Chesapeake Rivers Alive with Stripers

Photo by Maryland DNR Fisheries Service flickr.

By Dennis Doyle 

The headwater shallows of the Bay tributaries cool faster than the deeper areas so fledgling baitfish that are uncomfortable in their usual nursery waters are schooling and moving downstream, heading toward their wintering grounds. The rockfish are moving up out of the mainstream channels to meet them to feed up for colder weather. It is an encounter to behold.

At the mouth of a river or tributary is where these species collide, especially in the afternoons and evenings. Seabirds flock to the areas to dine on the collateral damage. The mouth of the eastern Bay is one of the larger areas of this seafood cafeteria with rockfish into the high teens swarming the area daily.

Cruising those areas and marking larger fish near the bottom is also a productive technique for deep jigging better fish with soft plastics to 7 inches. White and chartreuse seem to be the best colors, taking fish to the mid-20s, a size that’s been difficult to find this season.

Poplar Island is equally as productive for quality-sized rockfish, taking trolled medium-sized umbrella rigs and tandem bucktails of similar colors. 

The fish are holding at various depths depending on where they’ve been locating baitfish, so pay attention to your electronic finders. 

Thomas Point, the mouth of the Severn, is another target-rich area as is higher up the Severn where the channel narrows, or any entrance to a trib. Watch for seabirds or watch your finder. 

Any sign of a rip or a seam is also a good place to try. As the evening deepens try plugging the shallows at any hint of a point or tributary mouth or section of heavy rip rap. This is prime topwater time both in the late afternoons and early mornings.

After dark, bright dock lights in all the tribs can attract some sizable critters feeding on the baitfish that crowd there for safety. This is a situation made for fly casting as judging the distance to avoid fouling lures on the docks and bulkheads in the dark becomes difficult for spinning and casting rigs. And don’t throw your streamers at the lights, that’s where the teenies hang out, target the edge of the illuminated waters, where the big fellas lurk. Clear intermediate lines are best and keep the flies to 3 and 4 inches in white, chartreuse, and natural colors.

The mouth of the Chester near Love Point, 6 to 20 feet, is another excellent gathering place for feeding stripers most afternoons and fish into the low 20s can be harvested there, usually under birds. Half-ounce jig heads with 5- and 6-inch paddle tails and assassins in various hues are just the tickets as are similar-sized surface plugs. Squash your barbs, there’ll be a lot of throwbacks. And be careful, the seabirds will grab your jigs and plugs if they can and they won’t be happy about it.

On the western side, the mouth of the Magothy is a good choice with some nice keeper rockfish showing up along the channel edges up till dark. Jigs work well as does live-lining small perch or big minnows.

Early morning live-lining eels get some nice rock among the piers of the Bay Bridge, some into the mid-30s. Afternoons bottom-bouncing jigs tipped with minnows or small perch, deep along the same piers doing the same. 

Patience and persistence are essential to both endeavors. This is the last hurrah, winter is coming. Get your last licks in or be sorry. May is a long time away.