Chesapeake Bay is a large bay on the U.S. east coast that borders three states and spans a length of about 200 miles long from Havre De Grace, Maryland at the northernmost tip all the way down to Norfolk, Virginia at the southern tip. The lower half of the bay is considered by many people to be the 'lower bay.' Some draw a horizontal line across from Lynnhaven Bay and consider from there and south the lower part.
The bay has 348 known species of finfish and 173 species of shellfish and more than 3,600 species of plant and animal life including lots of underwater grass vital for underwater habitats.
You can have a lot of fun fishing in the Chesapeake Bay during warm times of the year, and cold if you can stand it. But in order to have success, you must learn the best times to go fishing in the bay and the right fish species to target. Our Maryland resident and Chesapeake Bay expert shares his Lower Chesapeake Bay fishing hot spots with you in this extensive guide. Let's get started!
Where Is the Best Fishing Spot in the Chesapeake Bay?
Let's start off by saying, there really isn't only one good fishing spot in the Chesapeake Bay, there are many. We decided to cover the top five fishing locations in the bay for you to learn more about the area. Here is a list of the top five fishing options you should consider.
1. Chesapeake Bay Bridge
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge is massive. There are many different fish species to catch here, and it is a good spot to learn more about fishing. The Bridge-Tunnel connects the Virginia mainland with the Eastern Shore of Virginia, connecting Virginia Beach with the coast of Virginia. It is an award-winning structure that stretches for 17.6 miles.
This huge architectural wonder is one of the seven man-made wonders of the world. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel provides an excellent opportunity for some relaxation and to enjoy the beautiful scenery and sounds of the big bay. It is also a great vantage point for nature lovers and photographers.
More importantly, it is a hotspot for fishing with the striper action being the best in the entire region, possibly the whole east coast! So, if you happen to live close by or you want to charter a boat to go fishing for a day at the bridge, you'll be in good company. Summers can get crowded on the weekends because a lot of anglers have the same idea so go on weekdays if at all possible for a better experience.
2. Virginia Beach
Virginia Beach is located at the opening of the bay where the open ocean meets bay water. The surf fishing can be epic at times and it's always a good time to fish because there are a variety of species found here.
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Virginia beach has some great surf fishing and you can often see anglers wading in the water to catch fish from sunrise to sunset on warm days at the beach.
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3. Rocky Point Beach
Rocky Point Beach is another place in the Chesapeake Bay that is popular for fishing from the shore and also for launching boats. It is found in the upper bay region and has, like other places in the bay, many different fish species to catch. Rocky Point is one of the most visited beaches in Baltimore County Maryland. The sand is snow-white and the beach extends for more than 300 feet along the bay.
Rocky Point Beach Park is part of a 375-acre park and is home to stunning views of the Heart Miller Islands, the Craighill Light, and all sorts of wildlife species. There are 18 different picnic areas, a golf course, a boat ramp, snack houses, a pier, a place to learn sailing with small sailboats, and playgrounds for children. There is something for everyone to do here and it will be an enjoyable day trip for everyone.
The beach has a huge variety of local restaurants, attractions for families and singles, and entertainment of all kinds.
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4. Kiptopeke State Park
Fishing is also possible at Kiptopeke State Park, and many anglers choose to go here for the simple reason that the fishing pier is open 24 hours a day! This is one of those rare locations where you can fish all night.
You can fish for all kinds of fish in these waters like croaker, flounder, black sea bass, and spadefish. Kiptopeke State Park is pet-friendly, they even have a dog beach section that dog owners will appreciate.
The park is just a short 30 minutes drive from Virginia Beach. There is a boat launch and pier accessible to all visitors. The park is open from 6 am. to 10 pm. every day of the week.
This park has four big lodges, each with the capacity to hold 16 people. There is a campground where you can pitch a tent or roll up in your RV for a few nights of camping. If you have neither, there are the big cabins, some yurts, and a bunkhouse to choose from. There are over 5 miles of trails for hiking and biking, and you can explore the entire forested and campground areas for a variety of things to do.
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5. Tea Kettle Shoals
Tea Kettle Shoals is also located in the bay. It is a good spot to fish and catch catfish, rockfish, perch, bluefish at times, and some other fish like flounder. This is one of the traditional areas of the bay that were fished hard in the past and that makes a comeback every now and then as anglers remember it, return, and have good catches of rockfish and blues mostly.
What Is the Biggest Fish in the Chesapeake Bay?
Striped bass are the biggest fish you can catch in the Chesapeake Bay unless you're including sharks and then the great white shark would have to be on the list. Striped bass are also known as stripers and rockfish in the region. They target smaller fish like perch, and eels, and will even eat blue crabs, unfortunately. Striped bass are in direct competition with humans for this delicacy!
The striped bass population has endured some peaks and valleys over the decades in the Chesapeake Bay as they were heavily fished in the early 1980s and suffered a drastic cut in numbers for generations. Stripers are hard hit by a number of factors that influence their health in the bay like habitat loss due to pollution and expansion, hypoxia (low oxygen content), a lack of food to prey on, and diseases that affect them.
Recently there has been a resurgence of this popular species and numbers are back to something like what they used to be. Today, striped bass are caught in good numbers on bunker (menhaden), and herring primarily. They are also food for predatory sharks and birds that eat their young in the Chesapeake Bay.
While the species is delicious, and some people go to extremes to catch and eat them, there is a problem with these fish caught in the bay and you may not want to eat striped bass or bluefish caught there. The problem is with excess nutrients (nitrogen primarily) that runs off from people's lawns and other agricultural areas. Storm runoff, wastewater, septic contaminants, and pollution from the exhaust of automobiles can all contribute to an unhealthy water system. In Maine, they are advising not to eat any striped bass or bluefish.
Striped bass are often sighted in the spring as they head toward the many connecting rivers of the bay to spawn. The Conowingo Dam limits their movement in Maryland's Susquehanna River.
Fishing from the southeastern end of the bay to the north end of the bay can produce some big striped bass and it is always a highly targeted species. Please use caution in the amount that you eat as it is probably not at all good for you in any quantity.
Striped bass species are considered common and one of the best saltwater sport fish to target in the inshore areas in the northeastern section of the United States. They can grow quite large and will reach an excess of 80 lb. on rare occasions. The fish are fun to fish for with a variety of bait like artificial lures, live perch, cut bait, and even flies on a fly rod!
Many tributaries of the Hudson River are popular places for striped bass to spawn. They can be caught up and down the river to New York Bay.
There are also healthy populations of stripers on the west coast of California. They were introduced as a non-native species into the San Francisco Bay in 1879 when over 100 small fish from the Navesink River in New Jersey (east coast) were released with the hopes they would spawn. Later, in 1882 another 300 fish were released into the lower Suisun Bay of San Francisco.
Eventually, the fish were established in the bay and now are fished daily by hundreds of anglers looking for a healthy meal. Each year, a sizable run of striped bass spawns in the Sacramento River.
The introduction of striped bass into freshwater lakes in the United States has also been a big success. Stripers are anadromous fish and can live in freshwater or saltwater alike. The average size of striped bass in lakes is around 10 to 30 pounds and 20 to 35 inches long, but they can grow much bigger over the course of their 30-year lifespan and especially when they have access to plentiful prey like haddock and perch.
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Fishing Striped Bass in Freshwater and Saltwater
Most of the tackle required to catch the rockfish in freshwater and saltwater is basically the same. If you're going to be using artificial lures, you can start with a medium action rod and spinning reel in the 6000 class which should be about the right size. A 10 to 15 lb. test mono line or some heavier strength braid and 10-15 lb. mono or fluoro line leader can work fine too.
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Small 1/4 oz. to 1 oz. lures like bucktails or other jigs with soft bodies or minnow lures like Rapala and Rat-L-Trap lures should have good success if they're biting artificials.
For live bait, you can't beat freshly caught perch freelined on a hook. They also hit cut bait chunks of menhaden (pogies), and halibut, really any kind of cut bait works fine as the fish can't tell the species of fish you're using when it's all cut up anyway, can it? Only the smell in the water gives it a clue so try what you've got.
Of course, the big consideration when deciding to go for striped bass is the size of the fish that you intend on catching. If you use smaller lures at the surface you may catch smaller fish. To catch big lunkers you need to go deeper and use bigger bait or bigger artificial lures
Whether you're fishing in salt or freshwater for big striped bass, nothing beats a live perch or other fish you can catch in the area as bait. You just need to freeline it and be patient.
The Right Rod and Reel for Striped Bass
If you are targeting small stripers in the range of a couple of pounds, you can get away with a lightweight spinning or baitcasting reel around 3000 to 4000 class. In this case, a 7-foot light action rod can be a perfect match for the reel.
For larger striped bass, you will need to increase the strength of your gear considerably. For the really big bass, I would use an 8000 to 10000-level spinning reel and a medium to heavy action rod of about 7 feet in length.
Line strength should be 50 lb. of braided as your main line with 30 lb. leader if you're getting bites on a leader that thick. If not, you may switch to fluorocarbon line which is thinner but has less stretch. In that case, you should have no stronger than a medium-action rod that flexes a bit.
Something needs to give – to have some flexibility – and it's either your line, rod, or both. Otherwise, the hook will rip through the fish's mouth and you'll lose some fish.
If you're really going to be smart about it you will have a light to medium-action spinning rod outfit close by so you can switch over as needed. It's a bit difficult to use just one rod and swap out all of your gear. It's far better to have a couple of rods if legal in your area.
It isn't very often that people go fishing for striped bass from the shoreline or while wade fishing. Ideally, you will get out on a boat where you can target many different areas for fish. Piers, jetties, and bridges also work well as you can get into some deeper water with your bait or lures.
What Fish Are in Season in Virginia Chesapeake Bay?
In Chesapeake Bay, you can catch a lot of fish. It is common for anglers to go fishing in this area on any given day. With the help of other fishers, you can have a great time fishing in the Lower Chesapeake Bay. Here are some of the fish types that are commonly found in the waters of Chesapeake Bay.
The Chesapeake Bay is consistently a productive place to find these flat tasty fish. Fishing for flounder in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay is best as the water is warm enough for you to fish comfortably, especially during the warmer part of the year. Still, they are there in cooler weather too, and if you have the urge to go throw the kayak in the water, go ahead and go because you'll catch something!
September through December is regarded as the absolute hottest time to catch flounder in the bay. Fishing toward the peak of the high tide or the beginning of the outgoing tide will produce the most fish, but on most days you'll catch fish regardless. They always seem to be around.
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Try using live bait on the bottom with a sinker to keep it down low if the tide is strong. Menhaden or any small baitfish are great for flounder, who are really opportunistic feeders and not picky at all about what they attack. They'd probably attack a blob of pipe cleaners with a hook in it if you drag one through the sand.
Cut bait and artificial lures will also work on the bottom. The key is to get it down on the bottom where the flounder are hidden underneath sand or mud.
2. Striped Bass (Rockfish)
Rockfish (Striped bass) has a cult following of anglers in the region, and actually on the entire northeast coast of the U.S. Stripers here are what snook are to Florida anglers. Big fish that taste great!
The good thing is that striped bass are not too difficult to catch because they are usually plentiful and like a variety of bait and artificial lures. Fishing for rockfish in the Chesapeake Bay is a pastime that generations have taken part in and it isn't going away anytime soon!
Before early spring when people and fish are just getting used to the cold weather is a good time to get out there on the water if you're motivated to catch these striped fish. January and February are good months to start your new year's fishing on the bay and you'll probably catch fish.
As the water warms up during the year you'll catch more and more fish. Fish over rocky areas especially to find stripers. Many people fish with earthworms, blood worms, and grass shrimp to catch small stripers, redfish, white perch, trout, and flounder. Personally, I like to use baitfish for most of my live-bait fishing excursions.
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Bluefish are one of the most common fish along the entire eastern seaboard. They are voracious feeders and will attack cut bait of any kind, as well as bait fish and shiny lures pulled quickly through the water.
Bluefish are kind of like the piranha of North America. They are aggressive feeders and target just about anything they can. They readily eat butterfish, menhaden, anchovies, sea trout, croaker, shrimp, crabs, worms, other blues, and of course herring like every other predator fish.
They can often be found in large schools off piers and bridges where they are feeding on schools of baitfish. The annual migration is a great time to target these fish as they're traveling long distances and are hungry all the time.
Fishing from the months of May through October is usually considered the best time to catch these fish. They move to deeper water as the days heat up, but you can often catch them on very hot days at the surface as they destroy schools of baitfish.
You'll find bluefish in better numbers toward the mouth of the bay where the saltwater is more prevalent. They need saltwater and aren't that comfortable when the salt content dips.
4. Spanish Mackerel
Spanish mackerel is one of the most highly targeted fish you can catch when you go fishing in the Chesapeake Bay.
Spanish macks are beautiful fish as you can see in the image below. Dolphins, sharks, and tuna prey on mackerel. There are two species of mackerel in the bay, Spanish mackerel and king mackerel.
Mackerel prey primarily on baitfish such as menhaden and anchovies, but also love shrimp and squid. Spanish mackerel prey on other fish by corralling bait fish into small groups at the surface where they can have a better chance of catching some because the density of the bait is increased.
Spanish macks migrate yearly from Florida's east coast up along the eastern seaboard to the Chesapeake Bay in May and are found in the saltier habitat of the lower and mid-bay regions.
Cobia is another common sportfishing species found in this vast bay’s waters from June until the end of September typically.
Fishing for cobia with small fish - bait fish - by freelining them, can reach these great tasting fish. Try menhaden, halibut, shrimp, squid, Spanish sardines, cigar minnows, and any other small fish local to the area.
Cobia can be found inshore in water as shallow as 3 feet to 20 feet deep. They hang out near rocks, wrecks, piers, bridges, buoys, navigation markers, and any floating structures.
Fishing in Lower Chesapeake Bay hot spots can be great fun, and thousands of people jump on their boats and head out to fish this amazing fishery every year as the winter fades.
In cold weather regions, the weather affects the fish that are present during any time of the year, so knowing when Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, blues, stripers, sheepshead and other fish are near the bay is crucial.
The Chesapeake Bay is a massive fishing area where you can fish in a different spot every day for the rest of your life. It is best to fish in the Chesapeake Bay during the months of April through August. When the fish start to bite, many species of fish are active and can be easily caught.
Tight lines, and do let us know how you do in the comments section. We'd love to hear it!