As of right now, the Lake Pontchartrain-based creator of the popular Matrix and Vortex Shad soft plastic paddle tail baits isn't expecting a record-breaking spring for trophy trout on his home waters.
Despite sporadic reports of anglers catching decent specks in some spots right now, Chas Champagne said he thinks the freshwater from the Bonnet Carre Spillway — combined with the already-high Pearl River — means salinity levels probably won't recover quickly enough to produce big springtime specks Lake Pontchartrain is famous for.
"The Pearl does the same thing the Spillway does, it's just nobody talks about it," Champagne said. "Everybody just talks about the Spillway. But the Spillway is not really that big of a deal if the Pearl is low because all of the freshwater can get out, and then with a couple of tide cycles, it does its thing."
But the Pearl is already at 15.3 feet at Pearl River - in minor flood stage before any spring rains or snow melts accumulate and filter down from Northern Mississippi. Emptying out just east of the Rigolets, it can effectively plug up the east end of Lake Pontchartrain and prevent saltier water from making its way into the lake.
"The Pearl River can be a problem in the spring. We're going to start getting those 20 mph east winds at least twice a week before fronts, and it's going to shove all that river water in, then the rains are going to come," Champagne said. "April showers bring May flowers.
"I think it's going to be just like last year - we caught some fish, but nothing spectacular."
Champagne was relatively surprised by the number of anglers still catching some trout now with the recent influx of Spillway water, but said the fish won't be seeking higher salinity levels until the spawn approaches later this spring.
"They can handle the freshwater now, but when we get into April, if it stays real fresh — which it is — we're not going to be catching those 4-, 5- and 6-pounders," Champagne said. "We'll catch 14- and 15-inchers all spring I'm sure, but I don't think we'll have a banner year, by any means.
"You can't catch those big ones in April, May and June if it's not salty. That's what every book and biologist says: They need 'X' amount of salinity, and when we have these big rainy years, we just catch the little ones. We'll get a 4-pounder here and there, but that's not that big of a deal."
Champagne said he's heard reports of some trout being caught at the marinas in Eden Isles and Lakeshore Estates, and he caught several Tuesday morning at the Trestles before rough weather arrived.
"There are some areas with good water: The north end of the Causeway has good water, and the south end of the Trestles has good water, but that's going to shift and move around every week depending on the wind and what not," he said.
Although he wouldn't bet on a big springtime trophy trout run, conditions later this year could be very different, Champagne said.
"I'm very optimistic for the fall, I really am," he said. "Usually after the Spillway opens, something really good happens. That perfect salt-and-freshwater mix is the key. It's the same reason why Venice is the greatest fishery there is.
"But our falls have so much to do with tropical storms, too. If we get a decent storm that hits east of us and pushes a lot of saltwater in, and it mixes with all of these good sediments in here, that's when you can have a magical situation."