The Upper Chesapeake Bay is home to some monster fish, but it’s not as easy as just launching your boat and flipping some docks. There are a lot of variables that need to be taken into consideration if you want to land a trophy!
Tides, winds, and weather
For many of us, fishing tidal water can be really confusing. The fish are dominated by it. If the tide isn’t right, you can pretty much lay down and take a nap because that’s probably what the fish are doing. Bites can be really hard to get. So what’s the right and wrong tide, and how can you know when the tide is moving? There are many programs that can provide that information for you. Most of the graphs today have tidal information in them. This is key, because it will force you to have to “chase the tide” to stay with the best fishing. What that means is that when you fish a place like this with different creeks and bays, the tide will be at different stages during different times of the day. What you’re looking for, is the fifteen minutes before “low tide”. So if the lowest tide is at 3:30pm, the best fishing will be from 3:15-3:30 in that geographic location. Here’s an example of how chasing the tide is important. I’m fishing in the bay, and I know that the fish are keying on main lake riprap points in 7 feet of water, with access to 20 feet. I have several places like that that I have identified. Some are in Elk Creek, some are in Swan Creek, and some are in Dyer Creek. I need to know when that ideal time of day (the fifteen minutes before low tide) takes place in each of those places. I look and here’s what I find:
Dyer Creek 3:30pm
Elk Creek 4:00pm
Swan Creek 5:59 pm
This tells me that in order for me to make it to Elk Creek in time to catch the best tide, I will have to leave quickly from Dyer creek, or I’ll miss it. If I miss that peak time, I can’t get it back. This is why tide fishing is such a gamble, because I’ll have to leave good fish, to take the chance that good fish will be waiting, hoping that I’ll be the only person on that second spot. It’s what makes fishing tidal water such a huge gamble. You also have to know what the wind is doing. This is as much of a safety precaution as it is a key component to catching fish. If you’re looking for a particular depth, you’ve got to know the wind and direction. Too much wind in or out of a creek can alter water depth by as much as 4 feet, and can also create hazardous conditions when traveling from one spot to the next, especially across the flats. This area is like a big open lake that’s very shallow at low tide, and when the tides are running one way and the wind is blowing the opposite way, you get conditions that are just plain nautical. If the wind is blowing over 10mph, I would recommend that you stay off the water, but if you must go you should stick to the creeks and not try to go out on the flats. Even if you think you can handle big water, you could beach your boat on a shallow area and what would follow would be bad. It’s also a good idea to stop and talk to people at a local shop to ask how much rain they’ve had. If there’s been a fair amount of rain recently, it’s probably a safe bet that at least one side of the bay will be like chocolate milk from runoff. Make no mistake, you’re not ever going to find water gin clear in the Upper Chesapeake, but flooded creeks will also bring logs, branches, and other hazardous debris that will give you a headache.
Where are the fish?
If you’re the type of angler who loves fishing structure, this is like heaven on earth. Laydowns, piers, pilings, riprap, points, ledges, docks, shoals, matts; the Upper Chesapeake Bay has it all. Elk Creek, for example, has all of that and lots of it. And don’t overlook old pilings left behind by docks and piers that have long rotted away to the point of being used. Those places can hold fish just as well as the others, particularly because it’s a great place for a bed or an ambush point and because they’re frequently passed over by people who would think the 20×20 foot dock ten feet away is so much better. Not necessarily so. The fish above came off an isolated rotten pier, in a group of about 40 like it. It was roughly 30 yards from a beautiful dock with a roof and three boat lifts. We caught a total of five fish off that one pier. The second biggest is pictured below.
So that’s a 7.5, a 6.12, and three 3 pounders, off one rotten pier, all in the last 15 minutes before low tide, and all on pitching baits. Right now the fish are moving up fast and it’s a feeding frenzy. This place holds huge fish, but this is your best chance to catch a giant right now when the fish are chomping.
What to throw?
You can catch fish doing just about anything right now. My first fish of the day was on my second cast and it was about a 15 pound carp that I caught on a lipless crank bait fishing riprap on the main lake in about 7 feet of water. While I admit that the reason why I went there was the allure of catching a ten pound largemouth, the stripers are about to spawn as well, which can deliver strikes from fish in the 30-50 pound range. The best fish were caught on flipping baits: jigs, and a new bait called a Mendota Rig, which is a pitching bait made by Slop Frog. Use dark colors when flipping, especially blue and black with an Okeechobee Craw trailer of some kind, and heavy braid. The water clarity is horrible, so don’t worry about a leader. I was using a Dobyns 703C which is perfect for 1/2 oz jigs, with a Shimano Chronarch 201E7, 7.0:1 spooled with 50lb RZ-8 PE Braid by Cortland Line Company.
For reaction baits use bright colors like chartreuse or red, and my favorites are a 1 1/2 oz Super Trap in chartreuse, a Red 3DB VIBE(S), or a Skinny Dipper Shiner with a 1/2oz Elite Tungsten Swimbait Head. For those I like the Dobyns Paul Mueller Signature Series 805CBGLASS with the new Shimano Metanium 6.2:1 and 10lb Seaguar InvizX. This rod was designed by Paul to make bombing casts, and it felt like the further I could cast my baits, the more bites I got. And it handled that big carp no problem! For anyone who happens to be traveling from the North, you can get all these baits from Susquehanna Fishing Tackle in Pennsylvania near the Maryland border. If you’re coming up from the South or if you need a license, you can stop at Herb’s Tackle Shop in North East. Both places are staffed with people who have a wealth of information about what the fish are doing. And if you follow me on Fishidy, you’ll be able to see exactly where I caught that big girl at the top of this story!