List of Calcasieu Lake Fish Species
Lake Calcasieu is a brackish water lake in southwest Louisiana close to Louisiana Highway 27, which covers an area of 88.85 square miles (cca. 230 km2). The lake is locally known as ‘Big Lake’ and reaches a depth of 7 ft (2.13 meters).
Calcasieu Lake is fed with freshwater at the northern end by River Calcasieu and empties into the Gulf of Mexico, where saltwater enters through the Calcasieu Pass. The surrounding area is rich in marshes, which creates the necessary habitat to sustain an abundance of species.
The Atakapa people used to live along the Gulf of Mexico in the area, which is now the southern part of Texas and Louisiana. The band living along the Calcasieu River between this lake and Sabine Lake were part of the Western Atakapa or ‘Sunset people’. Their name was Katkoc or ‘Eagle Band’. The band enjoyed good hunting and fishing, however, their numbers quickly dropped after 1700 and in 1885, only three people (one man and two women) persisted.
The name ‘Calcasieu’ stems from the Atakapan word ‘quelqueshue’, which means ‘crying eagle’, and the lake and river were named after an Atakapa chief. The name of the people means man-eater and refers to the cannibalistic rituals of the Atapakan people.
The lake is located in Louisiana, south of the saltwater line, which means that the area is designated as saltwater and the regulations concerning the lake follow accordingly. Therefore, all recreational anglers, in addition to the basic Louisiana fishing license, must carry a Louisiana saltwater angler’s license (unless otherwise exempted). If you are interested in the fish species that can be found in Lake Calcasieu, the list below will take you through them!
List of Fish Species in Calcasieu Lake
1) Alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula)
The alligator gar is a member of the Lepisosteidae family (gars) named for their bill-like snout. They are large carnivorous fish with an appetite for anything, from hard-shelled blue grabs and turtles to softer-bodied fish, birds, and small mammals. Their olive-brown dorsal side, blotched fins, and creamy belly offer great camouflage.
The alligator gar has a characteristic long cylindrical body covered by a flexible armor of ganoid scales, named so because they contain a thin layer of ganoine, which almost cover a hard bony structure. The individual scales overlap slightly to allow for maneuverability while maintaining a constant thickness of protective armor over the body.
In addition to protection, alligator gar scales can be used by scientists to evaluate the age of the fish. Scales can easily be removed from surveyed fish without needing to kill them, which is a benefit compared to using otoliths (a calcium carbonate structure in the inner ear). However, research shows that scales are much less reliable when it comes to precisely estimating the age of the fish, therefore, scales are mainly useful for a quick demographic assessment of a population.
2) Atlantic croaker (Micropogonias undulatus)
The Atlantic croaker belongs to the Sciaenidae family (drums or croakers) and gets its descriptive name from the noise the fish makes. It is known to be one of the loudest fish species on the planet! The sound is generated by a specialized sonic muscle, which lies very close to the swim bladder. In most Sciaenidae species, the production of sound is linked to reproduction. For the Atlantic croaker, an additional type of sound is recognized, known as fright response calls, elicited when disturbed.
The IUCN Red List assessed the Atlantic croaker most recently in 2020, where it was categorized as ‘Least Concern’. The species is currently occupying a wide distribution and is common in shallow coastal waters and estuaries. The juveniles exploit estuaries as nursery grounds, where most individuals spend their first winter. Therefore, it is sensitive to habitat degradation in these areas and some local populations have suffered from hypoxia. However, the Atlantic croaker is a generalist and can be found over mud bottoms, sea grass, and coastal waters up to 100 meters deep!
3) Atlantic spadefish (Chaetodipterus faber)
The Atlantic spadefish is a member of the Ephippidae family (spadefishes, batfishes, and scats). The body is silvery white with vertical bands that fade with age, and it roughly resembles a spade in shape. They have a blunt face and a small mouth, which they use to feed on benthic invertebrates such as crustaceans, mollusks, worms, cnidarians, and even plankton. Due to their black and white stripes, they could be confused with the sheepshead. However, the latter species has a more elongated shape and teeth that resemble those of a sheep.
The Atlantic spadefish might primarily be considered a reef dweller, however, recent research utilizing otoliths from five different regions showed that most fish (95%) spend their first year within estuaries. In addition, the adults display a seasonal migration pattern between estuarine and marine environments, because they spawn in coastal waters near estuaries. Therefore, the species is impacted by coastal development that interferes with their nursery areas. The otoliths can provide information on the life history of individual fish, because they grow continuously throughout the life of the fish, incorporating elements stemming from the environment and diet of the individual.
4) Atlantic Spanish mackerel (Scomberomorus maculatus)
The Atlantic Spanish mackerel is a member of the Scombridae family (mackerels, tunas, and bonitos), and the Atlantic population of Spanish mackerel is distinct from the population living in the Gulf of Mexico. The body is elongated and covered in tiny scales. The dorsal side is blue-green and the sides and belly are silver; yellow or green oval spots cover the body. They occur sympatrically with similar species, and they can be hard to distinguish from one another. In Lake Calcasieu, you might encounter a king mackerel, which can be distinguished from the Spanish by the latter’s smaller size.
The Spanish mackerel is epipelagic and often found in very large schools, which prey on smaller fish such as herrings, jacks, and sardines. They are popular as a food source and commercial fishing of this species is carefully managed. They migrate along the coastline and the juveniles can frequently be found in estuaries, whereas the adults are rarely found in areas with low salinity.
When fishing for Atlantic Spanish mackerel, anglers should be aware of a minimum fork length of 12 inches (30.5 cm) and a daily possession limit of 15 per person.
5) Atlantic stingray (Hypanus sabinus)
The Atlantic stingray is a member of the Dasyatidae family (stingrays), a family containing about 70 species of stingrays, whiprays, and river stingrays. This species is characterized by its triangular snout and disk-shaped body. The dorsal side is brown but gets lighter towards the edge of the body; the belly is nearly white.
Atlantic stingrays are ovoviviparous, which means that the fertilized eggs develop and ‘hatch’ within the female’s body. Initially, the developing ray has its own food attached in the form of a yolk sac, but as the ray grows, it starts absorbing enriched uterine fluid from the mother. This adaptation allows the ray to be born at a more developed stage.
The Atlantic stingray was most recently assessed by the IUCN in 2019, where it was categorized as ‘Least Concern’ despite a trend analysis over three generations showing an overall population decline. This was due to the total population being large and far from reaching a critical population threshold, and the fishing pressure on the species is estimated to be low. Previously, the species was known under the scientific name: Dasyatis sabina. However, the genus Hypanus, which was formerly a subgroup of Dasyatis, has been reclassified.
6) Atlantic tripletail (Lobotes surinamensis)
The Atlantic tripletail is a member of the Lobotidae family (tripletails). The deep body has a dark brown or yellow spotted or mottled dorsal side with a lighter belly. The common name stems from the similar appearance of the anal fin, second dorsal fin, and the tail fin, which gives the impression of three tails. The Atlantic tripletail is considered an opportunistic predator that preys on shrimp, crabs, squid, and various fish. They frequently display an interesting behavior where they float on their side close to floating items like buoys or flotsam.
The Atlantic tripletail is a migratory marine species, that inhabits estuaries and coastal waters during the spring and summer months and leave in fall. This migratory pattern is primarily driven by water temperatures and is most likely connected with summer spawning. These fish are batch spawners, which means that each female spawns on more than one occasion throughout the spawning season; a single female can spawn up to 30 times during one spawning season! They are thought to spawn offshore since larvae have been collected offshore, but are rare inshore.
7) Black drum (Pogonias cromis)
The black drum is a member of the Sciaenidae family (drums or croakers) and is closely related to the red drum, which also occurs in Calcasieu Lake. The black drum can be distinguished from other similar species by a large spine in the anal fin and a high number of barbels under the lower jaw. Additionally, it is the largest species in the Sciaenidae family. The adults range in color from silvery to black, but the juveniles are characteristically silvery-white with four to six vertical dark stripes. They occur both offshore and inshore, however, juveniles typically spend their first summer in shallow nursery areas.
The black drum is named for the characteristic sound produced during the spawning season. Three primary types of calls have been recorded: a staccato call, which is a disturbance call typically observed when the species is being handled, a loud drum call, which is the dominant call during spawning events, and a longer version of this call whose meaning is still unknown.
When fishing for black drum in Calcasieu Lake, anglers should be aware of a minimum length limit of 16 inches (41 cm) and a maximum length limit of 27 inches (68.6 cm) as well as a daily possession limit of 5 per person. Additional regulations can be found here.
8) Bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus)
The bluegill sunfish is a member of the Centrarchidae family (sunfish). They get their name from the pale blue lines running across their chin. The sides are brown to green with a darker back and lighter belly, but the color will vary a little depending on their habitat. Five to nine vertical bars run down the sides, but these are more defined in younger individuals. The ear flap, known as an operculum, is black and they have black blotches on their fins. They technically have two dorsal fins; however, they are broadly joined and therefore seem like just one.
The bluegill sunfish is an omnivore. They feed broadly on invertebrates, such as crustaceans and aquatic insects or fish eggs, even those of other bluegills. They feed primarily during the day, as they rely heavily on their sight to identify prey. While mostly considered a freshwater species, they tolerate a wide range of temperatures, oxygen levels, and pH. This has become evident in many places, where the bluegill has been introduced beyond its native range. When fishing for bluegill sunfish in Calcasieu Lake, there is no size limit nor daily creel limit to consider.
9) Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
Bottlenose dolphins belong to the Delphinidae family (dolphins), which are marine mammals in the Cetecea order together with whales and porpoises. The bottlenose dolphins have gotten their name from their characteristic bottle-shaped nose. They have a grey dorsal side and a milky belly.
Bottlenose dolphins feed on fish, squid, and sometimes crustaceans, which they locate using echolocation. However, bottlenose dolphins are primarily known and loved for their curious nature and high intelligence. Much of what we know about them stems from individuals in captivity, where they have been trained to solve complex tasks either in front of an audience or to carry out complicated underwater tasks considered too risky for divers.
Bottlenose dolphins in Calcasieu Lake became a news sensation after Pinky, an albino bottlenose dolphin with a striking pink coloration, was first spotted in the lake in 2007. Captain Erik Rue originally photographed Pinky and noticed her color and matching eyes, but noted that she otherwise seemed healthy. Later in 2015, Captain Rue spotted Pinky mating and in 2018 she was observed in the Calcasieu ship channel with another pink dolphin, which may well be her offspring, as the coloration is likely to be genetic.
10) Bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas)
The bull shark is a member of the Carcharhinidae family (requiem sharks), the shark family famous for the tiger shark and naturally, the bull shark. They are common in coastal waters and brackish estuaries and even enter fresh water. The pups are born at around 50 cm (20 in) and reach maturity at around the age of 15.
The bull shark was most recently assessed by the IUCN in 2020, where it was listed as ‘Vulnerable’ under criteria A2bcd, which is mainly because of habitat degradation and the detrimental effect the fin trade has on population numbers. However, in areas where management measures have been put in place, the population numbers are increasing. An important aspect of bull shark biology is the pattern of male and female movement. Where males drive the dispersal and therefore gene flow of the species, the females return to breed near their own birthplace. This pattern displayed by the female is known as reproductive philopatry.
Concerning recreational shark fishing, the season is closed between April 1st and June 30th of each year. The bull shark belongs to the category of large coastal species and must have a minimum fork length of 54 inches (137 cm).
11) Channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)
The channel catfish is a member of the Ictaluridae family (North American freshwater catfishes) and is one of the largest catfish species in North America. They have a long, lean body, which is predominantly bluish-grey to olive in color with sides covered in spots. These spots might be lost in adult males, which can make them difficult to distinguish from blue catfish.
The channel catfish prefers warmer streams, lakes, and reservoirs, where the average temperature is around 70 °F (21.1 °C). They start spawning in late spring to early summer, when water temperatures reach 75 °F (23.9 °C), although the optimal temperature is around 80 °F (26.7 °C). The males move upriver in spring to find a suitable nest site, before cleaning it out by fanning silt and small rocks away with their fins.
Pairing typically happens a little before the female is ready to deposit her eggs, and in this period, both sexes guard their mate against advances from others. They release eggs and milt during a spawning ‘dance’, where they lie side by side in opposite directions and have their tails wrapped around the face of their partner. After the eggs have been laid, the female retreats and the male guards the eggs until they hatch.
When fishing for channel catfish at Calcasieu Lake, there is a minimum length limit of 11 inches (28 centimeters), and a daily creel limit of 100 in the aggregate, of which up to 25 can be undersized.
12) Cobia (Rachycentron canadum)
The cobia is a member of the Rachycentridae (cobia) family. They have a broad, flat head, where the lower jaw reaches beyond the upper. The body is torpedo-shaped with a dark brown dorsal side and a contrastingly white belly. The triangular fins and slightly forked tail sometimes lead it to be confused with small sharks, whereas the juveniles are often mistaken for remoras.
The cobia is also known as ling or lemonfish and can be fished with a daily possession limit of 2, and the fish must have a minimum size of 36 inches (91.4 cm) fork length. This is in accordance with the cobia benchmark developed with a catch-at-age model by the SEDAR 28 project, which assesses the stock of cobia and Spanish mackerel in the Gulf of Mexico. Due to their small population numbers, they are not suitable for commercial fishery. However, they are considered an excellent food and game species. Fishing on a recreational level is not considered a major treat. The production of the species in aquaculture has seen a rapid increase.
13) Flathead grey mullet (Mugil cephalus)
The flathead grey mullet is a member of the Mugilidae (mullets) family. They have a herring-like body with a broad and flattened head. They can be distinguished from other similar species by a well-developed adipose eyelid, which covers most of the pupil. The adipose eyelid develops as the fish matures; it is transparent and serves as protection. The flathead mullet has special adaptations in its eyes that improve vision in both light and dark conditions. This likely allows them to locate prey in changing light conditions. They have well-developed photopic activity, which means that they see in color.
The flathead grey mullet is a pelagic nearshore species, which typically occurs in the upper twenty meters of the water body. They sometimes forage in lagoons, estuaries, and river outlets, as the adults can tolerate salinity from 0 ppt to 75 ppt. However, the juveniles are less tolerant of high salinity. They feed on zooplankton as larvae and shift to filter-feeding of algae, detritus, sediment, and invertebrate prey as they mature. As a smaller species, they themselves serve an important role in the food web as prey for sharks, dolphins, seals, and various bird species.
14) Gulf menhaden (Brevoortia patronus)
The Gulf menhaden is a member of the Clupeidae (herrings, shads, sardines, and menhadens) family. The species move in dense schools and feed by filtering out phytoplankton. The fish is mainly silver with yellow fins and brassy sides. They have a distinctive black spot behind the gill opening, followed by multiple fainter black spots along the flank.
The Gulf menhaden is an important species in the local ecosystem, as they are generalist filter feeders and serve as prey for a broad range of predators. In addition, they are the target of an extensive commercial fishery. Contrastingly, the recreational fishing for this species is almost solely as bait fish to be used to catch more popular game fish.
The species is strongly influenced by natural phenomena such as hurricanes and was included in the 2017 Coastal Master Plan by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority in Louisiana, following the hurricanes Katrina and Rita. On September 8th, 2022, a large net containing roughly 900,000 menhadens was cut loose from a commercial fishing boat leading to a call for stricter regulations, as many other species depend on the Gulf menhaden.
15) Hardhead sea catfish (Ariopsis felis)
The hardhead sea catfish is a member of the Ariidae (sea catfishes) family. They are a predominately marine species associated with reefs, but the adults do enter estuaries. The name refers to the bony plate that this species has between its eyes and dorsal fin, which gives the head a flattened appearance. Its silvery body is long and slender with a white belly and darker dorsal side. The chin carries four barbels, and two more protrude from the corner of their mouths. They are equipped with sharp spines on their dorsal and pectoral fins that they can use in self-defense. The serrated spines are covered in venomous slime and can inflict pain.
The hardhead sea catfish prefer brackish marine waters, where they feed opportunistically on crustaceans and small fish, but they will also feed on algae and seagrass. They spawn in the summer months, whereafter the males carry the fertilized eggs in their mouth; this is formally referred to as mouthbrooding. The eggs are known as some of the largest of all ray-finned fishes, and only very few (less than 100 eggs) are typically laid. They hatch within the safety of the male’s mouth, and he continues to carry the juveniles until they grow bigger. Male egg-rearing can last up to three months.
16) Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides)
The largemouth bass is a member of the Centrarchidae (sunfish) family. They have a robust, slightly compressed body. The lower jaw is clearly longer than the upper, both with pads of pointed teeth. The dorsal side is green, which fades down the sides. The ventral side is almost white. A prominent, slightly blotched stripe runs from the snout and through the tail.
The largemouth bass spawning behavior is highly dependent on water temperature. The nest selection starts when the water reaches around 60 °F (15.6 °C). The male proceeds to build a nest using his fins to clear the nest and expose hard objects. In contrast to many other sunfish, largemouth bass never nest in colonies. The eggs typically hatch after 3 to 7 days in stable temperatures but can successfully hatch even after two weeks.
The largemouth bass is a popular sports fish and is native to Calcasieu Lake. Their original range spans most of the eastern USA, northern Mexico, and southern Canada. Due to their popularity, they have been introduced throughout North America and further to most of the world. Anglers coming to Calcasieu should be aware of a daily creel limit of 10 with no regulations concerning their size.
17) Least puffer (Sphoeroides parvus)
The least puffer is a member of the Tetraodontidae (puffers) family, which typically inhabit estuaries and shallow turbid waters near the coast. Their stocky body is capable of inflation when threatened. True to their family, puffers have modified jaws that form a beak created by four teeth, two and two fused together, and no scales cover their bodies. The least puffer has a white belly and light brownish base color. The flanks are covered with spots in stronger brown and grey colors. The eyes are large and located high on the head.
The least puffer is not famously known as a toxic puffer species, however species in this family are known for their ability to incorporate and accumulate tetrodotoxins and saxitoxins in their bodies. Due to this accumulation, the toxicity level varies even within fish of the same species living in the same region. The toxin accumulates in the skin, gonads, and liver, but almost nothing is found in the flesh. Tetrodotoxin from the least puffer has been believed to be an ingredient in the Haitian zombie powder, although the tetrodotoxin level in this species is thought to be very low.
18) Lookdown (Selene vomer)
The lookdown is a member of the Carangidae (jacks and pompanos) family with a characteristically, strongly laterally compressed body. The species has a flat head, which gives it a slight similarity to the face of a horse. The body is bright silver and may have a golden hue. The skin is sensitive and can easily get damaged. The first part of the Latin name, Selene, is Greek for the moon, referring to the striking color. The adults are found along the coast over hard or sandy bottoms, whereas juveniles can be seen in estuaries. Both age classes are typically found in schools. They are generalist feeders, consuming crustaceans, smaller fish, and worms.
The lookdown is not often pursued for human consumption, as the species can carry the toxin that leads to ciguatera poisoning. This toxin can lead to severe poisoning with general symptoms like nausea and vomiting and nervous system effects like hot-cold reversals. Only as a sports fish and in some local areas is the species caught for the purpose of consumption.
19) Pinfish (Lagodon rhomboides)
The pinfish is a member of the Sparidae (porgies) family and the only species in the Lagodon genus. This fish has a silvery body with yellow and blue stripes running down the length of the body and four to five dark vertical lines. They have a characteristic dark spot on the lateral line behind the gill cover, which makes it possible to confuse them with the spot croaker.
The pinfish feeds mainly on mollusks, worms, and small fish associated with seagrass habitats. The juveniles predominately graze, whereafter they go through an ontogenetic dietary shift and start consuming plant material.
The habitat selection performed by the pinfish has been shown in laboratory experiments to depend on the predation risk. In the absence of predators, the species occupy both sea grass and sand bottom areas, whereas the latter was avoided following observations of predators. Additionally, they altered their use of the upper water column. One common predator of the pinfish is the southern flounder, which can also be found in Lake Calcasieu.
20) Red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus)
The red drum is a member of the Sciaenidae family (drums or croakers). The color varies markedly in this species with a reddish-brown being the most common, but they span from almost black to nearly silver. The distinguishing mark is one large dark spot on the upper part of the tail base, which is believed to fool potential predators. Like other members of this family, the males make a characteristic drumming sound.
The red drum was most recently assessed by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in 2020, where the species was listed as ‘Least Concern’. It is one of the most common species in the southeastern USA in estuaries and coastal waters, where it is also a popular recreational sports fish. The species was overfished in the 1980s, leading to heavily regulated commercial harvests.
When fishing for red drum in Calcasieu Lake, anglers should be aware of a minimum length limit of 16 inches (41 centimeters) and a maximum length limit of 27 inches (68.6 cm) as well as a daily possession limit of 5 per person. Additional regulations can be found here.
21) Sheepshead (Archosargus probatocephalus)
The sheepshead is a member of the Sparidae family (porgies), which has a characteristic pattern of black and white stripes; this sometimes gives them the nickname the ‘convict fish’. Another distinguishing feature is their human-like teeth. They occur in a broad variety of habitats from seagrass beds to artificial structures. They inhabit estuarine areas and coastal waters after they complete a month-long pelagic stage as larvae.
63% of the commercial landings of the sheepshead in the Gulf stem from Louisiana waters. The general trend has been stable, and the species is stable. It was assessed by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species back in 2011, where it was listed as ‘Least Concern’. However, the current evaluation of the species assessment is that it needs updating. Commercial landings have generally declined, especially during the hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which destroyed many fishing-related infrastructures and vessels in the area.
The recreational fishing of sheepshead in Lake Calcasieu is restricted to a minimum fork length of 10 inches (25.4 centimeters).
22) Southern flounder (Paralichthys lethostigma)
The southern flounder is a member of the Paralichthyidae family (large-tooth flounders), which, like other flatfishes, is laterally compressed and is predominately bottom-dwelling. Both eyes are on the upwards-facing side of the fish, which allows them to look out for predators even when they hide in sand or among debris on the bottom. Their coloration further aids in this, as they resemble and even mimic the surrounding environment.
The southern flounder was last assessed by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in 2015, where it was listed as ‘Near Threatened’. The species is heavily dependent on estuarine areas, but these have been impacted by human activities. Additionally, since it is a popular fish, it has been exploited throughout much of its range, which has led to population declines. The species nearly meets the threshold for the ‘Vulnerable’ category.
The southern flounder can be fished in Lake Calcasieu from Dec 1st to October 14th; in the in-between period, no possession is allowed. There is no size limit, but there is a possession limit of 10 daily per person.
23) Spot croaker (Leiostomus xanthurus)
The spot croaker or simply spot is a member of the Sciaenidae family (drums or croakers). The base coat of the short body is silver with iridescent blue, and on the dorsal side, it is covered in golden stripes. The fins on the ventral side have a dark golden hue. However, the species is named for the characteristic black spot behind the gill cover. During the mating season, their bellies become bright yellow. They spawn out at sea in the fall and winter, and the eggs hatch in the following spring.
The spot croaker was last assessed by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in 2019, where it was listed as ‘Least Concern’. The global population trend of the species is currently unknown, but it is one of the most common fish associated with the bottom habitat throughout its range. It supports both recreational and commercial fisheries. The various subpopulations tend to fluctuate in response to the hatching success, which makes the catch of the species highly variable. Overall, the number of mature individuals is thought to be declining, as is the area in which the species can be found.
24) Spotted seatrout (Cynoscion nebulosus)
The spotted seatrout is a member of the Sciaenidae family (drums or croakers) also known as speckled seatrout or spotted weakfish. They are nicknamed speckled trout or just specks. Despite their name, they are not trout, which are typically freshwater-dwelling members of the Salmonidae family. Like other members of the Sciaenidae family, they can produce a drum-like sound, however, in this species, only the male produces sound. Four distinct types are recognized: dual pulse (courtship call), multiple pulse, long grunt, and staccato (disturbance call). The dual pulse is the most common.
Lake Calcasieu is known for its spotted seatrout fishing and by some as the ‘speckled trout capital of the world’. Anglers should be aware of a minimum length limit of 12 inches (30.5 centimeters) and a daily possession limit of 15 per person and no more than two fish of this species exceeding 25 inches in total length (63.5 centimeters). The spotted seatrout is among the most popular fish in Louisiana, where it is abundant. An assessment by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries suggests that the population is stable to increasing and not suffering from overfishing.