Sporting Life

Angler Ivor van Heerden caught a 45-inch striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay May 4, 2021. Photo: Tom Wazniak vai MD Fisheries Service DNR Flickr.

Trophy Season is Heart of Fishing Entree

By Dennis Doyle

It’s been said that the best way to enjoy a fine meal is to always begin (after the salad) in the heart of your entree. If you have a nice steak, chop, or a plump fillet, cut into the very center—the juiciest, richest, best tasting part—and start there. It will queue up all of your senses to expect more of the same and you’ll actually increase the overall enjoyment of the entire meal.

Such is the pattern for the Chesapeake’s fishing season.

The trophy rockfish season opened May 1, an opportunity at the biggest, wildest striped bass you’ll encounter the whole of the coming year. Begin your quest here and now. The thrill of the pull of a really big swimmer will never leave you. You’ll anticipate every subsequent strike with extra anticipation. And smaller fish won’t disappoint, they’ll just encourage your efforts.

Trolling a spread of big baits is the go-to tactic for trophy rock fishing; it gives you the best chance at tempting a big migrator to slam one of your offerings. Bucktails of various large sizes adorned with 6-to 12-inch Sassy Shad and presented from 15 feet down to the bottom (watch your marks) usually present the mouthful large enough to interest a trophy. A 30- to 50-pound conventional tackle is necessary to handle the lure/water resistance and the potential fight of an ocean run striper.

Since they are in spawning mode and traveling on nature’s whim, there is little hope of anticipating exactly where they will be or when, so constantly presenting baits along their traditional lanes of ingress and egress of the Bay gives trophy anglers their best chance of interception. The migrating stripers initially travel at a 15-foot depth during May (temperature comfort) but motor noise may quickly drive them deeper once the season starts. White, chartreuse, yellow or green are invariably the lure colors of spring.

With just a 17-foot skiff, trolling in the early season has never been much of an option for me, there’s usually been just too much wind for a comfortable outing. However, given the chance for mild days, I’m ready this season. I’ve laid in a supply of Rapala Magnum diving lures in various sizes that can cover the water column at just the right depths and hopefully not provide too much resistance for my medium-heavy bait fishing tackle.

I plan on dragging just four rods, two at a 15-foot depth and two at 30 to 40 feet down. The spread of plugs should make enough water noise with their flashing, vigorous action to entice a trophy sized rock that happens to be nearby to give a look. I’m going with both bright colored plugs, natural and bunker patterns and keeping my fingers crossed. This will be a long shot.

Chumming and chunking with menhaden (bunker) is my fallback spring tactic. I’ve actually had great results the last few spring seasons doing this. A chum bag deep on a weighted line and a surface bag on top has been my technique for providing a broad scent trail for hungry fish looking for an easy meal. Keeping fresh cut bait in the water, periodic chunking and plenty of patience has definitely tempted a fair number of big fish my way.

Shore anglers will do well to use the biggest bloodworms or the freshest menhaden possible, changing out the big worms when they get pale, and the cut menhaden every 20 minutes. Best of luck to all.