The Fishery: Striped Bass, Speckled Trout, Redfish & More on Chesapeake Bay of Virginia
I have explored the waters of Virginia’s Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck since childhood. This region hosts some of the best saltwater fly fishing and light tackle fishing opportunities found on the Chesapeake Bay. Striped bass, aka striper, or locally called rockfish are the mainstay of the fishery. These aggressive gamefish provide reliable topwater action during low light hours. Speckled trout, aka specks, or spotted sea trout are a prized target with world-class trophy specimens cyclically present. Hard fighting redfish, aka red drum, or puppy drum round out the top species encountered in the shallows. We refer to a catch of striper, specks, and reds as a “Chesapeake slam.” Other common species encountered are high-flying Spanish mackerel and razor-teethed bluefish. Black drum, white perch, gray trout, flounder, croaker, sheepshead, and the occasional cobia round out the shallow water species list.
Peak season runs from mid-June to mid-October when gamefish congregate on shallow water structure to feed. Pier pilings, rock piles, grass flats and oyster reefs create ambush areas for predatory fish looking to forage on the abundance of food found in the shallows. The gamefish menu consists of crabs, shrimp, worms, and small baitfish like silversides or anchovies. The most important forage fish in Chesapeake Bay is a filter-feeding planktivore named the Atlantic menhaden. Schools of juvenile menhaden, known as peanut bunker, use shallow water as a nursey area during the warm months of the year and provide a high-protein food source for predators.
In my youth, I pioneered the use of menhaden as live chum on the Chesapeake Bay. During a typical guided fishing trip, I load my boat livewells with peanut bunker caught using a cast net. We transport these baitfish to the fishing grounds where I then release individual menhaden. The free-swimming baitfish travel along the water’s surface where they are pursed by hungry predators. The water erupts in visual and audible explosions as gamefish crash the fleeing bait. Fly fishing and light tackle anglers then sight cast to the surface activity. This form of fishing is very exciting and allows me to quickly determine the presence of gamefish instead of wasting valuable time prospecting unproductive water. Hopefully, I will have the opportunity to show you firsthand what fly fishing and light tackle fishing on the Chesapeake Bay of Virginia is all about!