Off the Porch: Tico hits the jackpot in south Louisiana

Mar. 23, 2013 @ 09:47 AM

The object was to just bump the jig along the bottom. I was concentrating on keeping the jig moving because the bottom was covered with clumps of oysters and I didn’t want to snag. It was past mid-morning and we only had a couple more hours to fish. Before we left, I wanted to catch a puppy drum or a redfish as the folks in Louisiana call them. We’d fished at two other spots and caught several speckled sea trout. They’re fun to catch and most folks think they taste better than puppy drum, but I’m not one of those people. I also like to catch fish that take some drag when they feel the hook, and none of the trout had put up much of a fight. Trout strike lightly and require finesse. Drum bite the hook with tenacity. There’s rarely a question of whether you have a fish on or not.
I was keeping the rod tip up and giving it a little flip, winding up the slack and repeating the process until the lure was fairly close to the boat. This was my second cast at this location and Eric Rue, our captain, had seen a school of fish where I was casting. My first reaction when I felt the fish was that I’d let the hook snag on an oyster clump. Then I felt the signature red drum head shake and my “oyster clump” took off in the other direction, taking about a dozen yards of line on the first run. I had my redfish on the line. A seven or eight pound puppy drum is a handful on a surf rod, and on a light spinning rod, he’s a blast. As I worked my fish, I noticed Captain Eric had one, too. Mine was a little bigger and Eric boated his fish and turned his attention to getting my fish in the net. When he came over the side, I was happy.
We were fishing the big lake at Lake Charles, Louisiana. Cherie and I were nearing the end of a near perfect trip across the Deep South. On Tuesday, we’d bird hunted in Sylvester, Georgia, shooting quail over wonderful dogs in classic Georgia wire grass and pine trees. We enjoyed Georgia hospitality from my friend, Benjie DeLoach, who runs the Southern Woods Plantation, one of the six top hunting destinations in the U. S. On Wednesday morning, we left Southern Woods and drove to the French Quarter, in New Orleans, for a revisit of our honeymoon. We were married in late April in New Orleans almost 15 years ago, and we were enjoying this trip as a second honeymoon. We ate at Ralph and Kakoos, had breakfast at Café du Monde, and had a muffaletta for lunch from Franks, on Decatur.
We left the Quarter and made it to Lake Charles in time for a plate of boiled crawdads for dinner. Cherie and I love Lake Charles because it’s a crown jewel in the Sportsman’s Paradise that is Louisiana. Last year, we spent a little time duck hunting in Lake Charles over flooded rice beds. We shot mallards out of a pit blind, watched a great little Lab named Sassy work the birds, and had great Creole food. This trip was turning out to be just as much fun.
We were fishing with Captain Eric Rue, of Calcasieu Charter Service, the same outfitter we duck hunted with last year. Eric runs a big center console bay boat and there was ample room for four of us. In addition to Eric, Cherie, and me was Tico Soto, sales manager for the Lake Charles Visitors Bureau. Tico leads a busy life, and in spite of living in one of finest fishing locations in the country, he’s hardly done any fishing at all.  I love to fish but there’s little I enjoy more than helping someone fall in love with fishing.
Tico struggled early, but he wanted to catch a fish. I showed him how to keep the rod tip high and keep the line snug by cranking down the slack on the twitch at the top. He focused on the technique. “This is like gambling on a slot machine,” he laughed. “If you don’t get anything, you just repeat the process until you do.” We began picking up more redfish as we moved along the bank, following the school. Tico occasionally forgot to open his bail and slapped the water with his jig.
In the corner of my eye, I could see him look to see of any of us had noticed. I laughed and said, “I heard that; don’t worry, everybody forgets from time to time.”
When a larger redfish did grab his line, he was ecstatic. We must have found the school because, as he was fighting his fish, I tagged a smaller one. There’s nothing like a double hookup to raise spirits on a boat. We were whooping and high fiving until both fish were in the cooler. When it was time to make the run to the docks, we had a cooler full of specks and reds and Tico’s first fish was the biggest of the trip, including the other boats and the biggest fish of his life.
Great days outdoors put life in perspective. Fishing when the fish don’t bite is relaxing but there’s no more fun than a day on the water with friends, old and new, catching fish. For me, watching Tico fall in love with fishing was better than having fish in the cooler. Need a great getaway where the food is great, the outdoor opportunities are ample, and the folks are fun to be around? Spend some time in Southwest Louisiana. You might hit the jackpot like my new fishing buddy, Tico.