The arrival of fall brings a plethora of opportunities for the saltwater fly angler in and around the Chesapeake Bay. Stripers start to school making for some phenomenal days chasing breakers with plenty of bluefish still around and mixed in to provide a strong pull on the end of your fly rod. While this makes for some great days in the rivers and main stem of the bay, what I really look forward to in September and Octoberis chasing speckled trout in and around the shallow waters of the Honga River area. As we begin to get some cool nights in the fall, the water temperatures begin to drop from the summer mid 80 degrees to the 70’s and 60‘s. These cooler water temperatures spark speckled trout to move from their deeper summer haunts in the main river channels and move to the shallow water grass, stump filled flats that are in and around the Honga. These flats provide warmer water temperatures where specks find meals such as minnows and soft crabs to fuel themselves for their migration south. If you are an avid fly angler and have not chased specks in the shallow water in the bay area, this is a must to put on your to do list. Here is how to do it:
You can find speckled trout both in the spring and in the fall in the Honga River area. As with any fishing, water temperature truly dictates when fish arrive and leave certain areas. In general, in the Spring April marks the arrival of specks in the river with water temperatures rising through the mid 50’s into the 60’s; this usually puts the peak of the run in the Honga around Memorial Day with good fishing continuing as the water temperatures rise into the mid 60’s and lower 70’s. During this time of year the specks range in the 2-5lbs range. As summer approaches and the water on the shallows begin to warm in the high 70‘s and into the 80‘s speckled trout move into the deeper river channels and deeper parts of the bay where they seek cooler water. This is not to say you can not target specks in the summer, but if you look for them in the deeper water you need heavy sinking lines, a lot of patience and the willingness to go home with a skunk. This is not to say that if we get a cool few nights in the summer that you will not find them on the flats in the summer, you can, but it takes some cooler weather.
As summer fades and we move into September and October we move into prime time time speckled trout fly fishing. As the specks move into the shallower water they begin to school and feed on the flats, ideal conditions for the fly angler. This is my favorite time of year, cool mornings, and sunny days that warm up the flats and a hot bite in the evenings. Capt. Mike Murphy of Tiderunner Fishing Charters is the local expert in this area of the bay and guides fly anglers in and around the Honga River; he literally grew up fishing the area. When I asked him what four week period he would call the best in the fall he replied, “If I was going to pick the very best time for shallow water fly fishing for specks it is from mid September to mid October.” If you do not want to take it from me, take it from the local expert fishing guide as the best time to give it a try.
As falls slips into November this area of the bay generally sees colder nights and water temperatures dipping in to the 50 degree mark. Once you see water temperatures in the 50’s its time to start really picking your days as the specks will begin to move south to warmer waters. Once you see a constant low 50’s its about over and time to either head south or wait for their arrival in the Spring.
Where to Launch
If you are located on the western shore the best most direct place I would suggest to launch is out of Solomon's Island and run across the bay to fish this area. There are several marinas and boat ramps in the area, but the one most used and in good condition is the public ramp located at the base of the Thomas Johnson Bridge. The facility has restrooms, is open 24 hrs a day and has room for four (4) boats to launch. It does require a county ramp permit so be sure to check on getting one before you go. You can reach the facility by calling 301-855-1243 ext 2225.
If you located on the eastern shore like I am, you have a few options. First, you can launch from your home port and run to down the bay to the Hoopers/Honga River area. I am located in Easton out of the Choptank and while not that bad of a run I most always opt for the second option which is: Second, tow your rig and launch out of southern most point on Hoopers Island at the public boat ramp located on Rippons Harbor. Getting there is not too difficult, you follow signs to Blackwater Refuge off of rt. 50 in Cambridge to rt. 335 and take it all the way to the end. The ramp has a bathroom, a large pavilion and is in good condition. The ramp is a one boat ramp set up, but unless the locals leaked that the fishing has been hot which is not likely, you will generally only have to deal with another boat or two.
Areas to Look for Fish
I would be doing you a disservice to give away exact locations, as searching and finding specks is half the fun chasing them with the long rod. But fishing this area is as much intuitive as any other sort of shallow water fishing. What you are looking for is water temperatures in the 60‘s, water depths from 3-15 feet, and current. Capt. Mike Murphy suggests that if you find a hard running current in the tide cycle, count on speckled trou
t sticking towards the bottom, so keep your fly in that zone. As the current eases specks will move through out the water column so make sure to search all the zones. The Honga River area has shoreline that has so many points and rips that it would be hard to miss and honestly while a few places in my experience seem to hold fish a lot of the time, there is no one spot that is my go to spot. Capt. Pete of Four Seasons Guide Service fishes the Honga extensively in the Fall and says the key to his success is to keep moving. If you fish a point with a rip and do not catch a speck in ten or fifteens minutes, move. These fish are on the move chasing bait and you only have so long through out the tide cycle to catch them. Do not get discouraged if you do not find them right away. Fish an area with one fly through out the water column using a fanning casting scan of the area; if you do not get anything, change flies and make your fanning pan again. If you do not get a bite, do not waste time, move to the next spot. Once you do find them during the fall you will usually find a decent school and great long rod action. You will find some shoreline in and around the Honga with thick grass flats and some areas with stumps. These area all great areas. When it comes to grass flats look for areas have patchy sections. These areas are a little bit more friendly to your fly and also are channels where the specks swim.
Equipment and Flies
You do not need anything fancy to chase specked trout. My go to rig is a 8wt Sage XP rigged with a Rio 250 Striper Line with 3-5ft of Ande 20lb Fluorocarbon tied directly to my fly with a palomar knot. Rods: A 6, 7, or 8wt. rod will work fine. A six weight is a little on the smaller side, but fly rod manufacturers have in no way standardized rods so use whatever 6, 7 or 8wt rod that you feel conformable casting. The longer the cast the more water you can cover and you know what they say, you can not catch fish with your fly out of the water. Line: I prefer a sinking line. It casts well and gets your fly down in the water column. Some people look at me strange when I say I fish a sinking line in shallow water, but my theory is that a sinking line allows me to fish the whole water column and I can control which depth I fish by the speed of my retrieve. My go to line is a Rio Striper 250 line. It casts well, the running line is hardy and withstands some abuse and as importantly to me does not tangle like some other lines on the market. Any 150 to 250 sinking line will do the trick.
Flies: I fish a pattern I call my Blanco fly. It is a clouser style fly on a 2/0 hook with all while bucktail, silver flash that extends out at least a half inch from the bucktail topped with baitfish or chartreuse angel hair. The clouser style really is the best when fishing the Honga area because it rides hook up eliminating fouling that can happen with the grass and stump filled flats. Other hot colors are all chartreuse, white and pink. If you are going to fish a combination colored fly be sure to have the darker color up top.
Hot Tips from the Pros
Capt Mike Murphy of Tide Runner Guide Service suggests one of his hottest go to flies is Joe Bruce’s Crab Colored Clouser. You can find this fly from Joe who works at Tocherman’s Tackle in Baltimore on Friday and Saturdays. Capt. Mike also says specks are very sensitive to steep temperature drops or rises, so if we get a snap like this, give it a few days to stabilize before expecting very good speck fishing.
Capt. Pete Daulberg of Four Seasons Guide Service says one of the keys to his success fishing the Honga is to keep moving until you find the them. His favorite flies are all chartreuse and all white.
Capt. Kevin Josenhans fishes a little further down the bay in and around the Tangier area, but is well regarded as an expert speckled trout fly guide and says he likes an all white clouser style fly with rainbow flash; he says this pattern is almost irresistible when you strip one of these near a speck.
Fishing in and around the Honga for speckled trout in the spring and fall is a great adventure for some fly fishing fun. Not only will you catch one of the coolest shallow water fish we have in the bay, but you will also experience some of the most beautiful scenery in the Chesapeake area. Pack your gear and give it a try!