Anglers fishing for speckled trout along Louisiana’s coast know what to turn to when June turns to July: A live croaker or something that looks like a croaker.
Chas Champagne, who has spent many of his 38 years targeting speckled trout, has just the answer for the latter. The co-owner of Dockside Bait & Tackle who is well known for his Matrix line of soft plastics, feeds speckled trout the new Matrix X-Shad Croaker. It’s made to catch yellowmouths — big speckled trout — when they are spawning.
“This is a specific design for Gulf coast fishermen for the middle of the summer, because croaker are some of the most sought-after baitfish,” Champagne said.
There’s more to it than speckled trout craving a meal of croaker. While he admittedly isn’t a scientist, Champagne said he has heard often that croaker eat speckled trout’s eggs during the spawn.
“That’s why they hate them? Who knows?” Champagne asked.
The 3-inch Matrix X-Shad Croaker is the natural follow-up to the lure manufacturer’s Matrix X-Shad, introduced in 2020, known for presenting “a natural image, like we peeled the skin off a fish” and painted on a soft plastic, as he said.
Champagne believed he had the next big thing in soft plastics last spring when he introduced the Matrix X-Shad. He was spot on. He’s confident his company has the “real” next big thing. He won’t get an argument from the hundred or so saltwater fishermen who got their hands on about 1,000 bags of Matrix X-Shad Croaker late last year. Unfortunately, supply was limited at that time of the release because of pandemic-related issues.
“They liked them a lot,” Champagne said. “By far, they are the most popular things we have right now, and coming into summer, everyone wants it.”
Dockside Bait & Tackle had a couple thousand bags on hand in March. Champagne declared that the company should be able to keep up, and that many more pieces were expected to keep up with demand.
“They won’t last long, but at least we can keep the manufacturing going now,” he said.
Original Matrix X-Shads looked like menhaden (pogeys), mullet and glass minnows, but Champagne had something else in mind.
A Covid hold
“When I decided to do the croaker one, I wanted to do it as soon as I made the X-Shad, but COVID put everything on hold,” he said. “That’s really the only one I was interested in, because croaker are such a hot commodity in Louisiana. In my opinion, that’s the closest replica of a croaker that I’ve ever seen.”
Attaining that genuine croaker image took some doing. Dockside Bait & Tackle packed several freshly caught croaker in dry ice and shipped them to the designers in Guatemala.
“Those people in the factory had never seen a croaker. In order to replicate it, they had to see (one),” he said.
Apparently, the designers studied and learned well, because they nailed it right away. Their first, physically hand-painted job was on the money in prototypes Champagne received.
Just to make certain, there was plenty of field testing before the first substantial shipment was sent to Louisiana. The croaker paint job got a thumbs-up from Champagne and his business partner, Steve Wicks of Slidell.
While he hasn’t been able to fish with them very often, Champagne’s biggest speckled trout on a Matrix X-Shad Croaker has been a 22-inch fish.
The X-Shad Croaker is perfect for nearshore oil rigs, where he bounces the faux croaker along the bottom on a 3/8- or ½-ounce Golden Eye jighead, or in the deep passes of the Rigolets, particularly around the bridges, where he puts the bait on a ½-ounce jighead. If he’s targeting fish over an oyster reef, he downsizes to a ¼-ounce model.
“The way we make our lures, when you put it on a jighead, (it) makes it look like a real fish. When you put this X-Shad on the jighead, it comes to life,” he said.
Like a real croaker.
For more information about the Matrix X-Shad Croaker and other Matrix products, call 985-707-9049 or visit www.matrixshad.com.
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