- Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 July 2012 00:00
- Published on Tuesday, 03 July 2012 00:00
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My daughter won one of the guided fishing trips in the annual “Why I want to take my father fishing for Father’s Day” contest put on by Ken Perrotte in his outdoors column for the Free Lance Star. I was pleasantly surprised to get the phone call from Perrotte informing my daughter of her win. Up to that point I could count on one hand the number of times I had been fishing all year to include shad fishing. That figure is depressing.
We fished with Captain Tony Harding on his boat out of the East River south of Saluda. Saluda is close to two hours south on Rt.17 and then Rt. 33 and is the hometown of the legendary General “Chesty” Puller of the United States Marine Corps. I love the area and the drive through Essex and Middlesex Counties. That area is what King George once was when development was yet to come.
When we arrived at the landing it was deserted with the exception of our truck and Captain Harding’s truck and boat. He uses a 19-foot Pathfinder with a Yamaha 4 stroke. That motor was so quiet, as are most of the 4 strokes, that we were able to ease up on our spots pretty easily.
I had never fished the East River before but it appeared to be a typical briny tributary to the Chesapeake Bay with a spattering of houses along its shores, fishing boats tied to weathered docks and marsh grass along the small bays of the tidal area. The weather was forecast to be 100 degrees that day and the weatherman was on the mark. Even the early AM when the sun was creeping up had a sticky feel to it and the haze foretold of the heat to come. However, we were on the water just prior to 6 AM and the fishing was pleasurable until lunch when the heat really cranked up and we called it a day and headed in.
Capt. Harding armed us with St. Croix spinning rods. The lines were baited with a jig and Bass Assassin plastic, which we were directed to cast toward the shoreline and hop it back to the boat. Within a few minutes of starting to fish I missed a few. I think I tried to set the hook too hard. Speck fishing is a bit different from many other types of fishing and I was rusty anyway from not fishing much. The fish have soft mouths and need little setting of the hook.
However, my daughter was able to hop her brightly colored jig enticingly enough to hook a nice, fat croaker. That one and one other that I picked up later with the same type of retrieve graced our grill the following day sprinkled with Old Bay and bathed in some butter and a bit of cooking oil.
It was the speckled trout fishing that I was most interested in as I had gotten the bug while down in New Orleans fishing several years ago. My daughter landed a nice speck that was close to the legal size limit but we put it back without measuring it. The beautiful purples, blues and silvery colors were an amazing sight. It was her first speck so she was thrilled with the hook up as was I.
Our good captain moved us around when action slowed down and we continued to get hits, pick up specks and croaker and so on for the next few hours. At one point during the morning I kept missing a number of fish and something kept tickling my brain telling me that there was something familiar about the way the fish were hitting. I kept thinking I was in a school of small specks. I finally let the fish have the bait and was surprised to find a flattie on my line. Yes, I learned that flounder can be caught on artificials fairly easily. Unfortunately the flounder was a bit short so back it went into the stained, salty water. My recasts to the same line of dock pilings continued to get me in the action, which was quite fun. However, the fish seemed to be the same short size class so we moved on.
During our morning trip I asked Capt. Harding about the speckled trout run. He informed me in the 30 some years he has been guiding he has not seen the run as good as it appears this year. The fish have spread out over the lower bay and even up above the Potomac River in some marshy areas.
If you have a hankering for some speckled trout fishing you can give Capt. Harding a call. He specializes in fly fishing tidal waters but is willing to do spinning trips too. Our experience with him showed that he was knowledgeable and runs a very clean operation. His boat is immaculate. His gear is in great shape, he takes very good care of his boat and he is particular about the quality of the gear he uses. Last, and probably most importantly, he cares deeply about the environment and the fisheries of the bay. We watched as he carefully revived each fish we turned back and saw it swim off without a problem. Some of the guides I have been with simply hurl the fish overboard. Capt. Harding can be contacted at 540-848-3770. His website is wwwflyfishtidalva.com.
Speckled trout setups
Some anglers use bait shrimp under a popping cork to simulate the sound a speck makes smashing into a school of shrimp. Others prefer casting to them with jigs and plastics. We used jigs and plastics. A medium action spinning setup with enough weight on the jighead to get it towards the grass will work well. Use bright colors on both the jig heads and the plastics you tip the jig with. Don’t be afraid to change colors to find what the fish are after that particular day. Hop your jigs back and vary your retrieve until you find the right combination. Watch out for the teeth and fangs these predators have. If you decide to keep a few for the grill or pan do keep them on ice. They are a soft fish. Any fish you are not keeping please revive and avoid hanging them out of the water too long.