Early fall is a great time to explore other regions of our country. My favorite trip is flying into New Orleans, drive to fish Lake Charles in southern Louisiana or the Gulf of Mexico and then back 200 miles to New Orleans for amazing food.
Here I discovered red fish, a species that fights like they are demon possessed. But catching this muscle fish is like eating chocolate, you always crave more.
The fall morning last season was productive and several fish were caught. My next long cast fell in the right place, and the lure was quickly devoured by another good red fish. The line stripped off my reel in a blur before the big female dove straight down, easily doubling the medium/heavy spinning rod.
Redfish chase schools of mullets like our bass chance shad. They are fiercely strong and bust through schools with a great deal of power. Injured mullets drift helplessly while the red fish returned for an easy meal.
We were fishing with Super Zara Spooks, an excellent topwater lure over the wads of mullets shadowed by big red fish. Fish in the 10- to 20-pound range are common in forage rich waters. Some fish fight with less injury when it grows bigger, but not red fish, they fight with fierce power.
Few fish have powerful consistency like a red fish. They pull hard from the start and fight to full exhaustion, then just give up when all energy is spent. Anglers may feel some of this exhaustion too, especially at my age of 65. Youthful strength is welcome for battling this raw power in a beautiful area of our country.
I glanced around Lake Charles while trying to retrieve line onto my reel and did not see another boat, quite a surprise considering this quality fishery is reasonably close to New Orleans. The big red finally gave up to our net for a quick release. I wondered if my arms would hold out to fight this muscle fish’s buddies for a couple more hours. Sportsmen around this region apparently have developed great arm muscles.
Imagine living close to a sportsman’s paradise with some of America’s best hunting and fishing. Lake Charles, Louisiana, is located close to some of the finest red fish, flounder and speckled trout fishing in the world, not only in their brackish-water lake, but also the gulf that’s only a couple hours away. Largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill and catfish are easy to find too, if you fish past the Saltwater Barrier, which is only three miles from Lake Charles depending on the salinity level.
Hunting, too, in this region is exceptional. Alligator hunts are advertised on hunting camp websites with deer and small game. Add to this excellent duck hunting where gadwalls are called gray ducks by local hunters and you can understand why sportsmen from around the world return to this area with their families for annual visits.
A big difference in Lake Charles is the people. Walk into any business in this old city and you will be greeted warmly by people who are proud of their rich history. Many speak of past residents with respect and pride.
You might hear tales of pirates and buried treasures or tales of the first French settlers arriving in the 1760s. The great lumber boom created rapid growth is this unique town that burned down and was rebuilt in 1910. The petrochemical refining industries brought new life to Lake Charles after World War II and in 2010, the city’s population reached 71,993.
The food is my favorite reason for visiting this beautiful city besides the hunting and fishing. Fresh, boiled crab resplendent with potatoes and corn on the cob, oysters and gulf shrimp are available at most restaurants throughout the area.
You can immediately taste the difference between freshly caught shrimp, crabs or oysters compared to the frozen versions we have in the Midwest. Louisiana gumbos, etouffee with shrimp or crawfish, creoles, jambalaya and the iconic boudin sausage that is featured in many versions are available here, too. Forget about dieting when you visit this great city!
The Mardi Gras Museum is another attraction of Lake Charles. The Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu has some of the most fantastic costumes ever on display.
Animated mannequins are a highlight that tell the story of Mardi Gras or the talking chickens that are trying to escape being cooked up in a gumbo pot. Various rooms tell the story of baking King Cakes and costume making. A Mardi Gras float to climb on includes cheering crowds allowing the pretense of actually being in a parade!
Duck hunting historians might remember that Faulk’s Duck Calls are manufactured in Lake Charles. Faulk’s Game Call Company turns 68 years old in 2019. Dudley Faulk’s father, Clarence “Patin” Faulk who made calls out of bamboo in the 1930s could not have imagined that teaching his son to assemble calls and trim reeds would result in a business that would carry his name around the world.
Dudley eventually turned their garage into a duck call manufacturing factory and continued the business until his death on Sept. 7, 1994. His wife, Rena still has this family business producing a variety of game calls and going stronger than ever.
Lake Charles will always be one of my favorite destinations. I will never forget the day at a duck camp close to this historic town when an elderly Cajun lady served food my dietary restrictions would not allow me to have.
I told her that I couldn’t eat it and she said, “Don’t worry baby, I’ll take care of you.”
She returned with white rice topped with brown gravy and excellent deer sausage. I quickly became the envy of that room while savoring every bite. But her kindness was not surprising. That is just how people are in this special region of Louisiana.
For more information about visiting Lake Charles, check the website at: www.visitlakecharles.org or call 1-800-456-7952.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.