Greetings FishTalkers, and welcome to our new section Ask an Expert where we kick things off by talking with Captain Tom Weaver, of Fish With Weaver, a renowned light tackle and fly fishing guide out of Annapolis, MD.

tom weaver and david sites fishing
David Sites (left) and captain Tom (right) bask in the glory of a beautiful trophy striper prior to its release. Photo courtesy of Tom Weaver.

Spring Trophy Striped Bass on Light Tackle and Fly Fishing Gear

Q: What is your favorite lure for chasing trophy striped bass, and why?

A: Traditionally in March I would set up with a 1.5-ounce BKD jig head glued to a seven-inch Z-Man DieZel MinnowZ paddle tail in Chartreuse or Sexy Penny. BUT, hold on, with an exceptional 2023 “hatch” the Middle Bay has been full of juvenile three- to four-inch peanut bunker recently and the wild bite in January was all about that. So, maybe I will put a five-inch Zman or a four-inch Bloody Point Shad on a one-ounce jig if all the bait is small. Ninety-five percent of the time, I use chartreuse.

Q: What about rods, reels, and line?

A: I set up with the St. Croix Triumph seven-foot MH fast-action rods for jigs heavier than one ounce. They have got lots of backbone and are long enough to get a good cast in if needed. I use Shimano Spheros 4000 reels with 30-pound Hi Seas Grand Slam braid, paired with a four-foot length of 40-pound Hi Seas fluorocarbon leader. I do not use any type of clip for the lure, I tie direct. Fly rods are St. Croix Imperial Salt nine-weights with Cheeky Limitless 425 reels, spooled with a variety of fly lines from floating, intermediate, to “depth charge” 550 grain. The spring fishery will typically be a heavy sinking line style with Bob Popovich’s large “Beast Hollow Fleyes” tied by Alan Rupp.

Q: Everyone hopes to see birds, but what do you do when you don't see them first thing?

A: Birds are not typical in the spring, the fish are mostly deep and the birds are away at the beach getting amorous and making babies. So you have to put in some time and locate bait. The secret word of the day is SIDESCAN. Look along ledges and deep-water channels in the 35-plus-foot range. The fish will also roam in the shallows but they are very spooky, they did not get that big by being dumb. One boat driving over them will shut a bite down. This is not a “gimme” fishery, you have to earn them.

Q: Do you change your retrieve at all from the way you'd retrieve in the summer/fall fishery?

A: Yes, in the spring cold water I use a longer, loopy, slow jig all the way back up through the water column, with a long pause after each jig. The water is cold and you are searching a large column of water. The fish are not going to chase a fast bait and we are rarely trying to get them on bottom.

Q: What do you say to the naysayers who think March C&R should be shut down?

A: The ridiculous narrative surrounding catch and release fishing in Maryland is driven by a few influential old school/out of touch guys who have a major financial incentive to protect their way of living, which is destructive and not sustainable. They influence the managers to manipulate numbers to suit their purpose and spout soundbites for click bait. Then the “tree huggers” who think that fish should be left alone and we should not be catching them at all hear the manipulated numbers, and stories of hundreds of thousands of dead fish floating down the Bay, and join in the chorus.

Think about this for a moment: Maryland shuts C&R fishing down in the name of “conservation,” so that the catch and kill can continue at the same pace? I just hope there are some fish left when the managers figure this out.

Q: Open mic: do you have any tips/advice/concerns you'd like to express?

A: 1. Analyze the situation. Imagine this scenario: You see four boats grouped closely so you jam the throttle down to the stops and beeline to the bite. STOP, yes stop, pull out your binoculars and figure out what those boats are doing. Do you know if they are on a ledge or in open water? Do you know what the drift is? Are there breaking fish? Understand these elements before you barge in and shut a bite down.

2. Courtesy. We live in a very densely populated area. If there is a boat drifting on a remote shallow outcropping it is not cool to come in on plane, deploy the trolling motor and hit Spot Lock. Be mindful that the other boat might have been patiently working that point for an hour before you got there.

3. Respect. Respect the charter boats and guides who are out there every day trying hard to provide their paying clients a good experience, they will respect you back.

4. Patience. If the fish are not biting here, they are probably not biting anywhere else, wait a while.

5. Sidescan. Get a Humminbird, learn how to use it, and trust it.

6. Hire a Guide. They will impart so much more knowledge and improve your game, do it four times a year, at least!

Thanks for sharing your insights, Captain Tom!