Wild Chesapeake: Insider Tips for Catch & Release Rockfish

You may know Captain Chris Dollar from his column in Chesapeake Bay Magazine, Wild Chesapeake. Now, the expert angler and outdoorsman brings his most up-to-date insight to the Bay Bulletin. Check in weekly to see where the fish are biting, and which gear is working right now.

 

You don’t need me to tell you it’s been a brutally cold spring. Spotty weather has made catch-and-release striper fishing less than ideal. I predict that’ll change this week, especially on the Susquehanna Flats, where water temps and water quality (sediment) really drives the catching. 

 Capt. Ryan Popp with a typical male striper caught on the Susquehanna Flats during the C&R season. Photo: Capt. Chris D. Dollar/CD Outdoors

Capt. Ryan Popp with a typical male striper caught on the Susquehanna Flats during the C&R season. Photo: Capt. Chris D. Dollar/CD Outdoors

Now in its second decade, even if the luster has dulled from of its heyday the Flats still offers quality C&R fishing with the occasional shot at true trophy rock in skinny water. Here are suggestions to increase your odds.

Tactics: Hunt for the warmer water. A few degree bump makes a big difference between catching, or not. Be like Elmer—Very, very quiet when drifting the Flats. And don’t jump the line when drifting the same patch of water as others. “Clock” casts—9 a.m.-3 p.m.—cover more water. Rockfish staging in the upper Chesapeake fuel up on shads and herrings also on spawning runs. Lures and flies should resemble their profile.

LT Outfits: Medium-heavy rods (fast action, 6’6”-7’) matched to a 3500 reel or bigger loaded with 15-20-lb. test and 24” fluorocarbon leader of 30-pound test. I’m a St. Croix and Shimano fan.

Plastics: Straight and paddle tailed soft plastics from Bust ’Em Baits, BKDs, Z-Man Hogy’s  and Bass Assassins (6” to 10”) are popular for a reason—they catch rockfish. Jigheads 1/2 to 1.5 ounces. Stick a glass rattle in the tail or nose of your favorite soft plastic.

Topwater Poppers: Noisy floating plugs bring big boils, especially during low light. Standards include Stillwater Smack-its and Chug Bugs, but the Whopper Plopper might catch, too.

Crankbaits & Spoons: These are also “must haves.” My go-tos include the Rapala X-Rap and Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow. Tony spoons in size #17 or bigger also rank. 

Fly Gear & Flies: Rods in 9-10 weight with either intermediate or sink tip lines. The Half & Half is the unbeatable combo of the Deceiver and Clouser flies, the two best saltwater flies ever. Tie in white/gray, or white/chartreuse, sizes 3/0-4/0. 

Careful Release & Tools: Leave rock in water whenever possible. One or photos is enough. Rubber nets, dehookers, pliers a must.

-Capt. Chris D. Dollar

Bay Bulletin