Catch Striped Bass at The Chesapeake Bay Bridge

The 4.3-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge provides many fish-attracting pilings, from one side of the Chesapeake to the other.

A quick glance at a Maryland map shows the Route 50/301 double-span bridge between Annapolis and the U.S. Naval Academy to the west, crossing the bay to Stevensville, Chester, Kent Narrows on the Eastern Shore. The high, huge structure can be seen for miles by boaters to the north and south.

Casting artificials, and fishing bait such as soft crabs, live spot, and eels will catch stripers on the pilings of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. (Photo courtesy of Lenny Rudow)
Casting artificials, and fishing bait such as soft crabs, live spot, and eels will catch stripers on the pilings of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. (Photo courtesy of Lenny Rudow)

A number of ramps provide access to the bridge, but none more convenient than the ramp at Sandy Point State Park near Annapolis. A number of species inhabit the pilings, yet the most popular among anglers is striped bass, known by many in Maryland as “rockfish.” First, I will cover where to fish, followed by how to fish, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Where to Fish Them

The bridge pilings are numbered, and after motoring to the bridge, search out and fish pilings 16, 18, 19, 20, and 21. They’re on the western side of the bridge under the eastbound span. Pilings 16, 18 and 20 are “spider” pilings; each is actually a set of four pilings. Pilings 19 and 21 are double pilings, and they are in relatively deep water. Fish the outside of each piling first, taking time to carefully work the structure from the bottom up to near the surface.

When it comes to fishing the inside of these pilings, focus on the upper part of the pilings, closer to the surface. There is a wire or cable well under the surface that is connected to all of the pilings. A nice fish hooked deeper in the water can easily dive under the cable and break the line!

On the eastern side of the bridge, be sure to fish pilings 42, 43, 47, 50, and 51. Where fish will be found can change day to day, and can even vary by the hour during different stages of the tide. Thoroughly work a piling, and if it fails to produce, move on to the next one.

Lots of nice striped bass are caught each season on the pilings of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge near Annapolis.
Lots of nice striped bass are caught each season on the pilings of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge near Annapolis.

How to Fish Them

Stripers ambush baitfish as they attempts to hide on the pilings, or are swept around them by the current. Fishing soft crab baits, livelining spot and eels, and jigging with artificials will effectively put baits and lures in the striper strike zone.

Fishing soft crab baits along the pilings is especially effective during mid- to late summer, when crabs in good numbers cling to and climb the pilings. Rig up with a size No. 2 or 4 treble hook tied to the end of a 20-pound-test fluorocarbon leader. A ¼-ounce or even lighter sinker, usually a split shot, is added to the leader above the hook. A split shot is quick and easy to remove so a lighter or heavier sinker can be added with no cutting and re-tying involved. It may be a good idea to use a small, clear rigging rubber band to help hold the soft bait on the hook.

Once you are rigged, cast to a piling and allow the rig to slowly sink along the piling. Strikes from stripers usually come as the bait is falling, and a baitcasting reel, especially a baitrunner reel, provides precision line control during the drop. This enables anglers to instantly detect a strike and quickly set the hook as the bait slowly sinks.

Livelining spot is super productive for pulling stripers from the pilings, too. Tie the line from the reel to one end of a barrel swivel, and then tie a 3-foot leader of 20-pound fluorocarbon to the other end of the swivel. Add a standard 4/0 J hook, or a circle hook.

Hook the spot behind the head and forward of the dorsal fin. Pitch the hooked spot to a piling and keep the reel in free spool to give line as the spot swims down. Stripers will swallow spot head first. When you get a bite, count to three while giving line and then set the hook; the fish will almost always be hooked in the corner of the mouth. If a spot stops swimming before getting very deep, add a split shot or two to provide the extra pull needed to keep it moving toward the bottom of the piling where stripers are lurking.

A live eel hooked through the lips and dropped along a piling will also tempt rockfish. Live eels and spot can be purchased at many local tackle shops.

Lures That Work

Jigging triggers lots of strikes, especially in the deeper water at pilings 19, 20 and 21. These deeper locations often hold consistently bigger stripers. The top metal jigging lure for many Chesapeake Bay anglers is the Stingsilver. Its narrow profile enables it to sink through the water quickly. Drop it alongside a piling and after the jig hits bottom, begin lifting and lowering the rod tip, making the jig suddenly dart up and then flutter back down to the bottom. Use sharp, quick, yet controlled upward snaps of the rod tip to make the jig shoot up and flutter down, resembling an injured and dying baitfish. Control the line on the drop for feel as most strikes come as the lure falls back to the bottom. Braided line and the super sensitivity it provides for strike detection make it a popular choice for jigging.

While spring and fall are prime times, striped bass are caught all summer long on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
The author with a nice striper. While spring and fall are prime times, striped bass are caught all summer long by the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

In addition to metal jigs, such as the Stingsilver, stripers can also be jigged up on leadhead jigs dressed with plastic bait. Productive plastics include Bass Kandy Delights (BKDs), Gulp! Alive 4-inch Swimming Mullet, and Z-Man plastics.

Cast leadheads with plastics to a piling and let them drop. They can be jigged up and down on the bottom, or slowly retrieved up from the bottom while twitching the rod tip to impart an erratic action that fish often find irresistible. There will be days when a lack of strikes may require jigging with more finesse, but for the most part, an aggressive approach usually produces plenty of action.

Pilings are hard and unforgiving, and a boat and/or motor will always get the worst of any contact made with them. Good boat handling skills are a must for safely maneuvering in and around the pilings. Anchoring near one is not recommended as mobility to quickly move from piling to piling is an important aspect of fishing the bridge.

It’s always a good idea to have at least two anglers in the boat, if not more. During times of strong current or a significant breeze, it may be necessary to keep one person at the wheel and in control of the boat at all times, while the others fish.

Good luck out there and be safe!

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Guide Outdoors Readers: Have you ever fished around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge? Please tell us about it below.

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