Hot Weather Dodges for Rockfish
This time of year, there is hardly time enough to fish in the mornings before the sun becomes your own personal broiler element. Even with a boat’s top cover, within very few hours you’ll be yearning for home port and a cool shower.
Rockfish are especially unpredictable and difficult to locate as they continually seek comfortable water temperatures and breathable oxygen levels while cruising for prey. There are some fortuitous indicators, however, that you should be aware of in your search. They just may save you some time.
Underwater springs can provide invisible honey holes along channel valleys in the Bay. They’re difficult to locate so you’ve got to pay attention. In shallower waters an odd current break or ripple pattern on a calm day can indicate a below-surface influx of water. Watch your finder, a sudden localized drop in water temperature can definitely indicate something going on below.
An underwater spring means two things, cooler water and lots of oxygen. In the heat of summer, that combination can be better than gold. A spring vent provides a consistently comfortable oasis in an area that is otherwise the aquatic version of a hot, barren desert. It’s virtually impossible to find such a vent if you’re not looking for it. Be sure to mark the area, or you may not find it again.
An important but much less subtle feature along the Bay’s summer shoreline is shadow. That’s tree line shadow and structure shadow from boathouses, large piers, docks and bulkheads. Shadow provides cooler temps and—more importantly in shallow water—security.
Every fish that grows up in the Chesapeake is familiar with the osprey. Even fish grown too big to fear the birds never lose the terror of an aerial attack. But they also know there is safety in the shade: they’re invisible there. Shoreside creeks and ponds with waters sheltered from the sun by dense tree overhang can carry cooler, oxygenated H2O along with grass shrimp, minnows and crabs out into the Bay on falling tides. The entrance source to the Bay may not be obvious along a wooded or overgrown shoreline so refer to area maps for clues and always keep them in mind.
Consider other inflow sources, too: never pass up throwing baits to any kind of drainage pipes channeling rainfall from shoreline areas. Along with the cooler water there may be baitfish and shrimp holding nearby waiting for detritus and insects to be carried out to them, which will attract rockfish.
Another indicator: the presence of birds—seabirds, that is. Look for them, sitting on the water in groups or hovering above the surface. They’re fishing, but with better eyesight than ours, and even if there are just a few of them in a small area, it is usually for the same reason you’re there.
Dark patches of shimmering water can also indicate a small school of peanut bunker this time of year. There’s a good chance some predatory fish will be lurking nearby hoping for a snack. Always throw around (not into) these areas and let your bunker sized lures (three to four inches) sink on some retrieves. Bigger rockfish prefer to be deeper.
And remember, even one lone heron can be an indicator. Not always, but often enough, I’ve gotten a nice keeper off of a bulkhead with a feathered blue sentinel patiently perched on top or lurking ominously nearby, in the shade of a bridge support. A pair of stabilized binoculars of at least seven power are a wonderful aid for locating them (as well as noticing the other clues). You should apologize in advance to the regal heron: If you catch a fish, it is rude to steal a meal.
The best bite for stripers is still well north of the Bay Bridge though Podickory and Hacketts points have begun producing some fish. The hottest tip for August is that rockfish season will be closed in the Chesapeake Bay from August 16 thru the end of the month. There will be a stiff fine for anyone possessing striped bass during the last half of August. Catch and release is also prohibited. Removing a striper from the water when air temps are in the high 90s is akin to a death sentence for the fish. The season remains open for perch and catfish with no minimum size nor possession limits and Spanny Macks (Spanish mackerel) have already begun showing up around Thomas Point Light so there is still something to chase on the Bay. Fast trolling Clark Spoons and throwing Kastmasters are the traditional methods of getting some tasty mackerel filets, minimum size 14 inches, possession limit 15 and head and fins must remain intact while on board. Crabbing continues to improve, though not everywhere. Keep looking and you’ll finally fill your basket.