The combination of a mild winter so far and advancing freshwater pouring in from the Bonnet Carre Spillway have created a speckled trout angler’s dream in Lake Pontchartrain — at least for now.
Chas Champagne, creator of Matrix and Vortex Shad soft plastic paddle tail lures, said he and fellow angler Ty Hibbs have been hammering quality specks under birds this week in the southern portion of the lake. But staying ahead of the advancing Mississippi River water is crucial.
“There’s a big group of birds and a big school of shrimp that’s stuck between the Causeway, Little Woods and Pontchartrain Beach — that whole triangle right there,” Champagne said. “In that whole area, the birds will tell you where the fish are at.
“As long as you’re in front of that river water and heading east, keep your eyes peeled for diving birds. On Thursday, the birds were from West End to the Causeway, as far as the eye could see.”
Even though he’s fishing under birds, Champagne said the key is to fish the bottom.
“We’ve been finding the birds in about 15 feet of water, and we’re jigging it off the bottom even though the birds are up top and the shrimp are up top,” he said. “We’re catching the fish on the bottom.”
“Finding birds in the middle of January is pretty unheard of,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s necessarily just because of the Spillway. We haven’t been below freezing one time this winter, so the shrimp hadn’t had any reason to get out of the lake.”
Getting started early is key to getting in on the bite, Champagne said.
“The birds dive right at daylight, so you have about a two-hour period,” he said. “After that, you’re just bouncing around trying to catch five or six more.
“But almost every day, if you catch 30 or so, you’ll have one close to 5 pounds. It’s been pretty solid — I’d say it’s a good 2 ½ pound average.”
No one knows how long the bonanza under birds will last, but Champagne said to be prepared for the action to keep moving.
“It could change tomorrow, and everything will be up by the Trestle. It’s going to move with the river water,” he said. “The Spillway will move the fish and consolidate them even more. There’s no way for the river to backtrack west.
“It’s got to keep moving east.”