July 14, 2020
Summer is the best season to enjoy fishing for rockfish (aka striped bass) in Chesapeake Bay. The fish are showing up in good numbers, the weather is beautiful, and the time spent on the water are the best days of the year.
There are a few ways to land your rockfish; but we enjoy trolling the bay the most. It’s typically the most successful way of landing these prized trophies. Whether you’re fishing the Upper or Lower parts of the bay, we’ve got everything you need to know about trolling for rockfish in Chesapeake Bay.
Striped bass has a lot of nicknames, including striper and linesider. But around the Chesapeake Bay area they are more commonly known as rockfish. They are native to this area and migrate along the Atlantic Coast to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a very popular species from South Carolina to New Hampshire, and even touts the title as state fish for Maryland and saltwater fish for Virginia (among others).
The brackish water of the bay helps sustain the rockfish population. Although recently in danger of being overfished, new regulations have the species on the rebound. The time of year you go fishing will determine what you’re allowed to keep. During the summer (June 1 – August 15) anglers can keep 1 rockfish over 19 inches (per angler). Any landed fish that’s too small ought to be released to help conservation efforts. The season is closed at the end of August and it’s considered illegal to even target rockfish (same for earlier in the year during the month of April). So we recommend fishing when the season is open, and the timing is perfect to land a beautiful fish!
Some anglers may cast for rockfish. Or even chum the waters to bring the fish in. But there’s just something special about trolling that makes the fishing even better.
Trolling is a technique often used by anglers to cover a wide area. Instead of staying in one spot, you’re driving the boat with lines in the water, enticing the fish to take the bait. This technique is easy to learn, but takes years to master. You must consider the speed of the boat, and where you’re driving. There’s also a trick of the trade to keep an eye on the sky to help determine where to troll. You see, as fish school and eat, they leave crumbs (so to speak) that birds will dive into the water to retrieve. It’s easier to see the birds diving than the fish eating, so captains will typically keep an eye on the sky. But, there’s another trick to keep in mind: you don’t want to aim the boat directly at the birds. You want to be in front of the fish, running parallel with the schools while trailing bait for them to feed (and get hooked) on. Again, years of practice are needed to master this technique.
The type of lures is also important. Captains typically use spoons or bucktails to attract rockfish to the line. Size and color are important. If you have a couple of lines in the water you can have different set-ups on each rod to see which work best. Once the drag starts screaming, you know you’ve got something on the line!
Or you can hire a local Chesapeake fishing charter with a captain that knows this technique well and has the years of experience to get you on the fish. They’ll also have all the gear, typically medium or medium-heavy rods and reels, and tackle that will attract the fish. On a private charter, a first mate will get the bait on the hooks and tell you when to grab a rod and start reeling. It’s a full service experience with the help of professionals to ensure a successful day.
Deciding to hire a local captain is a great way to experience trolling for rockfish. Not only will they have the boat loaded and ready for your excursion, you get to sit back and enjoy the benefits of fishing without any of the worry. Most Chesapeake Bay charter companies offer private tours, so your group will have the entire boat to yourself. And you decide if you want to fish for a half day or full day (4 hours and 8 hours respectively). Just bring a cooler of snacks and drinks, weather appropriate clothing, and a camera to capture the day’s memories.
Chesapeake Bay charters near Maryland and Washington fish the Upper section of the bay, while the lower section is part of Virginia jurisdiction. Deale, Maryland has a marina that several charters embark from and is a great place to start your adventure. If you’re in Virginia, check out Virginia Beach charters. These captains may also offer trips into the bountiful Atlantic Ocean. It’s the best of both worlds. No matter where you fish in Chesapeake Bay, you’re sure to have a chance to hook a rockfish!
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