Fly Fishing The Chesapeake

by Fly Fisherman

In the Chesapeake Bay area, where they are known as rockfish or simply as “rock,” stripers feed along the salt marshes looking for soft crabs, minnows, and schools of alewives. The bigger ones work singly or in pairs and now and then a school of smaller fish will sweep by. All a guy needs is a pair of hip boots for walking the muddy banks, a landing net, and proper fly equipment. He wants to have big popping bugs and 5-inchlong streamers or bucktails for flies, because big stripers like a big mouthful and the smaller ones will hit a lure almost as big as themselves, anyway, so why quibble?
There is some of this kind of fishing along the New Jersey marshes, with weakfish to be caught as an extra dividend on the same junket.

In the sounds, inlets, bays and bights of the Chesapeake, rock also work up on the flats on either side of the channels to feed. Usually they are active on the flats from three-quarters of the way in on the tide through the high water to three-quarters of the way out, but there is so much variation in this, in different areas, that the only way to be sure of hitting it right is either to fish regardless of tide, or to find a local angler who knows the score and be advised by him. In the summer, in most places, the best time for stripers is at dawn and again at dusk, and many charter boat captains never go after them until after dark.
Fly fishing is still new enough to startle the old timers in the Chesapeake area. I remember fishing one evening near Gwynn’s Island, Virginia, a spot where the fish come up on the flats to feed in about four feet of water, making for wonderful streamer fly and popping bug fishing.
As I cast, I heard the crunk, crunk, crunk of an oar working in the stern of a skiff. A Waterman came sculling around the point just below where I had thrown the popper.
“Hey!” I yelled. “Hold it a minute.”
My bug was sitting there on top of the water, right in his path, and I had an idea that a big striper was lying down there eyeing it. I popped the bug once, then let it stay still. Then I popped it again.
His boat drifting with the tide, the homeward bound sculler watched this peculiar behavior with amazement.
Then that fish took. I set the hook and had my hands full of bouncing fly rod, whirling reel handle and roughhouse striper. We had it hot and heavy for ten minutes, and all the time that oysterman stood there motionless in his skiff, leaning on his oar, goggle-eyed. As I finally lifted the eight-pound striper aboard.

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