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Our Spring Trophy Saltwater Stripers

Our Spring Trophy Saltwater Stripers
The Chesapeake Bay offers Delmarva anglers a spring prescription for the winter blues: some topnotch striper fishing.

Captain Payne puts his clients on large stripers as they exit the upper bay along channels. These stripers hit parachute rigs and are typical in late April and early May.
Photo by Bob Monroe.

The Chesapeake Bay has long been known as the East Coast's best striper nursery. During the spring some of the biggest striped bass enter its waters to spawn providing anglers with the chance of a lifetime at not only a big fish but quality fishing in general. No matter where around the bay you live we have you covered here.

If you reside in the upper Maryland area and are looking to hook up with a trophy rockfish, May is a good time to do so. Although the season comes in during mid-April, many larger fish are still around in May and can be caught trolling. Our pro source for fishing the waters around Chesapeake Beach is Captain Drew Payne, who owns The Worm, a 45 foot custom built boat that can take up to 35 passengers. Capt. Payne has what some anglers may consider to be a unique approach to catching trophy rockfish. He strictly trolls and he only does so when he has fish under the boat.

After the rockfish have finished up spawning in the spring they are chasing bait while they migrate down the bay towards the ocean. They generally follow the edge of the shipping channel. This is where anglers need to begin looking. Because the fish are usually in the upper water column our captain likes to employ 20 to 22 lines on a set of planer boards. The planer boards allow him to cover a wide swath of the bay. He uses rods with Penn 309 reels spooled with either 50 pound test mono or braid line. Capt. Payne prefers to use lighter tackle than some may use because he wants his clients to be able to fight the fish. He suggests that anglers use a 6- to 8-ounce Ruby Lip parachure lure trimmed with a 9-inch shad and a 9/0 trailer hook. His favorite colors include purple, black and green.

Captain Payne will not pass up an opportunity to use a large Drone spoon either. As this issue reaches your hands, Drone should be stocking several new colors that Captain Payne helped create, including some purples with gold tape and an Electric Green variation. Look for these spoons in your local tackle shop. Captain Payne teamed up with the company representatives to create what he knew to be a deadly color combination for the Maryland waters.

Once he finds the bait fish, he does not just drop the lines over. Instead he circles the bait to watch for fish and then puts out his lines. If the fish are holding deeper in the water column he slows his boat to a crawl to allow the presentation to get to the correct depth. Sometimes this means he is going two miles an hour.

If this type of fishing is new to you or you want to see first hand how it is done, consider giving Capt. Payne a call at 410-474-4428. His website is full of good information that is up to date.

Our middle bay source is Captain Ryan Rogers. His normal area of operations in May is from Point Lookout, Maryland down to the Northern Neck Reef. Captain Ryan pilots The Midnight Sun, which is 50 feet long and comfortably fishes a large crew out of Smith Point, Virginia where he can effectively fish both Virginia and Maryland waters.

Unlike the upper and lower bay fishing, the striped bass action in the middle bay is transitioning during May and anglers need to be very versatile to be successful. Anglers also have to be aware of the regulations for the waters they are fishing. Maryland waters begin just north of Reedville at Smith Point and the size limits and creel limits are different for Maryland. Typically during the first part of May, Maryland anglers are permitted one fish over 28 inches per day for the trophy season. After mid May the limits change to two fish greater than 18 inches per day, per person, with only one fish over 28 inches allowed.

However, anglers fishing in Virginia waters must not keep a fish during the first two weeks in May unless it measures over 32 inches in length -- and then a catch report is required. That transitions to a typical limit of two fish in mid May with fish being creeled between 18-28 inches with one permitted over 32 inches.

Finding the fish is obviously the first thing an angler needs to do. Our guide stresses the importance of not only using a good fish finder but knowing how to read it well too.

"A fish finder can be the angler's best friend if he or she knows how to read it well. Anglers should keep watching their finder and when they get into fish they can determine exactly what they need to look for next time. The more a finder is used the better an angler should become at using it."


The tide can play into how well the fish hit. Captain Ryan observes that slack tides and hard running tides tend to create situations where the rockfish won't chase bait as readily as they will in a moving tide that is neither hard nor slack.

Again, finding bait is key to finding fish. The big stripers during early May are usually on the channel edges where bunker are found. It is tough to find fish on the shallow bars or just off the beach. Look for schools of baitfish along the channel and then look for large marks under the bait or near the bait before putting out lines. Rarely will there be birds working the action. You really need to trust your fish finder at this time of year. The fish can be scattered which is the reason most charter captains have gone to using planer boards to cover a wide area.

Captain Ryan noted that the transition from early May to mid May means anglers move from trolling for large rockfish to chumming for them. During the early portion of the month the water is still cool but is rapidly warming to near 70 degrees. Many of the striped bass are near the shipping channel moving up or down the bay feeding as they go.

Because the water is warmer than it was during the winter months, the fish tend to be higher in the water column. This is when Capt. Ryan and First Mate Kenny employ side planers to get numerous baits out. The side planers are composed of three large pieces of wood that are spaced evenly apart with long bolts. A large eye ring is used to attach weed whacker line from the planer to the boat. These boards are put out (one on each side of the boat) where they allow multiple lines to be run. Captain Ryan and his mate generally run a total of 16 to 20 rigs from these planer boards, which allows them to cover an area totaling at least 200 feet wide.

Captain Ryan can cover more water this way. He rigs the baits to run from fifteen feet in depth up to the surface. Until a few fish hit one part

icular color of parachute rigs, Capt. Ryan serves up a variety of colors and sizes. There often is no real rhyme or reason the fish are attracted to one color. Although they may like a chartreuse during any given hour, the very next tide change may put them on a white color. Once the fish select a color they are interested in the rigs are slowly changed out to accommodate their desires.

Anglers who prefer to chum will find this to be more effective later in May once the water warms enough that the fish are settling down and beginning to school.

Popular chumming areas for the middle bay area is the Northern Neck Reef, the Asphalt Pile, the Middle Grounds or the channel edges. Captain Ryan has really perfected chumming and loves to see his clients use light tackle to fight rockfish to the boat. Fifteen-pound test line on an Ugly Stik mated with a spinning reel is a perfect set up for spring rockfish. The chumming often produces fish in the 20-30 inch class, which is a bit smaller than the trolled fish but still quite a fight on light tackle. This size class of fish is the best eating too. Use a fluorocarbon leader with the smallest hook you can get away with. The rockfish shy away from large hooks that are visible. A 1/0 or possibly a 2/0 with just enough weight to get a fresh chunk of bunker down to the fish is sufficient. Bunker can be bought locally in Reedville at any seafood place. As with trolling, a moving tide is best for chumming. Make sure your anchor line does not let you drift out past the structure and away from the fish.

Should you need a charter or lesson on where or how to catch fish in the middle bay area, Captain Ryan can be reached at 804-580-0245 or You can view his latest fishing reports at

The lower bay fishery has about tapped out for trophy fish by mid-May. Early May anglers may get tied up with a large fish in the 36-inch range, but most of the fish will measure less than that. Captain B.J. Jenkins has been fishing the whole Chesapeake Bay for a very long time. He caters to anglers looking to fish for any species but does focus quite a bit of his effort in May on stripers due to clientele interest. Captain Jenkins operates the Challenger II, which is a 41-foot Sportfisher boat that fishes up to 19 anglers out of the Virginia Beach area. His favorite May hotspots are the "Islands" and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel (CBBT), or "tubes" as the locals call them.

Captain Jenkins readily puts his anglers on fat 26-28 inch rockfish. By mid-May anglers will find that the water is warming up fast. Captain Jenkins likes to see his clients have fun casting to fish around the tubes or the rocks at the "Islands," particularly the third and fourth islands and the pilings around the islands.

"The rockfish tend to congregate around the structure the tubes and the islands offer," he said. "There is plenty of rock structure and the pilings are also a draw as well."

Our source uses his fish finder to locate fish congregated or staged in these areas and then he motors as carefully and quietly as possible uptide of them.

Captain Jenkins cautions that the tide runs hard in the areas he fishes and the water between the islands is funneled even more. Because of the strong tide situation, Captain Jenkins puts the boat on the upper tide side of the structure and has his clients let out their lines behind the boat, allowing baits to drift back into the structure where they can be worked properly.

He finds that bucktail jigs work well. His favorite baits to use on a strong tide are Storm lures with Mylar for better flash and bucktail jigs with a sassy shad. He uses a heavier jig head for stronger tides and has his clients let the baits get down to the bottom before they begin twitching them back to the boat. It is important to let the lures go right back into the rocks where the fish are staged.

Another favorite method of catching stripers at the CBBT is to use live bait. Spot are particularly good bait for anglers to use. Many bait shops and local seafood markets will carry spot. These small panfish are sought after food by hungry stripers. Small croake are also very good bait for a hungry striper. After locating fish and positioning his boat in the same manner as he would for casting lures, Captain Jenkins has his clients drop a specially made bottom rig down into the structure to the fish. Anglers rarely wait long for a strike to occur when using live bait.

"I like to use a 6- to 8-ounce weight tied 2 feet below the 4-foot leader, which has a Gamakatsu 8/0 circle hook tied to it. Then I have my baitfish hooked right at the dorsal fin."

The amount of weight and length of leader can vary depending on tidal and current conditions as well as the depth of the structure. When the fish hit, Captain Jenkins encourages his clients to drop the rod for a few seconds and then simply lift it up and hold on.

Captain B.J. Jenkins can be contacted at 757-404-5406 or you can try e-mailing him at

No matter where you want to slip your boat into the waters of the Chesapeake there is bound to be excellent fishing nearby. If you want to see how it is done in person please call one of the three charter captains to set up a trip. Getting a group of guys together to share the cost and not having to tow a boat is worth the money particularly when our three captains are more than willing to share their knowledge with you so you can learn to do it on your own.

Delaware has a striped bass season as well. We were able to chat with Craig Shirey of the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife where he serves as a fisheries administrator. Shirey not only is a fisheries administrator but he enjoys striper fishing as well. He explained that the Delaware striped bass season is open for harvest below or south of the C &D Canal on the Delaware River. This means that this area of the Delaware River and the Delaware Bay is open for fishing. More of Delaware waters are open for striped bass harvest than are closed in May. Most of the largest females have already moved up the river to spawn and are already coming back down the bay to head to the ocean to migrate. This is a great opportunity for anglers to catch a trophy rockfish after it has spawned. In the lower bay the fishing is primarily by trolling as it is done in Maryland (see above).

In the middle to upper bay the water is more turbid and anglers find that bottom fishing with cut bunker or menhaden is the best way to go. Anglers use a fish finder rig composed of a sliding sinker of varying weight (depending on the tide flow) and a big circle hook covered with cutbait. Fishing with these rigs near structure such as lighthouses is very good.

Anglers wanting to cast lures may try big bucktails with twister tail grubs in white or use big lipped diving plugs. Shirey reports that 30- to 38-inch rockfish are not uncommon at this time of year. Two fish may be creeled if they exceed 28 inches in length.

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