The Spectacular Spec
I was wade-fishing off Thomas Point Park when the fish hit my Clouser fly. Casting the weighted streamer around a boulder-strewn area in about four feet of water, I felt the take, and right away I knew it was not a rockfish.
The strike was tentative, and the fish immediately broached and flashed a spotted iridescent lavender-hued flank. It was a spec trout and the first one I had caught in quite awhile. I fought the fish with a soft hand, my long rod making this an easy task. It still took quite awhile before I could beach the feisty devil.
Icing it in my shore-side cooler I looked forward to its delicious fillets. Though I didn’t know at the time, it would be several years before I would catch another.
Fine When You Can Find ’Em
The Chesapeake is the northern limit of the range of a fish revered to the point of adulation in our more southern states, where it is pursued to the exclusion of all other species by many anglers from South Carolina to Texas. However, over the last half-dozen years or so, the fish has seldom been encountered in Bay waters.
Rockfishing has recovered somewhat with trollers taking many keepers on small bucktails, spoons, and Tsunami and Storm soft baits. Jiggers are scoring once again around the Bay Bridge hot-rodding Bass Assassins and BKDs. Soft crabs, which are getting difficult to find locally, are still the Number One bait for fishing the pilings since the spot departed. Shoreline plugging remains irregular; however, some good-sized fish are smashing top-water lures and rattle traps early mornings and late evenings. Shoreline anglers are starting to score nice stripers during evening hours at Sandy Point, Matapeake and Romancoke.
The spotted sea trout — also known as the speckled sea trout, or spec, and sometimes spotted weakfish — is one of the handsomest sport fish to visit the Chesapeake. Its normal range is generally limited to our southern Bay, especially the Tangier Sound and Honga River areas, but specs do, in years of plenty, venture as far north as the Bay Bridge.
A first cousin of the weakfish or grey sea trout, which it closely resembles, the spec generally prefers a shallower water habitat, particularly frequenting grassy areas. Both species have particularly soft mouths (hence the name weakfish), and it takes a delicate hand to bring larger specimens to the net. The fish are favorites of light-tackle and fly anglers.
A member of the drum family, the trout have pronounced swim bladders they use to make a drumming noise (similar to a croaker) to attract mates during spawning season as well as to converse with their brethren when schooled.
Specs usually weigh in at two to three pounds, with trophy-sized fish reaching five, though the record is an incredible 17-pound-seven-ounce specimen. Big or little, they have large prominent canine teeth and dark backs with iridescent silvery sides marked with scattered ocellated black spots of varying size
Spec populations have historically been cyclic. But the overfishing of menhaden stocks by Omega Protein at the mouth of the Chesapeake has, by many accounts, resulted in our stripers keying on yearling weakfish as an alternative food source, keeping their numbers particularly low in the Bay.
Now’s the Time
This year, however, the specs appear to be on the rebound. Kevin Josenhans (josenhansflyfishing.com), a renown light-tackle and fly fishing guide who specializes around the Honga River and Tangier Sound this time of year, has reported better numbers of this fish than in a decade.
My friend Maurice Klein fished with Kevin over two days recently and had a fantastic outing. Landing well over 40 specs on flies, surface plugs, Bass Assassins, and jigs, he likened it to the old days when these fish were a familiar and numerous species around Crisfield.
I’m gearing up this week for my annual trip to South Dakota for some pheasant, grouse and prairie chicken hunting. So I’ve marked my calendar for a journey down the Chesapeake as soon as I return. I’m eager to reconnect with this particularly beautiful and challenging species.