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A TALE OF A TROPHY TROUT
"A Louisiana's Flyfisherman's Dream Come True"

by Pete Cooper, Jr.

 

 

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Ever since I moved to Buras - a small community near the mouth of the Mississippi River, I have felt that I, as a fisherman, had it made. Seven launch-sites are within a 20-minute drive from my house - the closest being about five minutes, and from several of those points, excellent fishing for specks and redfish begins within a distance of mere yards. But years ago when I first turned into Jeff and Mary Poe's driveway, I realized that they, as fishermen, had it made in the shade!

Their home lies about midway down the east bank of Calcasieu Lake: the premier producer of trophy specks in Louisiana. Indeed, Jeff has taken these fish weighing upwards of six pounds from the pier of his boat-house which is literally in his backyard! Believe me, when I first saw his "spread", I was eaten up with envy!

Jeff and Mary are both licensed charter captains, and I made that trip over there to meet them and "check them out" for future writing references. I recall we only had a few hours to fish, and I insisted on doing so with a fly rod with which I caught nothing. But we hit it off pretty well together, and although three or four years would pass before we again shared a boat, we stayed in touch.

Jeff had enjoyed fly fishing during his youth in the lakes and ponds near his home in Alabama, but a full schedule of guiding conventional fishermen left little time for him to learn the saltwater aspects of the sport. So he honed his skills with plastics, Jointed Thunderstiks, and Jumpin' Minnows - with which he caught specks up to nine pounds - and along with Mary became a well-respected and well-known guide.

He called me one morning some time during the fall of 1994. Thoughts of fly fishing for the lake's big specks had finally reached the point where they could not be ignored, so he and I had an extensive question-and-answer session on tackle, flies, and such which would be most appropriate for them. I ended up sending him some flies I had tied which had produced well

 

 

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around my end of the state, he bought a suitable outfit, and shortly thereafter while he was practice-casting off his pier, he caught a speck which weighed 6.33 pounds! Notably, that fish vaulted past my 4.84-pounder which then held the top spot in the newly-formed fly-fishing division of the state's fishing records. Not a bad speck for a "practice session", I was again eaten up with envy!

Being the sympathetic guy he is, Jeff invited me over later that month to try to regain my "title". The wind whistled, the lake took on the semblance of cafe aulait, and we had to pop plastics for reds in the marsh of the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge to catch anything at all! So he invited me back in late May - prime time for big Calcasieu Lake specks.

There are a lot of popular spots in the big lake: Turner's Bay, West Cove, "The Engine", Nine-Mile Cut, and Commissary Point, to name a few. All are time proven - as is "The Tank Battery": a derelict petroleum platform in the southeastern corner of the lake. When I arrived, Jeff had just sent his day's clients on their ways home with an ice chest-full of speck fillets which were harvested around the tank battery. The afternoon breeze was light, the lake was clear, and he was as ready as I was to go fly fishing. And as we raced down the lake toward the old platform, he mentioned the fish were still biting when they had left a few hours earlier.

They were still biting when we arrived. He quickly caught a pair of small ones on a fly I had given him: a flashy size 1/0 green, chartreuse, and white "Clouser Minnow" which is an imitation of a reliable soft-plastic cocahoe I use on occasion. I soon caught a fair one on the same type of fly, Jeff then eased down the anchor, made a cast, and proceeded to catch a 4-pounder. He then made another cast, and while he watched me wrestle in another "fair one", the boat yawed, and his fly snagged the anchor rope.

While he was retrieving his fly, I made a couple of fruitless casts at a particular spot along the platform's walkway. Then Jeff - back in action and with an exact duplicate of the fly I was using - cast at the very same spot and caught a speck which later weighed 6.56 pounds! Oh well, at least I got to net it...

The next morning was nice, but we managed only a few fair ones, though Jeff broke off a "something" after a spirited battle, and I missed a huge strike on a big popper. Then the wind picked up, and we tied flies and yakked all afternoon. Mary and I tried for a couple of hours the next morning in a building gale, caught one fish, and that was that.

I wasn't able to fish with the Poe's in 1996 - had planned on going again in May, but some out-of-state business came up at the same time. Then their busy season began, my "offshore season." We chatted over the phone from time to time, and Jeff was sneaking out occasionally after a charter trip, developing his flyfishing skills as well as testing some flies he had created. One of those - a big, olive, "Deceiver"-type streamer with red flash material and which closely mimicked a plastic cocahoe in avocado with glitter - accounted for several specks in the 6-pound range. But Jeff wanted a truly big one, and he worked hard after it.

Ask any of the dedicated few who specifically target big specks - fish of 8 pounds and more - all across the Gulf coast, and they will tell you those fish are the most difficult of all our inshore species to catch. They are relatively rare, they have become conditioned to every warning signal imaginable and are therefore quite spooky, and they feed very infrequently, preferring one or two large mullet or menhaden - which sates them for some time - over a number of smaller prey. To catch one you must first find it - no mean feat in itself, it must be hungry at the time, it must not sense your presence, and it must find your offering worthwhile. Combine all that, and the odds of catching one are unfavorable at best; add to it the elements of fly fishing, and a big speck becomes the ultimate trophy for an inshore Gulf Coast flyfisherman.

But perseverance, knowledge, and his newly-acquired flyfishing skills - along with a little luck - finally came together for Capt. Jeff Poe on the afternoon of December 5, 1996. And I'll tell you this: I'd have given a fly rod to have had a tape recorder on my phone when he called me the next morning - he was one happy puppy! The fish weighed 9.33 pounds, and he caught it - after his day's charter trip - on his olive "Deceiver" with an 8-weight outfit up in Turner's Bay. Besides the fact that it will soon adorn a prominent place on a wall in his living room, it now rests in the top position in the state's fly-fishing records, and it is one which will be quite difficult to beat.

But with Calcasieu Lake, you never know. Historically, these waters give up a handful of specks surpassing nine pounds to recreational fishermen almost every year, and reports of fish weighing over 10 pounds - some dressed! from commercial gill nets are relatively common during winter. Now, since commercial netting in the lake officially ended on March 1 of this year, the promise of big fish is even greater.

Still, the indiscriminate harvest of the largest specks - which are apparently a strain, genetically superior to others along the coast, is assuredly a hazard to the fishery. Jeff seldom keeps a big one now, and he asks his clients to release all but one of the big ones for a trophy. That's a fine idea, and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries is presently considering a management plan for Calcasieu Lake specks which may include similar actions. After all, one speck per day over two feet long is something I can usually only dream of, but over there many more than that are possible - but for how long?

Jeff's clients - and Mary's - still regularly catch their limits of "fair ones."

Capts. Jeff and Mary Poe can be booked for charter at 318-598-3268.

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