channel.

The bottom line here is that redfish are plentiful in Calcasieu Lake in the fall, and compared to their cousins in other waters, they have earned a reputation for being dumb. That translates to great options for taking them on the long rod.

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