Sunday, May 6, 2012

Another Type of Flats Fishing Trip

I put the carp flies on the shelf last week and headed for Havre De Grace, MD for a different kind of flats experience.  A Baltimore based fishing buddy and I had been attempting to get a good trip to the Susquehanna Flats for over a year.  The weather had proved to be our nemesis - but finally the stars aligned.

If you haven't heard of the striped bass fishery at the mouth of the Susquehanna River, and the top of the Chesapeake Bay, you are not alone.  The fishery is gaining notoriety quickly, however; as steady supplies of stripers, or rockfish as they are locally known, and a special catch and release season on the flats, combine for an amazing opportunity.

Over seven square miles of flat water, averaging about 4 feet deep, with little to no structure, can be an intimidating site, particularly when you factor large grass beds just under the surface, tidal influences and the distinct possibility of running a larger boat aground if you don't have the necessary knowledge of the area.

Stripers have a fascinating life history and migratory route.  Most will winter off the coast of the Carolinas and follow the coast north, up through the coast of northern Maine, through the summer months, to stay on the feed and in their comfort range of 55-68 degrees.  Perhaps the most important stop on the way is the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries where the fish gather to spawn and put on the feedbag.

The Susquehanna Flats, around about the month of April, offer one of the best chances to get up close and personal with these great fish, using light spinning tackle and fly rods.

Capt. Jeff Lewatowski was our guide of choice.  Jeff is a great fisherman with tremendous range.  He has fished a lot of water, including a stint guiding in Alaska, but now plies his native Maryland waters professionally, chasing everything from fly-rod trout in the Gunpowder River to flounder, tautog, sea bass, and stripers in the salt, near Ocean City, MD.  Whatever he is fishing for, he likes light tackle and fly rods.

Capt. Jeff, in the foreground, knows the flats like the back of his hand.
 In fact Jeff's only flaw seemed to be his skepticism for carp on the fly.
Spoken like a fellow who never tried it.
In 2011, we tried repeatedly to get a Susquehanna Flats trip together, but record rainfall blew the flats out for more than a month, and the entire season was a loss.  Spring 2012 brought much more cooperative/drier weather and the bite was on again.  It still took us three tries to hit a day when the fish were there and the wind/rain was not, but it was worth waiting for.

This one put a nice bend in the 8-wt.
The fishing was good and the weather was great.  Light winds and temps in the 50-65 degree range allowed us to get the fly rods out.  We used spinning gear with 12 lb. test mono to cover a lot of water quickly and dial in on pods of agreeable stripers.  It took a couple hours to find the right spots, but we boated about 30 stripers, which included about 10 on the fly.  It looked like most boats we saw were struggling for bites, but Capt. Jeff had us drifting through enough fish to keep us smiling all day.  Big Lefty's Deceivers were the fly of choice, and when those fish hit, they took care of the strip set for you, including some great takes, right at the boat.  I should have taken more pictures, but when the bite turns on, they can come fast, and furious and holding a camera is the last thing on your mind.

Finished up with the best of the day

We weren't able to lure the biggest fish into striking that day - fish in the 35-45 inch (16 - 40 lb.) class are not uncommon - but after fighting a couple 10-12 pounders, I can hardly imagine a 40 pounder on the fly or, on the perfect day, on a popper.

OK...I can imagine it...and I want it bad.

Capt. Jeff's 23 ft. Parker was a very nice fishing platform.  Ryan works the drift.

On a Carpy note, Capt. Jeff did happen to mention that his boat brought in a 30 lb. carp on a jig earlier in the season.  He then sent me the picture below.  I think I feel another outing coming on later in the season.

Susquehanna Flats Carp


  1. Nice trip and worth waiting for. Got to talk the Capt. to trying seriously for carp/on the fly.


  2. Nothing like having a big fish strip set itself! Where you sighting individual fish or schools or was it semi-blind?

    1. I would call the fishing semi-blind that day. With stained water and the deeper (6-9 ft.) channels the fish were holding in that day, we often located a good general area by prospecting with spinning tackle and jerkbaits, before focusing on the fly. On the best days, topwater action heats up and you can site fish to the big ones in 2-3 feet of water.