Specks and Stripes: In Pursuit of Speckled Trout
Living in Washington D.C. seemed like a fishing death sentence when I first moved here from central Pennsylvania over 7 years ago. In some ways, living in the D.C. region has certainly made things more challenging. Reaching wild trout streams once took me only 5 minutes - now it takes at least 55. But in many ways, Washington D.C. is an epicenter for fishing variety; a central node providing access to many different types of fishing.
A few weekends back, Frank and I ventured outside of the bustling beltway. We made a seemingly short drive to chase a fish species we both hadn't caught on the fly rod, the speckled trout. Common knowledge - at least common for Pennsylvania transplants - says that to target speckled trout one must travel farther south than southern Maryland or northern Virginia. But, after living in D.C. for several years and learning about the diverse fisheries nearby, I realized that excellent speckled trout fishing isn't that far away. To add to the allure, striped bass, bluefish, spanish mackerel, flounder, redfish, and other species prowl the same waters as the specks.
Friday night started off by picking up our boat for the weekend - a borrowed canoe thanks to a friend, and supporter of the site. We hit the road shortly after, fighting through the end of rush-hour traffic as workers tried to get home from a long week at their desks. A couple of hours into the drive, needing a break to stretch our legs, we pulled off the road to check some dock lights. What we saw upon exiting the car was a full on boiling, blitz! A quick pit-stop turned into a non-stop schoolie excursion. After landing 30 or more striped bass between the two of us (in about 30 minutes), we decided to leave them biting and hit the road.
The alarm clock felt like an old foe, thanks to a late night of unpacking and getting ready for the morning. But fishing cures all, and an early Saturday had us on the water at sunrise. We had our sights set on a area which drained and fed about a dozen small to medium creeks. This would provide us with different structures and currents to focus on regardless of the tides. Knowing we could find speckled trout and striped bass, current seams, grassy points, and creek mouths were going to be our focus for the day.
Thanks to a small trolling motor, we reached our target area much more quickly than with paddles alone. Immediately, we began seeing a few birds working the surface of the water. I wouldn't call it a blitz, but it was something to work with. We quickly paddled over to investigate. My first cast drifted right, straying from my intended target. I had picked up the spinning rod with a topwater spook, and it sailed like a kite in the wind thanks to a poor cast. Luckily, my second cast found an area that Frank and I had seen some surface commotion. It didn't take even two pops of the surface plug to get a huge topwater blowup. Fish on! Due to the aggressiveness of the strike, I assumed that I would reel in a small striped bass. However, I was surprised to see my first speckled trout of the trip! I grabbed my lip gripper - so I could avoid the debarbed treble hooks - and landed a beautiful speck.
Frank quickly got on the board, as well. He went with a subsurface approach, using a paddle tail soft plastic on a 3/8oz jig hook. These paddle tails are generally a great all around lure when targeting striped bass, bluefish, speckled trout, or any aggressive game fish on the spin rod. This day would be no different. It didn't take long for this offering to entice a larger speckled trout, which hit the lure boat-side! We used our rubber-meshed net to carefully land the fish, and in no time we had both caught our target species for the weekend!
Ironically, our first two fish, both trout, would turn out to be the rare fish of the day. We continued to fish current seams, grass points, creeks, and creek mouths, and turned up well over 50 striped bass. We also managed several double ups, and boated 3 other species (lizardfish, white perch, and spot) Our total for speckled trout? Three.
Mostly, the striped bass averaged between 12" and 18". We did find a few a bit larger, but we figured the bigger fish won't show for another couple of weeks.
On Sunday, we were determined to find some more speckled trout, so we set out in a different direction. Looking over the maps the night before, we had noticed a protected series of shallow, grassy creeks which were surrounded by sand flats. The entire area filled and emptied through a small inlet of sorts. Not having much to go on, and lacking experience finding and catching specks, we were going off what we had read online and heard from other fisherman. Luckily, it paid off.
We only had a half day to fish before hitting the road for home, and we definitely made it count! We quickly located schools of speckled trout harassing bait off of grassy points and along shallow flats. Luckily, these specks were ready and willing to take flies. We slowly made our way around the grassy flats, anchoring occasionally in spots that seemed to hold an endless supply of cookie cutter, 10-12" specked trout. While not big by any standard, they put a bend in the 6wt rod and hit our flies with reckless abandon. Mixed in, we also found bluefish, striped bass, white perch, lizardfish, and flounder. After landing more fish than we could count, we called it a successful weekend. Beautiful weather, good company, and lots of fish - what more could we ask for?!
For those of you that are contemplating a similar trip, I thought I'd throw together some tips below. Frank and I are far from experts, but we were able to prove that if you look in the right places, throw the right flies/lures, and get a little bit lucky, you can find a variety of saltwater species just south of our nation's capital.
Best Locations to Target: While stripers and specks can be found in similar habitats, we noticed a distinct change in the numbers we found, based on location. Deeper creeks, deep cuts, and faster currents tended to hold more striped bass. This was what we focused on during our first day. Shallower sand flats, grass flats, and grassy points were the ticket for speckled trout on day two. We also noticed that the areas we found speckled trout were more protected from wind and currents than where we found striped bass. I don't think this will always be true, but it is worth noting.
Best Lures: Soft plastic swim shads in various sizes and colors were the hot ticket. We fished them on jig hooks ranging in size from 1/4oz up to 1/2oz. You can find many different styles, but we dig a soft, ridged, and tapered design with a very flexible paddle tail. Northeast Jig Company makes a nice one, called the ripper shad, that is perfect for this situation. We found white, natural (greens and browns), and pink worked well. We also caught a few fish on crankbaits, while covering water.
Best Flies: Clouser minnows caught the majority of our fish, of all species. Blue and white, pink and white, and chartreuse and white all worked well. Gurglers attracted some attention during low light conditions, but we never found a solid topwater bite (even though our first fish of the weekend came on top).
I hope you enjoyed reading the trip report. Feel free to message us on Instagram if you have specific questions about targeting specks and stripers. I can't say we will drop a pin on a map for you, but we will definitely share what we've learned in hopes that you can also have some success on the water!