Big Redfish with Fishing Tom’s Guide Service
By Dick Jones
The medium sized alligator apparently heard the splashing of the fish we’d recently landed and he was eyeing the fish we were catching, but not interfering. When I saw my popping cork make a dive under the surface, I had one eye on the cork and the other on the alligator. The redfish shook his head bulldog fashion and made a couple of drag stripping runs. I could tell he was too big to horse him to the boat and I was concerned that the alligator might decide to come after him. As we slugged it out, I watched the gator. He showed no interest until the fish came to the surface. As we were netting the fish, I noticed him moving in our direction, but he only showed perfunctory interest. Eventually, we boated the red and he was a nice one, about 28 inches long.
We were fishing in the Sabine Lake Wildlife Refuge, south of Lake Charles, Louisiana. Located between Lake Calcasieu and Sabine Lake, it’s only open to the public March 15 to October 15 and until this year, it was not open to charter trips. As of this year, permits are available for guides. It’s as wild a coastal area as I’ve ever seen. We spent half a day there and I didn’t see a single thing that related to civilization. Not a single can, bottle, or piece of paper.
Great fishing, great dining
What’s most remarkable about the Sabine Lake Wildlife Refuge is that you can have dinner in a great restaurant, spend the night in a comfortable, air conditioned room, and get up in the morning and spend the day fishing in a place that’s little different than it was two thousand years ago. Our trip to Lake Charles included dining on gumbo, shrimp, crabs, oysters, crawfish, and a Cajun sausage made of meat and rice, called boudin, at small, family owned restaurants around Lake Charles.
Enjoy the ride
Getting to Sabine Lake requires a serious boat ride of almost an hour. The early part of the ride on the Intracoastal Waterway is pleasant enough, but once we turned into the channel to get to the refuge, the ride into the refuge becomes almost as good as the fishing trip. There are crab pots and signs of civilization until you get to the edge of the refuge, but once in, all signs of humanity disappear. The channel twists and winds through the estuary and is a thrilling and inspirational boat ride in the early morning sunrise.
Many angling enthusiasts long for a fishing experience outside the normal locations. Outdoor people often find themselves yearning to go somewhere that seems absolutely primordial, a place where one might imagine no person has ever fished before. As the boat glides along the snaking channel that leads into the refuge, one gets the impression that you’re fishing virgin water that few anglers have seen. That impression is fairly close to true since the long ride down the Intracoastal Waterway to the entrance to the refuge discourages all but the most determined anglers.
More than just reds
Sabine Lake is a great place for speckled trout, redfish, and flounder, known as the Cajun Slam, but there are an abundance of black drum and sheepshead as well as less desirable alligator gar. On our trip, between the two boats, we caught every species mentioned. Louisiana keeper limits are much more generous than almost all other Atlantic and Gulf states with the limit on reds at five per day with one fish allowed over the 16 to 27 inch slot. On our trip, all of us caught at least one fish over the 27 inch slot limit.
Choose your tackle
We fished cuts in the estuary where the current was flowing through, carrying bait to waiting predators. This was shallow water fishing; most of the water we fished was only a couple of feet deep. Live shrimp, jig heads and Berkley Gulp or soft plastics work well in Sabine, as does a fly rod in the hands of a skilled caster.
More places for fishing
In addition to Sabine Lake, Fishing Tom’s Guide Service offers fishing trips all over the Calcasieu Estuary, which includes the Calcasieu River, Lake Calcasieu, Black Lake and the shipping channel to the Gulf of Mexico. We had two boats with friends, Michelle and Chris Cerino, of the History Channel’s Top Shot TV series, in a boat with Captain Tom while Cherie and I fished with his son, Tommy. Both boats limited out on reds with the biggest fish being a 30” bruiser.
Best times in Southwest Louisiana are spring and fall with summer offering great fishing. Fishing is good in summer if you don’t mind the heat, and winter offers lots of fish but it’s difficult to catch good weather and wind. The Louisiana license tag describes the state as a sportsman’s paradise and the Sabine Lake Wildlife Refuge is not only a paradise, it’s an unspoiled treasure.