Stripers of Chesapeake Bay

Excitement runs high as John lowers four different combinations of “Hair Jigs” into the murky waters of the Patuxent River. We are fishing for stripers (rockfish, to the locals) in a branch of Chesapeake Bay near Maryland!

Wife, Jo, and I have lived in the West all our lives. I had never given any thought to how significant Chesapeake Bay is to our country. It is enormous, more than 7,000 miles of creek and river banks. A virtual outdoor smorgasbord and here we are getting to fish for stripers!

In the fall, stripers begin working their way to winter homes in warm waters. Chesapeake Bay becomes a prime area for stopovers. The migration typically peaks in November or December.

Friends Bud and Bev Cole of North Hampton, Pa., have arranged the trip with Joyce Stinnett Baki, tourism specialist with Calvert County, Maryland, Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB). The Coles had fished Chesapeake Bay last October and had a blast.

“We were catching stripers 18- to 25 pounds last October,” Bud said. “One day our boat limited out in less than an hour. They were up to 25 pounds.”

Hair jigs for stripers.
Hair jigs for stripers.

t had taken a lot of convincing to lure us away from fall salmon fishing in Oregon. The promise of side trips to historic Philadelphia, the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall clinched the deal.

We head out from Solomons Island on the 38-foot Chesapeake Dead Rise, with Captain Robbie Robinson at the helm. John, our 83-year-old “bait boy” would set the gear for trolling.

We head up the Patuxent River, a tributary of Chesapeake Bay. Stinnett Baki, who set up the trip, came along. She is a fountain of information on the area. Turns out, the Pax, as it is fondly called, is quite historic. It is the site of The Battle of Leonard Creek, the largest inland waterway battle in North America during the war of 1812.

The Pax is one of the deepest rivers of Chesapeake Bay. It is well known for production of fish, crabs and clams.

We head for areas where stripers have been caught recently. We see commercial boats using heavy “scoops” to bring loads of clams aboard to be sorted for market. We learn that years ago clam beds were so thick in the river that boats would plow into them.

“Striper run is late this year,” Captain Robinson explained. “Should be more fish here.”

John is upbeat about our prospects. He and Robinson have fished the area for years.

“Bluefish (Blues) are always in here,” he said. “They seem ready to bite anytime.”

John sets out four lines for trolling. We troll at 3.2-3.5 knots with 24 ounces of lead. A spreader is used for two leaders and different colored hair jigs.

We have an immediate hookup. It’s a rockfish, but it’s too small. Then the blues start hitting. Blues can run up to 20 pounds, but we seem to be into schools of small ones. They soon become pests. We are using chartreuse plastic shad attached to the hook of the jig. The blues become skilled at snipping off the tail of the shad avoiding the hook.

We get our first blue. They are actually a shade of blue. The meat is blue also. John and Bud warn us, “The blue meat has a stronger fishy flavor.”

Jo Wilson and the largest striper of the day.)
Jo Wilson and the largest striper of the day.)

We hit all of Captain Robinson’s favorite spots, but fishing is slow. Instead of the old, “should have been here yesterday,” it’s, “you are two weeks early.”

But then Jo lands the largest striper of the day, 18½ inches, 3 pounds and 3 years old.

It’s lunch time and we have enough fish for lunch. Robinson expertly fillets out our fish and Stinnett Baki takes us to the Island Hideaway Restaurant on the docks, where our catch is cooked the way we want it.

We didn’t hit striper fishing at the right time. We had a beautiful morning and experienced a new fishery on the largest estuary in North America. As the old wag goes, “That’s why they call it fishing, not catching.”

For more information on fishing Chesapeake Bay, contact, Joyce Stinnett Baki, tourism specialist, Calvert County Department of Economic Development, 175 Main Street, Prince Frederick, MD 20678, 410-535-4583,

A great side trip is a visit to the Calvert Marine Museum.

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