Speckled trout

Die-hard Lake Pontchartrain fisherman Chas Champagne has been catching some heavyweight speckled trout on jerkbaits along the eastern shoreline of the state's largest lake.

After an interminable summer of seeing nothing but muddy water all around his Eden Isles home, there may not be a happier man that fall has arrived than Chas Champagne.

With the change in seasons has come an absolute explosion in speckled trout numbers incredibly close to his back door.

“I’ve been saying that the last 18 days has been a total game-changer,” Champagne said. “I guess it was really that first front we had three weeks ago. Everything just changed. I went from squeaking out those five or 10 barely legal trout to catching a bunch more fish and bumping into 3- and 4-pounders.

“I even netted two this week, and I had to knock the cobwebs off of my net to do it. I hadn’t broken the net out in a while.”

Champagne has been catching numbers of fish while drifting Mud Lake and Lake St. Catherine with shrimp creole-colored H&H TKO Shrimp under popping corks, but the big fish haven’t been in those regions. To catch the lunkers, he’s been hurling jerkbaits either along Lake Pontchartrain’s flats or in its manmade canals.

“I like the mouth of Irish Bayou or anywhere from the Trestles to the Causeway,” he said. “That whole shoreline has plenty of grass on it. You’ve got a bunch of Lacombe regulars who know they can grind out the Bayou Liberty to Cane Bayou area and do really well. This is their time of year.

“I more focus between Bayou Liberty and the Trestles — that whole Carr Drive stretch.

“Those are flat areas, so you want to fish jerkbaits that don’t dig down too far.”

Champagne, who owns Matrix Shad, has been using a new jerkbait he manufactures called a RipShad.

To find the fish, Champagne first looks for the flooded grass.

“It seems like this time of year when I’m doing this a lot, 90% of the time the water’s high,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of east winds, and the water’s almost always up. The water’s been two feet above normal for almost all of the last two months. The grass is normally tickling the surface, but the water’s usually above it a foot or two this time of year. That’s perfect.

“Even though I’m using treble hooks and I’ll feel it grab (the grass), 8 out of 10 times, if I rip it, it’ll just come through it,” he said.

Champagne’s natural cadence with the bait is a triple twitch followed by a three-second pause.

“I brought a buddy with me the other day, and I was showing him, so that made me pay closer attention to what I was doing,” he said. “The big trick is to reel in slack as you’re popping it in. On each pop, your other hand is doing two or three revolutions on the reel to take in the slack.

“My buddy was popping it three times and then taking up his slack. What happens is, after the first pop, you’ve created so much slack that the other pops aren’t doing anything. The jerkbait isn’t really dancing in the water.

“I was up on him like 10 to one, and I finally figured out why.

“Pausing it is also so important. Those real big Corky experts in Texas fish those things painfully slowly. They pause it forever.”

Champagne said many of his bites will come as he’s looking at his phone or touching the trolling motor because he’s allowing the lure to sit idle.

In addition to the grass, Champagne has also been looking for bait, and it hasn’t been hard to find.

“There are so many mullet, it’s really been impressive,” he said. “There have been so many that the other day, I hooked two in the mouth.

“These things are big. I can’t imagine the trout are eating them, but it’s like stingrays and redfish. It’s not like the redfish are eating the stingrays, but they’re always together.

“There’s also a lot of needlefish. Those rascals are constantly attacking my jerkbait. Last year, I was fishing this one section and caught a 4-pound trout. It had a 10-inch needlefish sticking out of its mouth. They love them.”

Indeed they do. But not as much as Champagne loves fall.