Wild Chesapeake: Rockfish, Drum, and Vanishing Daylight

Chesapeake outdoor guide Captain Chris Dollar brings up-to-date insight to the Bay Bulletin. Check in weekly to see what’s happening out there.

After an extended summer, both black and red drum have begun their exodus from the Bay. Beth Synowiec landed this chunky black drum near Cape Henry. (Photo courtesy of Virginia Beach Sport Fishing; )

It seems fall is having trouble finding its rhythm for a true cooling pattern, and that’s kept water temperatures stuck in the mid 70s. But, every day we lose about a minute of daylight, which is another factor that triggers gamefish into feeding more aggressively to prepare for colder weather. By week’s end, a front will break up the warmer-than-usual temps. So, once the wind and rain ends, it ought to be “game on.”

On two of my trips last week, the topwater bite was better than I predicted despite the unsettled weather, and, in general, we experienced a better bite on the outgoing tide. Upper Bay anglers continue to catch good numbers of snapper blues with some pushing tailor size, and also rockfish from Poplar Island to Love Point. Anglers are mostly finding breaking fish, feeding on silversides or anchovies. Stripers in these frays are mostly undersized, so move downtide of the school or look for a blitz featuring larger gulls. Big birds and big stripers prefer big bait fish. The usual baits—ZMan, BKDs, Bust Ems—all catch, with albino glitter working best for me on contrasting color jig-heads.

The cat fishing on Tolley’s Bar, Hackett’s Point and the lumps north of the twin spans is spectacular. Cut spot or alewife on top-bottom or sliding rigs does the trick.

From Cedar Point to Point Lookout, the last of the Spanish mackerel are giving anglers a fun time. Fast troll Drone spoons using #1 or #2 planers, or find schools of breaking fish (the blues are with them) and toss metals like Li’l Bunker or Rain Minnows. Eastern Bay and the lower Choptank are pretty good.

True to its name, the crabbing in Crab Alley Bay is great right now. 

Virginia’s Chesapeake striper season opened October 4. Anglers can now keep two rockfish between 20 and 28 inches per day, only one of which can be over 28 inches with a two-fish limit. Fishermen are catching them off points and bars in the Piankatank, Potomac and Rappahannock on paddle-tailed plastics or topwater plugs. Fishermen also report catching small stripers around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel with some pretty blues in the mix. The same general areas are holding the season’s last sheepshead. Lynnhaven and Rudee inlets and similar locations are good for spot, croakers, and speckled trout.

After an extended summer stay, black and red drum have begun their Bay exodus. Target them off of the cape shoals, as well as in the surf where reports grow daily of better catches. On the coastal wrecks and reefs, expect to catch sea bass, triggers, flounder and the odd hake.

Maryland and Virginia blue-water anglers report the bite continues to be outstanding with plenty of mahi-mahi around lobster balls as well as wahoo, white marlin and even a few blue marlin. In Virginia, the charter fleet caught king mackerel in the 40- to 50-pound class. The Rockpile and the Washington Canyon from 50 to 100 fathoms earned mentions. Yellowfin tuna remain off of New York and New Jersey, but expect them to swim south soon.

In coastal back bays, focus on the channels leading to the ocean for keeper-sized flounder, which will hit live baits such as mullet, spot or small menhaden, or fish with bucktails and Gulp!-tipped jigs with bait strips or cast large swimbaits.