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Hot Times on the Bay

Take care of yourself and the fish

Temperatures flirting with triple digits mean difficult times on the Chesapeake, not only for anglers but also for the fish.

The young and old are the most susceptible to heatstroke, but everyone needs to be aware of the danger, as it can be fatal.

Heatstroke often gives no warning, ­quickly rendering you unconscious. So take special precautions if fishing or paddling solo. Staying hydrated, continually drinking water, is a must when the temperatures go above the 80s. It would be particularly foolish for the solo adventurer not to don a life jacket.

Should you experience confusion, dizziness or unusual weakness during these hot days, immediately seek cooler conditions and slowly ingest cold drinks to lower your core body temperature. If the symptoms persist or the sufferer begins to lose consciousness, seek emergency medical care promptly.

Fish, too, are at risk during high temperatures. Catch-and-release fishing should be avoided once the mercury passes the 80-degree mark. Mortality skyrockets for rockfish (particularly those 24 inches and larger) hooked during these hot weather days, often despite best efforts to quickly release them.

A number of strategies will minimize heat problems for both the fish and you. Targeting the wee hours, from first light until 10am and from 6pm until last light will minimize exposure to the worst of the sun’s effects for both the angler and the game fish. Those hours are also prime times for the best bite.

Nighttime fishing is also an option for the more adventurous — as long as you are completely familiar with areas to be fished and prepared with good communications, extra flashlights, batteries, cold refreshments, a GPS and a fishing plan with specific locations in the hands of someone on shore. Wearing life jackets is also strongly recommended.

Rockfish are particularly active after dark and will often haunt shallower water in search of prey. I can attest that a striped bass will locate and inhale even a black fly or lure fished on a moonless night in three feet of water with no trouble. Your part as an angler is to exercise extreme stealth and silence in your approach.

It is illegal to be in possession of rockfish while angling after midnight and before 5am, rules that apply for shore anglers as well as boaters. Possession of any other legal species, though, is permitted. 

Croaker and seatrout are also very active after dark, often more so than any time during the day, and will move into shallower water and feed more aggressively. Use crab, bloodworm or shrimp as bait. Seatrout are suckers for Assassin-type soft jigs fished slowly near the bottom.

White perch in the larger sizes will likewise remain active in the darker hours. Searching with noise-producing lures such as one-eighth and one-quarter-ounce Rat-L-Traps is particularly productive and can often attract marauding rockfish, a definite challenge if you’re using ultra-light tackle.