The Chesapeake Bay, with more than two thousand miles of shoreline, is the largest estuary in the world. Despite its size, it is basically a shallow body of water. There are deep spots (some greater than 90 feet deep) but there are lots of spots where shallow-water anglers can enjoy world-class angling.
The upper Bay includes the waters from the Susquehanna Flats to the Bay Bridge. Middle Bay runs from the Bay Bridge south to the Honga River on the east and Solomons at the mouth of the Patuxent on the west. Finally, the lower Bay includes Crisfield on the east and Point Lookout at the mouth of the Potomac on the west including Tangier Sound, to the mouth of the Bay.With the recent cooler temperatures, you would think that Fall was here. It isn't. There will be plenty of hot days left on the Bay, but Fall is just around the corner, and can be a very productive time on the Chesapeake Bay rivers.
Cooling waters trigger increased feeding activity, so many anglers focus on breaking schools of stripers because it's visual, and quite productive. In early September, surface breaking schools of striped bass are common in the early morning and from midafternoon to dusk. We catch a lot of 15 inch fish at this time, but larger fish are possible. Small glass minnows, or bay anchovies are the predominant bait at this time, so small lures or flies work well, but recently we have had luck with some Swimbaits, and big Salt water Rat-L-Traps.
A productive Chesapeake Bait: The Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow
Try crank baits such as a Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow or a similar "slim minnow" floater diver. Small spoons like Hopkins Shorties are always good. Soft plastics of all kinds are excellent choices, but a Bass Assassin with a 1/4-ounce head is a favorite of many anglers that fish the bay. When blues mix with the stripers, tie on a 4-inch wire tippet. For the fly rodder, small white poppers are always good, and a 2/0 Clouser Minnow or Deceiver with plenty of flash gets good action.
Some of the best fall spots to try along the western shore in the upper Bay include Abbey Point at the mouth of Bush River. We have always found that an outgoing tide is best here. Pooles Island, off the mouth of the Gunpowder River, has lots of underwater structure and is pretty shallow well out from shore, so be careful here. The area where the Seneca, Dundee and Gunpowder rivers come together is productive most of the year. On the eastern shore, try Worton Point at the mouth of Worton Creek.There's a lot of structure here, including old duck blinds and piers. Fairlee Creek is a hotspot on the upper eastern shore. Baitfish pour out of the mouth on an outgoing tide.
Bloody Point and the mouth of the Chester River has a big tidal rip and is another community hole type spot that produces. Anglers fishing the middle Bay should try Bay Bridge. The waters around the bridge pilings to the north and toward the eastern side are almost always productive. The western shore has spots with tidal rips, and all can hold breaking stripers. Try Hackets Point, just below the Bay Bridge, near the mouth of Whitehall Creek, and try Tolly Point at the mouth of the Severn River. In southernmost mid Bay, the Solomons area at the mouth of the Patuxent River is a top spot on the western shore.
Just south of Solomons is a series of targets used by the Navy, and a favorite spot for andglers in the fall. Along the eastern shore, Kent Narrows is a narrow cut that joins the Chester River with Eastern Bay. The shoreline nearest the Bay in the Narrows proper is usually the best spot, but it's hard to fish. The water against the shoreline is a lot deeper than the water between it and the channel, and running aground is a possibility.
Diving Gulls is a sure sign of gamefish nearby, including Stripers and Bluefish.
Eastern Bay has schools of breaking stripers and sometimes bluefish in early fall. Just drive along and look for gulls, but if you can't find surface-feeding fish, don't worry. You can cast around the points, humps and tide rips for both stripers and seatrout. Poplar Island, at the mouth of Eastern Bay, has lots of structure with good fish habitat, but spoil dredging to restore the island to its original size may have had an adverse effect.
For many years, Tilghman Island and the mouth of the Choptank have been fall hotspots. Again, breaking fish offer the best possibilities, and the points at both the north and south ends of the Choptank are usually the best areas. Farther south, the northeast end of Tayplors Island is loaded with timber and underwater stumps. Next up is the Honga River. The mouth of the Honga is a favorite striper spot year-round, but particularly in fall at both the mouth and farther upstream. The shoreline has lots of structure here. The lower Bay's western shore, from the Potomac to the mouth of the Bay, offers great fishing from mid to late fall. It's a hotspot for stripers and blues, and in early fall, Spanish mackerel should be plentiful. As the season goes on, and these fish move out, fishing for breaking stripers and blues, and deep-jigging for seatrout gets better.
Along the eastern shore from Crisfield to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, not only are breaking stripers plentiful, but October and early November offer some good structure fishing. Most of the islands have underwater stump fields that hold striped bass. Great Fox Island, south of Crisfield, has stump fields along most of the western side and around the southern tip. Watts island, south of Great Fox Island, offers similar structure along its west side. Smith and Tangier islands, in mid Bay, both have great shoreline structure consisting of undercut banks, shallow flats and underwater stumps. In addition, both islands have channels defined by rocky jetties at their entrances. We have taken decent fish right against the rocks on both tides.
Winter is the worst time for fishing the Chesapeake. However, a few places hold fish, mostly along the western shore. On mild days, you can find stripers around power plants. In the upper Bay, try the Carroll Island Power Plant near the mouth of the Seneca River, or better yet, Baltimore Harbor. We don't reall prefer these areas, but in the winte, they are one of the few spots that offer some action at time
Spring is when the annual shad run of both hickory and white shad starts in the Susquehanna River, at the top of the Bay and draws anglers from everywhere. Deer Creek and Octoraro Creek, two tributary streams a mile or so below Conowingo Dam, have good runs of hickories, while the main river has both hickories and the larger white shad.
But the main event is the 6- or 7-week catch-and-release season for striped bass on the Susquehanna Flats. Usually beginning about March 15 and ending in early May, this season increases your chance of catching a really big striper on bass tackle. However, heavy spring rains upstream in Pennsylvania and New York can turn the flats into a muddy debris-filled mess; but when the water clears the fishing can be great, as you can tell by some of thephotos here at our site's album, of the fish caught in the bay. Once stripers complete their spawning in the upper Bay, most follow deep channels to migrate northward up the coast, and are targeted by anglers trolling deep with multi-line umbrella rigs on heavy tackle. A little farther south, the Crisfield area offers the same fishing, and some of the shallow flats around Janes Island and Fox Island offer a chance to take croakers on artificials in shallow water.
Considered a bottom fish, these tough fighters feed in the shallows much like the larger redfish. By early June, seatrout will be available at many areas from the Crisfield area to the mouth of the Bay, and, beginning around Memorial Day, spotted seatrout become the most popular species for many Virginia fishermen. These fish are widespread, but the cuts and channels of Lynnhaven Bay, right below the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, can be a good bet. Tautog are also available if waters stay cool. One popular spot is by the sunken World War II concrete Liberty Ships that forms the breakwater near Kiptopeake Campground near Cape Charles on Virginia's eastern shore. Any of the spots that produce during the fall will hold fish in summer as well, but if there is one summer pattern to remember it is to fish during the cooler morning and evening hours. For whatever reason, by summer the "sub-aquatic vegetation returns to the popular Susquehanna Flats.
Gone for almost 30 years, largely due to efforts by the state to control the grasses somewhat, the last two years has seen an enormous resurgence. By July, you can practically walk on the stuff, and it's difficult to work a boat into the area. Because of the grass, the water is clear and full of baitfish, stripers and largemouth bass. Fishing the open pockets is the key to success here. In recent years, croaker numbers have relly gone up, and they are widespread from early June through August around bottom structure.
Anglers may leave the boat at home and enjoy fishing year-round from the Sea Gull Pier, which extends from the southernmost of the four man-made islands at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel (CBBT) is really a 17-mile-long fish structure. The longest bridge-tunnel in the world, it's undoubtedly the most productive manmade structure in the Bay. Rocky riprap forms islands that support the bridge and the bridge pilings hold fish almost year-round. In all but the coldest weather, striped bass are caught here on large plugs right against the rocky shorelines of the manmade island supports. From spring through fall, a cast right against the rocks will almost always result in a striper. From November into late December (and sometimes later) bigger stripers move into the deep holes to winter-over. You can catch giant fish then, if you can deal with cold, windy weather. Where the bridge is closest to the water, striped bass line up at the shadow line waiting for baitfish to be swept into range. If you anchor up in the shadows and fish uptide, you will actually be able to see the fish take your bait.
A Bay in Peril
Commercial overfishing has hurt many of the Chesapeake's marine species. Soft-shell clams are gone, oysters are down to about one percent of historical populations, and blue crabs are disappearing.Pollution compounds the problem. More than 150 sewage treatment plants empty directly into the Bay. The Susquehanna River has a large number of non-compliant sewage plants along its 600-plus-mile course through New York and Pennsylvania, eventually reaching the Bay.
The poultry industry, on the Delmarva Peninsula, is America's largest chicken farm, and thus, adds enormous pollution from chicken waste products into Chesapeake waters. Also, the poultry industry depends on menhaden to produce food pellets for chickens,and menhaden are the sole remaining filter feeder of note in the Chesapeake. In the early 1900s it is estimated that the total volume of the Chesapeake's water was completely filtered in eight hours by filter feeders-principally oysters and menhaden. Today, the same level of filtration takes more than one year.
Since the oysters are all but gone, the only filter feeders left are menhaden, but relatively few of each year's hatch make it past Reedville, Virginia, because one company, operating a number of large menhaden trawlers, working together with spotter planes, takes almost 65 percent of the entire Atlantic coast's menhaden stocks. This does two things. First, menhaden are strictly filter feeders. They swim around in dense schools consuming vast amounts of plankton along with all sorts of detritus. You can't live without a liver, which pretty much tells you what will happen to the Chesapeake should the menhaden slaughter continue. Menhaden are also the main food fish for striped bass. With the reduction of available menhaden, stripers have turned to other food sources, notably silversides and bay anchovies which lack the oil and protein of the menhaden. As a result, we are now seeing more skinny stripers that are slowly starving.
Gamefish Status for Stripers
Many Atlantic coast anglers feel that nothing short of gamefish status will ensure a recreational striper fishery. Stripers Forever, a non-profit organization, seeks to eliminate commercial fishing for stripers through a federal bill (H.R. 1286) introduced by a congressman in New Jersey. The bill seeks to bring gamefish status to stripers in the extended economic zone, waters more than 3 miles off the coast, and affect time and area closures for commercial fishing methods such as gill netting during the striper migration. Stripers Forever is really trying to help the bay, and if you want more information on them visit www.stripersforever.com
The Chesapeake Bay is our home water, and although we primarily fish for largemouth and smallmouth bass, we must all try to do our part in saving all the species of marine life in the bay, by any and all means necessary. That means getting involved, so we can all enjoy what the bay has to offer for Centuries to come.
Steve vonBrandt is the owner of Reeltime Anglers Guide Service in Wilmington, Delaware, Anglers Radio in Delaware and New Jersey, Reeltimeanglers, Bass Lure Review, and Delaware Tackle in Delaware. He also is a tournament angler and freelance outdoor writer. He has over 40 years of fishing experience in the Northeast, 5 years exp. in California. He has fished freshwater and saltwater since 1962, and has devoted to freshwater only since 1989. http://www.reeltimeanglers.com
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