The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel (CBBT) stretches nearly 20 miles across the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, conveniently connecting Cape Charles on Virginia’s Eastern Shore to Virginia’s Tidewater region featuring the cities of Virginia Beach and Norfolk.
Most of the CBBT is bridges, however, there are also two separate tunnel sections that are each about a mile long. The tunnels are on the bottom of the bay, enabling big ships to sail over the tunnels and the vehicles inside them (the ships are too big to pass under the bridge sections of the CBBT). Tons of boulders have been piled on top of the tunnels to stabilize them, and fortunately for fishermen, the rocks also attract and hold a wide variety of baitfish and gamefish, including big flounder of 5 pounds to 15 pounds!
Drift Fish The Boulders
Drift fishing the boulders on top of the tunnels requires the use of heavy-duty tackle, such as conventional level-wind reels, spooled with superbraided lines or fusion lines, which are mounted on heavy, stiff rods. These thin-diameter lines quickly cut through the water to help keep the rig on or near the bottom, which is important if you want to be successful.
Heavy-duty tackle and a specialized technique are required to effectively fish the submerged rockpiles at Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.
Three-way swivel rigs are commonly used when drifting the CBBT rocks for flounder. A three-way swivel is tied to the end of the superbraided line with a palomar knot (an improved clinch knot can slip and fail when tied in superbraided lines). Attached to the second eye of the swivel, is a 2-foot piece of 50-pound-test monofilament or fluorocarbon leader, with a 6/0 hook tied to the other end. The rig is completed with a foot-long piece of monofilament tied to the bottom eye of the swivel. A loop is tied into the end of the mono to hold the sinker.
Sinker size is important, and bigger is better, including sinkers of 8 ounces, 10 ounces, and even 12 ounces! Heavy sinkers and thin-diameter line make it possible to drop the rig straight to the bottom, and to maintain steady contact with the rocks without the need to occasionally let out additional line. This is critical. If line has to be played out to maintain contact with the bottom as the boat drifts over the boulders, then the sinker will frequently get snagged between the rocks. It’s very important to use sinkers heavy enough keep the rig in steady contact with the rocks as it bounces over the boulders in a running current.
To begin a drift, position the boat up-current of the CBBT rockpile, disengage the spool so the rig drops to the bottom, and immediately stop line from coming off the reel the instant the rig hits bottom.
During the drift, the angler should occasionally jig their rig by raising and lowering the rod tip, and as the rod tip is lowered they should detect the sinker striking the rocks. If the rig fails to maintain contact with the bottom, the solution is to put on a heavier sinker. Letting out more line will only cause the rig to be dragged instead of bounced over the rocks, significantly increasing the chances the rig will be snagged in the rocks.
The water surrounding the tunnels is 45 feet to 60 feet deep, while the water depths over the boulders are 30 feet to 40 feet. As the boat begins to drift over the submerged rockpile, the water will get shallower. Take in line as needed to keep the rig straight down from the boat and to bounce the rig over the boulders. As the boat moves over the top of the rocks and then begins to drift over the downcurrent side of the rockpile, the water will get deeper, and it will be necessary to let out a little line to keep the rig on the bottom — this will be the only time during the drift that line is let out.
Big Baits, Big Flounder
Big baits catch big flounder. Productive baits for barn door flounder on the CBBT boulders include 7-inch to 9-inch strips of fresh cut croaker, bluefish and squid. Strip baits should not be cut into pennant shapes; instead, they should be the same width from end to end, as this makes the bait flutter instead of spin.
There will be no doubt when a heavy doormat flounder grabs the bait, as the rig will come to an instant stop. However, at other times, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a bite and when the sinker has thumped into a boulder. If a bite is suspected, the angler should immediately drop the rod tip and point it toward the fish, then set the hook and begin reeling the fish away from the rocks.
There will be times when the hookset comes up empty, which means there probably was not a bite to begin with. There’s nothing wrong in mistaking the sinker bouncing into a boulder with a strike. Just reel up, drop down, and start fishing again.
The more time you spend fishing the CBBT rockpiles, the better developed your sense of feel will become. And the better your chances will be of hooking a trophy flounder of a lifetime!
Making The Trip
The following contacts will provide you with directions to the CBBT and local boat ramps, additional tips on how to effectively fish the CBBT, and information on local hotels, restaurants and other accommodations:
Chris’s Bait & Tackle at the Edgewood Motel: 757-331-3000 Website: www.chrisbaitandtackle.com
Ocean’s East Tackle Shop: 757-464-6544
Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament: 757-491-5160
For a fine assortment of fishing gear, click here.