Fishing The Chesapeake Bay The World's Largest Estuary

The Chesapeake Bay - With over two thousand miles of shoreline, the Chesapeake Bay is the world's largest estuary. Despite its size, the bay is basically one shallow body of water. There are deep spots (some more significant than 90 feet deep), but there are many spots where shallow-water anglers can enjoy world-class angling.


Fishing The Chesapeake Bay The World's Largest Estuary

 

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 are still plenty of hot days on the Bay, but with Fall just around the corner, it can be a very productive time on the Chesapeake Bay rivers.

The 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 mid-afternoon to dusk. You can catch a lot of 15-inch fish at this time, but larger fish are possible. Some 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 Saltwater Rat-L-Traps.

Try crankbaits 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. Small white poppers are always good for the fly rodder, and a 2/0 Clouser Minnow or Deceiver with plenty of flashes 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 significant tidal rip and is another community hole type spot that produces. Anglers fishing in 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 anglers in the Fall. Kent Narrows is a narrow cut along the eastern shore 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.

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. At the mouth of Eastern Bay, Poplar Island has lots of structure with suitable 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 offers the best possibilities. 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. From the Potomac to the mouth of the Bay, the Lower Bay's western shore offers excellent 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 western sides and around the southern tip. Watts island, south of Great Fox Island, offers a similar structure along its west side. Smith and Tangier islands, in mid-Bay, both have excellent shoreline structures 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 in the Chesapeake. However, a few places hold fish, mainly 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 really prefer these areas, but in the winter, they are one of the few spots that offer some action at the 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. In contrast, 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. Still, when the water clears, the fishing can be great, as you can tell by some of the photos 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. They 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. 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 more oversized 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 becomes 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 is also available if the 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, but if there is one summer pattern to remember, fish during the cooler morning and evening hours. For whatever reason, by summer, the "sub-aquatic vegetation returns to the famous Susquehanna Flats.

Gone for almost 30 years, mainly due to efforts by the state to control the grasses somewhat, the last two years have seen an enormous resurgence. By July, you can practically walk on the stuff, and it's challenging 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 really gone up. They are widespread from early June through August around the bottom structure.

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 is 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. 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 upside, you will actually be able to see the fish take your bait.

Steve was the owner of a bass fishing Guide Service, Anglers Radio, and Delaware Tackle He is a tournament angler and freelance outdoor writer. He has over 40 years of fishing experience in the Northeast and California.