Sporting Life

Frank Tuma of Annapolis.

One Last Rockfish

By Dennis Doyle

The crispness of these last days in November tends to give one an extra motivation to get on the water one more time. I’m not sure whether it’s the notion that winter will soon close in around us, or that the cold temperatures may harken the arrival of some big wintering rockfish. Both, however, are sufficient reason to brave the cold.

It’s difficult in the extreme this season to find rockfish of a size that once practically filled the Chesapeake but it is still possible. This time of year brings the distinct possibility of big migrating rockfish fresh from the Atlantic to feast on yearling menhaden and perch, not to mention snacking on the silversides and Bay anchovies that remain in our waters.

Technique, timing and tenacity are three things critical to success in the late season as well as a healthy dose of luck. While relentlessly trolling bigger baits, umbrella rigs and chandeliers is one strategy that can produce a quality fish this time of year, if you’re a light tackle angler that isn’t an option. Bouncing a bucktail with a lip-hooked bull minnow down 30 feet or more, though, has always had a decent chance of seducing one last good fish.

The Norfolk spot have been driven out of the Bay by the colder water and the urge to head for wintering grounds, therefore they are no longer available for live-lining, a reliable producer of bigger rock. But it’s prudent to recall that before the spot arrived this past summer, hungry rockfish were eating small white perch with just as much abandon. They’ll do that again once they realize the spot are gone.

The Bay Bridge, also known as the Chesapeake’s Giant Rockfish Magnet, is once again a prime location for attracting wandering stripers, especially the migrators that just arrived and are getting their Bay bearings. Presenting a small white perch down deep among the pilings is another way to increase your odds of hooking up with a fish that will test your drag. The tough little perch also stay frisky and swim deep a long time in the colder waters, a real bonus compared to the more delicate summertime spot.

I keep a couple of Abu bait-casting reels filled with 50-pound braid with a few feet of 30-pound top shelf fluorocarbon leader just for this effort. The heavy braid not so much for its strength but for its ability to withstand the stress of getting wrapped around and seesawed back out of the rough pilings.  Neither mono nor light braid will hold up long to big fish fouled on a barnacled structure.

Live-lining smaller perch at the mouths of the tribs can also be excellent this time of year, particularly late afternoon into the evenings when small pods of marauding rock will venture into relatively shallow water to hunt out the last of the perch and peanut bunker finally abandoning the headwaters.

Stealth is important in skinny water when drifting the perch and permitting the baits to wander 30 and 40 yards away from the boat is sometimes an essential tactic when tidal currents are light. With stiffer current, anchoring on the river mouth’s channel edges and drifting back weighted, lip-hooked perch near the bottom till well after dark can put that one last lunker in your cooler.



There’s fish still available in the Bay and when you can get out on the water they are at their best tablewise. Fat from the fall feed-up, both rockfish (open till Dec.10) and white perch (open year round) are prime dinner entrees. Try around the Bay Bridge structures for rockfish or just south of the Eastern Shore rockpile and the mouth of the Eastern Bay for prime white perch territory.