Cast and blast

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Dove selects department heads
January 13, 2016
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January 15, 2016

All morning, raucous waves of snow and blue geese, really just dark variants of their white cousins, flew over our Louisiana rice field as we hunkered down in the pit blind. Unfortunately, most of these birds wanted to go elsewhere and passed over us at high altitude. Occasionally, some stragglers took an interest in our spread and passed low enough for us to fire at them.

Then, standing out from the boisterous noise created by thousands of passing snow geese, we heard a different sound, the distinctive yelp of a lonely white-fronted goose. Erik Rue began playing an inviting tune on his call while the goose, also called a specklebelly, looked like little more than a dark spot pasted against the stratosphere. The speck answered and began a long, slow circuitous descent. Eventually, the speck swooped low enough for a single load of Hevi-shot BBs to drop it, adding to the other geese and mallards we bagged earlier that morning.

Hunting specklebellies more closely resembles shooting ducks than other geese. In fact, more specklebellies probably fall to duck hunters as bonus birds than people intentionally hunting geese, particularly those hunting in soggy fields or rice potholes.

“We hunt specklebellies in the same places we hunt mallards and often kill them on the same days,” advised Rue, owner of Calcasieu Charter Service in Lake Charles, La. “We also shoot some snow and blue geese and a few Canadas. The main ducks we shoot are mallards, pintails and teal. We also shoot some gadwalls, wigeon and shovelers, a wide variety of birds. On a good day, it’s not uncommon to shoot eight or nine different species in one hunt.”

Rue hunts 14 pit blinds scattered over nearly 5,000 acres of flooded rice fields and plowed fallow fields in Jeff Davis, Cameron and Calcasieu parishes of southwestern Louisiana. The property sits close to Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge, which can hold several hundred thousand ducks and geese at times. At the southern terminal of the Mississippi Flyway and adjacent to the Central Flyway, these soggy fields and wetlands offer some of the best waterfowl hunting in the United States. In many years, hunters kill more ducks in Cameron Parish alone than in the entire Atlantic Flyway.

At Calcasieu Charters, everybody hunts with a guide who calls the birds and advises people when to shoot. Guides provide all the transportation to the hunting fields. At the fields, guests climb aboard all-terrain vehicles for the ride to the blinds. Each blind can hold up to three people plus a guide. Rue and his guides normally hunt five to six blinds a day — alternating fields to keep birds guessing.

“In our fields, we try to manage the water levels so we can shoot both ducks and geese at the same time,” Rue explained. “Early in the season, everything wants water. Later in the season, geese don’t want that much water and prefer to land in dry, plowed or really shallow flooded fields. We’ll put out a mix of duck and speck decoys. Sometimes, we’ll put out some white goose decoys to pull in any small flocks or singles to add a few snows to the bag while hunting ducks and specks.”

Guests who book with Calcasieu Charter Service don’t need to worry about proper decoy deployment. They just need to arrive at the lodge south of Lake Charles with their rubber boots, guns, appropriate camouflage and lots of ammo. Many goose hunters use steel BB or T shot to knock down the big birds. For combination hunting, sportsmen might consider No. 2, B or BB steel or similar sized Hevi-Shot loads, which closely replicate old lead shot.

“People usually come in the afternoon before the hunt,” Rue said. “They hang out at the lodge until we feed them at 6:30 p.m. The next morning, after a good night’s rest, we awaken our guests to the smell of hot coffee brewing. We feed everyone a full breakfast of eggs, biscuits and sausages before the hunt. We hunt from legal shooting hours until about 10 a.m., and then return to the lodge for hot gumbo.”

Under the supervision of Erik’s wife, Tina, local chefs prepare a combination of old-fashioned Southern cuisine, such as steaks, chicken, pork dishes, and some Cajun favorites like seafood, shrimp and grits and wild game topped off with fantastic desserts. Everybody eats the same thing at the same table, family style.

“A lot of our customers say, ‘You can catch a few fish or shoot a few birds in a lot of places, but the food here is something to brag about,’” Tina proclaimed. “We try to cater to what we feel the group might like. We sometimes cook game or fish people kill or catch themselves.”

After dinner, guests can watch satellite television, play cards, shoot pool or just relax while enjoying some refreshments. The lodge can comfortably accommodate up to 20 guests in five private rooms, each with four bunk beds. Some rooms share a bathroom.

“We’ve had all kinds of people stay here from heads of major corporations to elected officials to families,” Rue remembered. “We encourage families to come here. We don’t have any age restrictions. I think it’s great to get young children involved in the outdoors. It’s important for them to have good outdoors experiences when they are young so they get interested in hunting and fishing.”

Guests can opt for the cast-and-blast experience, hunting waterfowl in the morning and catching fish in the afternoon. The lodge sits on Calcasieu Lake, one of the best estuaries in the nation for producing monster speckled trout. Known locally as Big Lake, Calcasieu Lake measures 12 miles long by nine miles wide and covers about 52,700 acres of the Calcasieu River delta just north of the Gulf of Mexico and connects to the Gulf through the Calcasieu Ship Channel.

Calcasieu Lake produced three of the top 10 all-tackle trout caught in Louisiana and three of the top 10 trout caught on fly tackle including the state record. The lake routinely gives up trout in the 5- to 8-pound range with an occasional 9- to 11-pounder. The lake and surrounding marshes also hold excellent populations of redfish, flounder and other fish.

“One of our most popular packages is the cast and blast,” Rue advised. “Nationally heralded as a trophy trout paradise, Calcasieu Lake is one of the most prolific estuaries on the Gulf Coast. Speckled trout, redfish and flounder are the most common species we target, but we might catch many other fish species such as black drum, white trout, tripletail, Spanish mackerel, sheepshead and other species. Anglers can bring their own tackle if they wish or we can provide all the fishing gear.”

While fishing, keep an eye out for Pinky, an extremely rare pink dolphin first photographed by Rue in 2007 (see Pinky may appear anywhere in the Calcasieu Estuary, but typically hangs out in the southern part of the Calcasieu Ship Channel. She likes to play in the bow waves of large ships traversing the channel between the Gulf and the port of Lake Charles.

For booking trips with Calcasieu Charter Service, call 337-598-4700. Online, see For area information, contact the Southwest Louisiana Conventions and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-456-SWLA or visit •

Capt. Erik Rue of Calcasieu Charter Services and Jen Carroll from Celina, Texas, show off some mallard ducks and a pair of specklebelly geese they killed while hunting in Lake Charles.JOHN FELSHER | THE TIMES

Capt. Erik Rue of Calcasieu Charter Services retrieves a specklebelly goose shot during a hunt in a rice field near Lake Charles, La. The geese are a popular hunt during Louisiana’s winter months. John Felsher says Calcasieu Charters is a top-notch place to hunt.