Sporting Life

Easy Choices for Improving Angling Success 

There are an endless number of theories on the Chesapeake concerning the choices that can maximize angling success but rule number one has always been, “The best time to go fishing is whenever you can with whatever bait you have.” It’s a dictum with which I never argue. 

If I have my druthers, though, I’ve found there are advantages to choosing some days over others. The dark of the moon is one of those. The week before, the day of and the week after a new moon have always provided (in my experience) better fishing. Not vastly superior choices to be sure, but generally, a bit better. 

“When is it the best time of day to fish?” is another question that will always be cause for debate. I, and others, have discovered that the first four hours starting at first light (not sunrise, that’s almost an hour later) and the last three hours before full dark (not sundown) to prove most productive. 

The worst times are usually from about 11am till 3pm, but if these hours are all that are available to you, see rule number one. And if the day is overcast or otherwise raining lightly, you can ignore this. 

If you’re fishing from shore or are targeting shoreline structure, those mornings and evenings will also prove best when they are in the higher phases of a full tide. I’m guessing that when fish are exposing themselves in the shoreline shallows, they prefer as much water as possible under their bellies. 

When fishing in the deeper waters of the Bay the bite will usually be best sometime during the last two hours before a tidal change and two hours after, though it inevitably dies almost everywhere when the current comes full slack. 

Throughout the Chesapeake later in the season, fish can prove very fickle and begin preferring one particular tidal condition over another to feed. The only way to be sure of success is to fish an entire cycle from the beginnings of the flood to the final stage of the ebb—or vice versa. 

The next most common query is, “What’s the best bait?” If it’s nearing a full moon and the crabs are beginning to slough, you’ll want some crab on your hooks. A soft crab just beginning to harden (a paper or leather shell) is best. It will still have the irresistible soft crab scent but its internal structure will have hardened enough to hold a hook and frustrate bait thieves. Fish it deep, drifting along the channel edges and in shallower waters early morning and late evenings. 

The freshest cut menhaden should be your first choice of bait from springtime through mid- to late-June. The chum and bottom fishing bites will be best then. And the best chum (ground menhaden) will also be the freshest (even though frozen) available and the menhaden netted from the area closest to where you will be fishing. 

Come summertime when the Norfolk spot show up, most rockfish will only have eyes for them. Live-lining the little spot will have outstanding success everywhere they are available. Bigger stripers, though, will definitely and eagerly cheat. A just legal-sized (nine inch) croaker, fished live on a circle hook, has seduced many a lunker. 

All of these tips are dependent on many variables. The wind velocity and direction for instance, not only locally but all the way to the Atlantic, can confound any tide or current table. Nighttime cloud cover will negate any moonlight forecasts and bait recommendations can vary with location and the peculiarity of individual fish. 

There is, ultimately, only one effective choice that an angler can make. And for that, see rule number one. 



Friday, May 1 and the opening of the rockfish trophy season is upon us and it is not one second too soon, with cabin fever running rampant. Fishing for sustenance is an exception to the mandated stay-at-home order [at press time], while keeping a safe distance from others, of course. 

 There is little to no reliable information on trophy rockfish availability, location nor density in recent days. However, I will predict that the bite should be better than ever. With so few people on the Chesapeake, stripers should be unwary. The traditional slow trolling methods will again produce the best results and the traditional colors of white, yellow and/or chartreuse will prove the most effective. Big bucktails adorned with Sassy Shad bodies will also be a top bait choice. The fish will be cruising in the top 15 feet of the water column or on the bottom—few in between. Bait anglers should use fresh menhaden or jumbo bloodworms on big circle hooks. Minimum size of a trophy rock is 35 inches and the limit is one. When you’ve got your one keeper fish per person, the dictates of good sportsmanship demand that it’s time to change species. Blue catfish are a good next choice, fishing cut bait on the bottom the best method. Cut the fish into finger-sized pieces and fry it in peanut oil, then enjoy. Fishing season is officially here and all is well. Grab a rod and carry on.