While Lake Charles may be widely known for its glitzy casinos, local anglers will tell you that Southwest Louisiana is the place to come and cast a line. Our unique chain of waterways includes numerous lakes and rivers that flow into one another before finally emptying into the Gulf of Mexico. With so many diverse habitats, anglers have abundant opportunities to catch a wide variety of fish. In this guide, we highlight some of the top fish species in SWLA, as well as how and where to hook them and a few rules and regulations to keep in mind. You’ll also find a roundup of tackle box essentials. By the time you finish reading you’ll be ready to pack your gear and go!
The waterways in SWLA are both brackish and fresh, which widely diversifies your possible targets. The fish you’ll catch depends on where you decide to cast your line. What you can count on consistently, however, is multiple hookups and plenty of opportunities to take home a trophy.
Speckled trout are a primary target of anglers in the Lake Area. You’ll find these schooling fish year-round in Lake Charles, Prien Lake, and Moss Lake. If you’re after a trophy, however, Calcasieu Lake is where you want to be. “Specks” typically arrive in mid-March and often weigh five to eight pounds, sometimes into the double digits! But great trout fishing isn’t limited to early spring and summer. Speckled trout can also be found in the winter months if you find some deep water, for example, Lake Charles. For bait, try topwater plugs, slow-sinking lures, and soft plastics.
Redfish thrive in the brackish waters of Lake Charles and Calcasieu Lake. Huge schools of these tasty fish roam the waters year-round and make for exciting adventures – especially for fly fishermen. Calcasieu Lake, often called “Big Lake,” is significantly larger than its neighbors. You can hook especially large Bull Reds along the jetties in the summer and during the fall mullet run. In winter, cast your lines along the ship channel. Targeting the marshy shorelines is a safe bet throughout the seasons. Big Lake is popular among fly anglers but that doesn’t mean traditional spinning rods won’t get the job done!
Bass are iconic in the world of sportfishing, and for good reason. These clever fish are opportunistic eaters – but don’t think that makes fishing for them is easy. Bass will rarely go after the same bait twice, meaning pursuing them never gets old. Bass are freshwater fish, so head north of the saltwater barrier into the Calcasieu River. Farther north, Toledo Bend is a bass fisherman’s mecca. While most fish that get pulled out of the Calcasieu River measure in between 6–12 inches, anglers have also caught bass over the 20-inch mark.
Southwest Louisiana waterways are also home to flounder, black drum, crappie, bream, garfish, and catfish.
Now that you know what fish to catch, let’s consider your method.
Charter boat fishing with a licensed local captain is one of the best ways to take advantage of the Lake Area. There’s a lot of ground to cover so if it’s your first time, heading out with a guide is a good way to guarantee you’ll maximize your time on the water. Whether you came to hook a spotted seatrout in Lake Calcasieu, a largemouth bass on the Calcasieu River, or redfish in Lake Charles, your captain will work hard to ensure you go home happy. They’ll also provide all your gear and ensure you’re fishing within the law. Below is a sampling of reputable charter services:
Kayak fishing has been gaining in popularity – and for good reason. You’ll get up close and personal with your targets, and it’s a great workout too. Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve got some experience under your belt, Lake Charles is a great place to give kayak fishing a try. Southwestern Louisiana is home to plenty of shallow marshes where kayaks have a clear advantage. These shallow honey holes are often inaccessible by larger boats, so you’ll have the fish all to yourself. Enjoy the peace and quiet, take in all the wildlife, and go home with some delicious fish.
Shore Fishing. If you’d prefer to stay ashore, that’s okay too! You can still catch some of the area’s most notable fish from the banks. There are plenty of parks that allow you to wet a line from shore including Prien Lake Park, Holbrook Park, and Intracoastal Park. Or indulge in some surf fishing along the Gulf of Mexico’s coastline. Wherever you choose to go, speckled trout, redfish, and flounder are all possibilities.
The Lake Area is home to a lot of different waterways. As a result, it can be overwhelming to choose a spot. We’re just scratching the surface with the places listed below, but they’re a great starting point to build on. In addition to Lake Charles, Prien Lake, the Calcasieu River, and Calcasieu (Big) Lake, try:
Often referred to as “Louisiana’s Outback,” the Creole Nature Trail starts at Lake Charles and extends all the way to the Gulf. Home to incredible wildlife, including over 400 bird species, you’ll also find redfish, speckled trout, flounder, and bass.
If you’re after bruiser brown trout or speckled trout, you can’t go wrong in the Calcasieu Ship Channel. You’ll likely catch your limit, both in the deeper waters around the ledges and in the marshy bayous.
Offering places to fish from the bank, as well as a 24-hour boat launch, this access point at the northern end of the Calcasieu Lake is a great choice for a variety of anglers.
We know this is vague, but Lake Charles is the biggest city on the river and offers access to both the upper and lower streams. Hook spotted bass and bream in the upper stream; catfish, largemouth bass, and crappie in the middle; and in the lower stream, it’s all about redfish, trout, and flounder.
Located six miles southwest of Lake Charles, Prien Lake is a sportfishing paradise. Its brackish waters are home to speckled trout, redfish, black drum, and flounder. This lake is protected from the strong winds that blow across Calcasieu Lake, making it a great choice for winter anglers.
There are a few more things you show know before heading out on your Lake Charles fishing adventure. First up are fishing licenses. Since most of the waters in the area are brackish, you’ll need both a Basic Louisiana Fishing License, as well as a Saltwater License – depending on where you’re fishing. Make sure to stay on top of local regulations related to bag limits and seasonality. To ensure you’re fishing within the law, go to the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries website at www.wlf.louisiana.gov. If you’re unfamiliar with the area, a surefire way to make sure you’re respecting the rules is to head out with a local guide.
The best way to get out there and catch a big one is to start with the right gear. A well-stocked and organized tackle box is an angler’s best friend. You never know when you might need something. Be prepared and build your box with the following.
Extra line – One snag on a sunken log and you’re going to need more line. Several spools of varying weights will give you options.
Spare hooks – You can’t fish without hooks, and the more you have to choose from, the better.
Lures and bait – Ideally, you’ll have a mix of live and artificial bait such as spoons, jigs, plastic worms, spinners, and any other lures specific to the type of fish you’re looking for.
Swivels allow your line to untwist without tangling when you’re retrieving the line.
Sinkers are the weights used alongside a lure to increase the speed and depth to which the hook sinks.
Bobbers or floats make it easier to see when there’s tension on the line.
Fishing pliers make hook removal a whole lot easier. Look for a pair with a nylon sheath, coiled lanyard, and belt loop clasp for convenience.
Multi-tool, aka Swiss army knife, is useful for just about anything.
Digital hanging hook scale – For the fisherman who is into the numbers.
First aid kit – You never know when you, or someone else, will need a bandage.
Fillet knife – If you want to catch and cook your fish, a strong fillet knife is necessary to prepare your catches. Find one with a leather sheath for safe carry and single-stage sharpener.
Bug Repellant – No explanation needed.
Sunscreen – Keep a bottle in your tackle box to avoid looking like a lobster after a long day of fishing.
by Angie Kay Dilmore
Toledo Bend Reservoir, the largest man-made lake in the South, is a prime destination for sportsmen and nature lovers. From Lake Charles, it’s an easy drive up Hwy. 17. The region’s biggest claim to fame is its bass fishing opportunities, which have repeatedly earned Toledo Bend the No. 1 spot on Bassmaster magazine’s top bass fishing destinations.
The reservoir is 65 miles long and covers 185,000 acres. Several parishes are located alongside Toledo Bend. Sabine Parish is a hub of activities and where we will focus our adventure.
Toledo Bend Forest Scenic Byway, part of the Louisiana Trails & Byways program, gives visitors the chance to see some of the region’s spectacular scenery and learn about its history and culture— all without leaving the driver’s seat. This 76-mile driving trail encompasses the entire eastern side of Toledo Bend Lake, taking visitors past overlooks, little-known bayous and remote pine forests.
Cool off at the brand new Toledo Bend Family Adventure Park, which just opened Memorial Day weekend. Experience their water slides, lazy river, splash pads, mini-golf, playground, and more. Georgia Craven, executive director at the Sabine Parish Tourist & Recreation Commission, says she’s excited about the new Adventure Water Park located at Wildwood Resort in Zwolle, La. “It offers another reason for families with kids of all ages to visit Toledo Bend Lake Country.”
Fishing tour guide companies abound around Toledo Bend. Living the Dream Guide Service offers a ‘Catch & Cook’ service. They clean and cook your fish when you return from your tour, so you can enjoy lunch and a cool drink at their marina.
Tack-A-Paw Expeditions, headquartered at remote Toro Bayou in Anacoco, will get you as deep into the wilderness as you can get in Louisiana. Its guides cover 70 miles of Louisiana waterways including part of Toledo Bend Lake. They offer packages that include everything from two-hour trips to multi-day backwoods camping adventures.
Interested in SCUBA diving at Toledo Bend? There are a number of sunken artifacts to explore, including some boats and an old barge sometimes used for training. You’ll find flooded cemeteries and the remains of buildings, even a couple of towns, hiding beneath the waters. Dive Toledo SCUBA Center bills itself as “the Diver’s Super Store.” They carry a complete line of new equipment – from caps to fins. They also handle some used diving equipment. Equipment repairs and inspection, air fills, and equipment rentals available.
El Camino Real de los Tejas is the famed “Royal Road” that linked Mexico City with Spanish settlements in what is now Texas and Louisiana. The road ends at Los Adaes State Historic Site in Robeline, and it crosses through Fort Jesup State Historic Site in Many. These state historic sites reveal fascinating stories of life on the “No Man’s Land” frontier as it was lived more than 300 years ago.
Depending on when you go, you might catch a show or concert at the Sabine Theatre in Many, La. Built in 1947, the Sabine Theatre was acquired by the town of Many in the mid-1990’s. It is now used for live theatre by the Sabine Parish Players, as well as musical performances, occasional movies, and other community events.
Sabine Parish’s shopping haven can be found in downtown Many. You’ll find a variety of antique shops and boutiques such as Nichols, Good Gracious Apparel & Accessories, Gypsy Boutique, The Treasure Chest, and Past & Present Antique Mall. Each shop has its own special southern charm.
You may be familiar with the whimsical alligator statues in and around Calcasieu Parish. In Sabine Parish, you’ll find fish! Eight of them, to be exact, each painted by local artists. The Toledo Bend Lunker Art Project was initiated in 2011 and is sponsored by the Sabine Parish Tourism Commission and The Depot Art Guild. ‘Lunker’ is a fishing term that means a very large fish, especially a bass. For a list of fish statue locations, go to https://toledobendlakecountry.com/fish-statues.
Considering the rural nature of this region, there are a surprising number of great places to eat, including fine dining, mom-and-pop diners, and even gas stations, which often offer some unique fare. You’ll find everything from down-home cooking to great seafood dishes and delicious Tex-Mex dishes. Many restaurants host live music on weekends.
To get your fill of the ‘world’s best tamales’, check out the parish’s Zwolle Tamale Trail. Deeply rooted in Native American and Spanish heritage, the Zwolle hot tamale stems from a combination of their culinary efforts to produce the most delectable hot tamale in the country. You’ll find tamales in mild, medium, hot, and extra hot varieties.
Casa Michoacana in Zwolle offers authentic Mexican fare. Open for lunch and dinner.
Bayou Crawfish in Many offers Cajun-Creole dishes as well as Southern home-cooking. Open for lunch and dinner.
Bell’s Gulf Station Café in Many serves great coffee, breakfast, and lunch. Get All-You-Can-Eat Pancakes on Saturdays.
For overnight stays, visitors have many options – cabins, rental homes, and plenty of campgrounds.
For more information, go to toledobendlakecountry.
North Toledo Bend State Park is a great destination for anglers, mountain bikers, hikers, bird watchers, boaters, and of course, campers. Located in Zwolle, the park offers 900 acres of waterfront fun and spectacular scenery. Swimming pool and boat rentals offered seasonally. Cabins and RV sites available. FYI – South Toledo Bend State Park is closed for updates.
Wildwood Resort in Zwolle offers cabins and RV sites. Amenities at this elevated camping experience include three swimming pools, paddle boats, kayaks, paddle boards, hydro bikes, a private boat launch, lighted pier, three catch and release ponds, a gift and bait shop, playground, and animal viewing/feeding.
Camping not your thing? Cypress Bend Golf Resort in Many, La. offers a complete package for relaxation seekers. You’ll find 600 acres of manicured gardens, spa services, and accommodations that include two-bedroom golf suites. Their 18-hole championship golf course is closed through December for renovations.