It’s hard to pin down Captain Jeff Lewatowski, and I mean that quite literally. Whenever I’m lucky enough to actually catch him on the phone, he’s oftentimes driving from one fishing spot to the next. The man seems to be in perpetual motion. And although like most professional fishermen on the Bay, rockfish are his mainstay quarry, one day he could be guiding a fly client on one of Maryland’s beautiful trout streams, and the next he’ll be targeting flounder off Ocean City.
Captain Jeff is now in his 12th year as a pro guide, and having known him for a good chunk of that time, believe me when I tell you he truly enjoys sharing his passion for and knowledge of the excellent angling we’re fortunate to have from the mountains to the sea. From casting topwater plugs on the Susquehanna Flats during the stripers’ spring run to the late summer push of bluefish and Spanish mackerel in Eastern Bay, he not only follows the saltwater fish but he can also put you on freshwater trout. I recently caught up with Captain Jeff and picked his brain about life as a Chesapeake fishing guide.
PropTalk’s C$: How should fly anglers prepare for fishing saltwater?
Captain Jeff: I often get asked by folks where they can wade or access spots to fly fish the Bay by shore. Though these areas exist, they are not common and a boat significantly increases your chances of success.
Rod and reel choice is personal preference, and many outfits will work on the Chesapeake. Striped bass are our main quarry, so eight- or nine-weight fly rods fit the bill for most situations; though there is a place for larger weights when throwing exceptionally large flies or poppers for big fish.
Most important is the choice of a fly line. These days, fly lines come in tapers and sink rates for all types of situations, and the choice of line will often decide your success, much more than the choice of fly.
I like to have several lines rigged for any occasion: A sinking, shooting head in a six- to seven-inch rate will cover a variety of fishing situations and depths. An intermediate line—shooting head style, my preference—is also a necessity for fishing shorelines and fish high in the water column.
Fly choice is often debated. I believe a good fly (should) imitate the size and color of the bait you’re fishing over. Many patterns I see nowadays try to perfectly imitate a baitfish using a variety of artificial materials—flash, eyes, etc. (But) larger flies made with artificial materials become bulky and wind resistant, and though good looking, they don’t fish well.
I tend to tie with natural materials and minimal flash, as I think these patterns move better in the water column. I often weight my flies, too, as I find I’m trying to get deep or fish in current more often than not. A Half & Half fly on a 2/0 or 3/0 hook is my favorite pattern. I like olive over white with some gold flash. I will not argue, however, the effectiveness of chartreuse day in and day out.
Do you prefer salt over fresh? And what salt species are freshwater trout most like?
I am often asked, “what kind of fishing do you like best.” My response is always the same: I enjoy the process of fishing, the places it takes me, and the people I meet doing it. It makes no difference to me whether I am chasing tuna and marlin in bluewater or brook and brown trout on a coldwater stream. Each has its own allure, its own challenges.
Fly fishing for trout is a game of its own. It tests an angler’s instincts and requires patience and finesse. The slightest differences in approach, presentation, and choice of techniques (may) mean the difference between just fishing or catching.
I think the saltwater species that most closely resemble stream trout are bonefish. They require a stealthy approach, accurate cast, proper tide and light conditions, and good fly choice to fool.
What major changes have you seen to striper fishing in the last 10 years?
It seems as if the striper fishery is constantly changing. I believe much of the ebb and flow of the fishery year to year can be attributed more to weather and water conditions than anything. I think that one of the best changes for the better (since 2015) was increasing the size limit to 20 inches for the bulk of the season. Maybe we will begin to see a better average size fish with this reg in place.
What was your worst weather experience?
I have seen lots of weather over the years, and I typically make the right choice of avoiding the worst. Once in a while one (storm) sneaks up on you. My worst weather experience was while on anchor on an overnight tuna fishing trip out of Ocean City, MD. I was working as mate on the charter when a squall came up and relatively calm winds went to 35-plus knots in minutes. I was on the bow hauling anchor so that we could get out of there when a wave crested the bow and knocked me off my feet and nearly swept me off the boat. I caught the bow cleat on my way overboard and managed to hang on.
Like me, you spend a lot of time in your truck—so what music is cued up on satellite radio or your smartphone? Or are you “old school” like me and rock the single-disc CD player?
I’m on the road a lot, so the Sirius satellite radio is typically tuned to Outlaw Country. I love the classic country. Play me some Willie Nelson or Waylon Jennings.
What’s your favorite snack or food on the boat? And once the boat is on trailer or tied to the dock is it beer, wine, whiskey, or soda?
I am addicted to those David BBQ sunflower seeds and am often chewing and spitting them while on the boat. What better way to end a day of fishing than with a cold beer with friends at the dock?
by Captain Chris D. Dollar