Matrix Shad Fishing Lures manufactured by Dockside Bait & Tackle are catching beaucoup speckled trout, redfish, flounder and bass, thus prompting more and more people to stock tackle boxes with the 3-inch-long swimbait and favor them over some older, established soft plastics made in-state and out-of-state.
Chas Champagne's time on the water on his own, plus countless outings with many of the best charter boat captains along the coast, apparently are a winning combination considering his detail to making a soft plastic look like natural food in the water.
The St. Paul's High School (Covington, La.) and University of Southern Mississippi graduate is riding the wave of the highly popular Matrix Shad, which started getting into the hands of his friends and fishing guides two years ago when he was pouring two pieces at a time (150 per day) in a mold. After the Eden Isles angler got the feedback he needed on those prototypes, Champagne took the big step of investing in a 40-cavity mold, a modern injection mold, to better mass produce the Matrix Shad, which are packaged in the offseason by his employees at Dockside in Slidell.
"I really enjoy it. It's a wonderful business. I hope to never get out of it," the 30-year-old Champagne said in early March.
The line includes eight colors (soon to be 10) plus two specially designed leadheads that now appear in approximately 30 stores in Mississippi and Louisiana - quite a leap from a humble beginning in which they were in about two or three different business locations.
"It's going pretty good right now," Champagne said. "It's a new thing (but) I'm hoping it's something that will last for the next 10, 15 years."
Judging by the demand, Matrix Shad will be around a long time, according to Myron Prather of Springfield. Prather owns Marshland Sports, a popular fishing tackle store along a main thoroughfare in Ponchatoula.
"It catches fish," Prather said just before closing up the store one weekday afternoon the first week of March. "I think it's a great bait. That's all I hear from my customers. I sell a zillion of them. It's been far and away my biggest-selling bait."
Prather, an avid bass angler who also has cleaned and repaired fishing reels for many years, said he hasn't done much saltwater fishing but the few times he went it worked for him.
"One thing I noticed about it, and he (Champagne) might have said it, too, (is) the tail's got a lot of action," he said. "It's fairly soft and it gets a lot of tail action, but it's pretty durable."
Matrix Shad are "reasonably priced," with a suggested retail price of $3.99 per bag, so it "kind of falls in line with a lot of the others," Prather said.
Champagne praised the design of the soft plastic and gave much of the credit for that finished product to close friend, part-owner of the artificial lure company and charter boat captain Steve Wicks, whose input was valued highly. Wicks grew up fishing the clear waters around Naples, Fla., before moving to the Lake Pontchartrain area in the early 1990s.
"When I was making this, I dealt with people who fish more than the Average Joe," Champagne said. "If I couldn't get them - friends and customers - to use it, then I couldn't mass produce it. Steve Wicks really believes in the product. He's definitely got a lot of insight. We've been friends and fishing partners for years."
Wicks, a flyfishing aficionado who can be seen catching fish on numerous videos at DockSideLa.com but is well-versed in the art of fooling redfish and speckled trout on soft plastics, has said, "I am a firm believer in the Matrix Shad, as it is the best soft-plastic lure I have ever seen in my 40-plus years of fishing."
Champagne recalled that, while he was a college student working on the marketing degree he earned at USM, he got a summer job at Busy B, a fishing tackle store and bait shop. That's where he met highly respected and widely known fishing guides Kenny Kreeger with Lake Pontchartrain Charters and Dudley Vandenborre, he said.
"There are a lot of captains who got involved in it and believe in it," Champagne said about his pride and joy.
Why does it trigger bites? Champagne said that has a lot to do with the body - specifically the belly - that swims naturally, has just the right buoyancy and, most importantly, falls without turning on its side, fluttering, whenever the retrieve is paused. The distinctly shaped tail gives it even more action, he said, noting it doesn't take much pressure to get it moving.
Champagne also pointed out the durability, which he said is greater than most soft plastics. It's just the right balance of softness and toughness because without the former there wouldn't be the seductive action, he said.
Matrix Shad comes in eight colors, led by Shrimp Creole. Rounding out the top three colors are lemonhead, which is second in sales, and midnight mullet. Others colors are pink champagne, magneto, green hornet (similar to chicken-on-a-chain), tiger bait (purple and gold, of course; geaux Tigers!) and ultra-violet, which Champagne introduced recently at the Slidell Boat and Fishing Show.
Shrimp Creole is the No. 1 seller at Marshland Sports, Prather said, noting that 99 percent of the sales are of that color.