Wild Chesapeake: Tundra Swans, Loons Mean Winter is Calling

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.

Some look to the calendar to know when winter officially starts. Not me.

Two surefire signs are the arrival of tundra swans and the gathering of loons. I saw both while fishing on Eastern Bay on Monday afternoon. We only caught small rockfish, but they sure were pretty. The larger marks I spied on the fish-finder had no interest in smacking our lures. I blame the slack tide. The small striper bite in Eastern Bay was pretty good for most of last week, but seems to be winding down as water temps hover around 50 degrees. Nonetheless, I’d give it another couple of weeks before looking elsewhere. The Upper Bay has been off in recent weeks. I don’t know why. However, parachutes tipped with six-inch shads in-tandem trolled from 84A to the Hill has been productive for some professionals and their followers. 

Philip Spuler (dad) and his daughters (left to right) Laura and Naomi Spuler of Chesapeake Beach got a nice rockfish, fishing with Capt. Drew Payne on the charter boat T he Big Worm. (Photo courtesy Capt. Drew Payne, Big Worm Charters.)

Otherwise, the word is, “go south” if you want a Thanksgiving rockfish. The action has been at the mouth of the Choptank, off of the Power Plant, around the top of Tangier Sound, and off of Point Lookout where larger stripers have shown up. Jigging, trolling and even fly fishing have been productive. Usually, the birds will tip you off. Understand that every day is different and what was hot yesterday might not be the case today.

Housekeeping Note: Maryland’s 2018 striper season ends on Dec. 15, 2018, NOT Dec. 20, 2018 as is listed on some websites. You can still fish for stripers on a catch and release basis until March 1, 2019 when certain spawning areas will close to any targeted striper fishing.

Virginia anglers are steady at it as evident by reports from Long Bay Pointe Bait & Tackle in Virginia Beach, which weighed a lot of nice speckled trout over the weekend including a beauty from Casey Copeland that weighed 5-pounds, 12-ounces. Try soft-plastic swim baits inside Lynnhaven and Rudee inlets, the Poquoson Flats area, and the Eastern Shore creeks. Robust rockfish numbers are being reported on the Elizabeth, James, and York rivers. Try the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel or the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel. December is usually the best month for trophy stripers in the Commonwealth.

Virginia Bay waters are in the lower 60s, and, once it dips into the upper 50s we can expect the tautog bite to improve. Coastal head boats are running sea bass trips when the weather cooperates, and they’re catching plenty of sea bass as well as some flounder, triggerfish and the last of the season’s bluefish. 

Meanwhile, Maryland’s first weekend duck season reports are encouraging as gunners fared pretty well in what felt to me like near gale conditions on Saturday. For the record, I went out, but the lone opportunity was a trio of wood ducks that appeared out of the ether and flew much too fast to get a bead on them. Such is life. Hunters in farm impoundments took mostly mallards and black ducks while marsh hunters saw gadwalls and teal. Hunters in woodland spots took woodies. Go figure.

And now for some conservation news: Rumors of last-minute changes to the 2018-19 Canada goose season are just that, rumors. Our traditional season will kick off as usual on November 17 and run through Nov. 23, with a two-bird per-person per-day limit. Next year, however, expect the Chesapeake region (MD, DE, VA) to cut back to a daily bag limit of one goose with a 30-day season that’ll almost certainly be held in two splits between November 15 and February 5. Low brood success estimates in recent years precipitated the action by the Atlantic Flyway Council.

More than two years ago the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) took initial steps to conserve forage species like chub (tinker) mackerel, an important food source for top ocean predators. As part of that process the MAFMC is seeking public feedback on a draft amendment that would institute a formal management plan to conserve chub mackerel off of the U.S. east coast. Two public hearings will take place in the Chesapeake region: December 3 in Virginia Beach at 6 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn, Virginia Beach Oceanfront. 3315 Atlantic Avenue and Dec. 4 in Berlin, Md. at 6 p.m. in the Worcester County Library, 11107 Cathell Road. You can read about the amendment and the management alternatives at or contact Contact Julia Beaty at [email protected] or (302) 526-5250. Written comments will be accepted through January 18, 2019.

Captain Chris Dollar is a professional fishing guide, tackle shop owner, all-around Chesapeake outdoorsman and writer with more than 25 years experience in avoiding office work.