Wild Chesapeake: Where, When and How to Catch Rockfish this Week

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.

Fall can be primetime for Chesapeake rockfish. (Photo by Capt. Chris D. Dollar/CD Outdoors)

I’m reaching here, but there’s a glint of a silver lining to these lost fishing days caused by near-gales: more time to work on waterfowl blinds and re-rig decoys. In Virginia, both ducks and Canada geese are in season from November 21 to December 2; Maryland’s second duck split runs November 10 through 23, with the first split of Canada goose season opening November 17, and ending the day after Thanksgiving, November 23. Maryland’s fall turkey season runs through Sunday, November 4 in Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties.

Best of luck to all anglers taking part in the Fish For A Cure tournament this weekend.

I’d wager many casual small-boat anglers have had enough of playing weather roulette and have winterized their fishing crafts. Not me; a glutton for disappointment perhaps, but I plan to fish through the end of the year. It’s definitely been an off fall for as far as rockfishing goes for me in the Chester River. It’s been virtually devoid of quantity and quality stripers. The chief suspect is an inundation of fresh water resulting in fewer bunker. I’m not saying we’re seeing the beginnings of a dip in striper numbers, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Most upper Bay charter skippers I spoke with this week have switched to trolling parachutes and rubber swim baits (five, six and seven inches) either in tandem or on umbrella rigs. I’d drag them in colors of pearl and glitter chartreuse. If jigging is your thing, avoid a slack tide or roaring tide. Think like Goldielocks: you need the tide and current to be just right. BKDs, Z-Mans, Bust Em Baits, and the like, are catching. Tip of the week: try electric chicken-type colors (think cotton candy or bubble gum.) The birds will tip you off to the action, but approach the school at an idle so as not to drive the fish down. The better grade of rockfish are holding deeper, in depths from 27 to 40 feet. Areas to try include Buoys 83 and 85a and south from Wild Grounds to Chesapeake Beach, as well as Breezy Point to Cedar Point. The Solomons area has rockfish, welcome news considering they haven’t had a summer season in years. Tangier Sound is good, but Point Lookout has been too rough for most anglers.

In Virginia you may find chunky stripers in relatively skinny water on both sides of the Bay, but they’ll move to deeper water soon. Looking for speckled trout or puppy drum (redfish in the 18- to 28-inch class)? Cast leadhead jigs tipped with a twister tail or Gulp!, in Rude or Lynnhaven inlets and Eastern Shore creeks. Larger red drum are still being caught in the surf from Sandbridge to Hatteras.

Everyone is struggling with the weather, perhaps no one more than the coastal party boat fleet. And that’s frustrating because there are good numbers of sea bass and trigger on the wrecks and reefs. Tautog fishing will improve as water temps drop.

And now, forgive me as I briefly step up on my conservation soap box: Take only the rockfish you truly plan to eat this winter, and release the rest. Use a dehooker if on a school of undersized stripers, and mash down those barbs. If you play the fish properly, you don’t need ’em.

Maryland’s Fishery service DNR continues its fall trout stocking, and chain pickerel and panfish are hitting spinnerbaits, tube jigs and flies in creeks around fallen timber and other structures.