The Atlantic croaker is a popular recreational fish for both beginner and experienced fishermen that can be found in the muddy and sandy bottoms, making them a popular target for bottom fishing in the Chesapeake Bay in the spring and summer months. This species of fish is the loudest of the drum family, explaining the meaning behind its unusual name. In fact, the croaking noise that they produce is often their most distinguishable trait. The noise comes from the vibrating muscles which push up against the bladder of the fish, allowing the noise to resonate and be heard. While the noise produced by the fish may be strange and alarming for beginner fishermen, it should not be something that turns fishermen away from going for the catch. Croakers are considered to be one of the most popular bottom fish in the Chesapeake Bay and are considered a delicacy to some. While the fish is bony and often considered a “hands on” eating experience, the meat is nevertheless lean and has a sweet flavor. When going out for your next adventure on the Bay, whether a beginner or an experienced fishermen, keep an eye out for the Atlantic croaker as they are enjoyable to catch and delicious to eat.

angler holds up a big croaker
Big croaker like this are fun to catch, and make for excellent table fare.

Atlantic croakers, members of the Sciaenidae family, are found in the Western Atlantic from Massachusetts to Florida and throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Adult croakers arrive in the Chesapeake Bay in the spring months and migrate to the ocean in the fall. Young croakers do not enter the Bay until the beginning of August and can be found in low-salinity creeks. Initially, they do not travel towards the ocean for the winter months with mature adult croakers but rather move to deeper parts of rivers. After spending a year maturing in the depths of low-salinity rivers, they will accompany the adult croakers the following fall in their migration to the ocean. In the spring and summer months, fishermen can find croakers in the Chesapeake Bay at around 18 ppt salinity. Check out our fishing reports to see where croakers have been spotted throughout the region.

Atlantic Croaker Identification for Beginners

Croakers can be identified by the following characteristics:

  • A silver body with a light pink glow with a silver and white bottom
  • Irregular stripes on back and dorsal fin
  • Deep notch on the dorsal fin
  • Mature croakers (two to three years of age) are around 18 to 20 inches in length and are around three pounds on average
  • Produce a loud and distinguishable croaking sound
fisherman with a croaker
The easiest way to identify a croaker may not be by looking at it - when you hear the croaks, you'll certainly know what kind of fish it is.

Atlantic Croaker Regulations

States across the East Coast have different regulations in place for the size and amount of croaker per fishermen.

  • Maryland requires croakers to be at least nine inches with a bag limit of 25 per day. In addition, fishing for croaker is open year-round for Maryland fishermen.
  • Delaware requires Atlantic croaker to be eight inches but holds no bag limit for the amount of fish per day. The state of Delaware also permits year-round fishing for croaker.
  • Virginia does not have a size or bag limit.

State Record Croaker

In Maryland, the state record for Atlantic croaker is held by Russell Knapp from 2006 when he caught a six-and-a-half pound croaker at Point Lookout in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. Delaware’s state record is held by Catherine Simpson from 1980 who reeled in a five pound and three ounce croaker. The state record in Virginia for croaker smashes both Maryland’s and Delaware’s records and has even been considered by some as an anomaly. In August of 2007, Norman Jenkins caught an eight pound and 11 ounce croaker in 30 feet of water near New Point Light in Port Haywood, Virginia. Jenkins’ croaker breaks the record in Virginia that was held for nearly 25 years and beats it by a wide margin, as the previous record set in 1982 was a five pound and 13 ounce croaker.

Best Croaker Baits

Fishermen throughout the region have had the best luck catching croakers with:

  • Bloodworms
  • Squid strips
  • Peeler crab
  • Soft crab

Norman Jenkins, the record holder in Virginia for his massive Atlantic croaker, caught his record-setter with a squid and minnow sandwich when attempting to catch flounder.

Popular Techniques for Catching Croaker

A popular technique for croaker fishing is bottom fishing with bait, on a top-and-bottom rig. Both drift fishing and fishing at anchor can also be effective. In either case, most anglers fish their baits right on bottom, around structure or over oyster shell bottom. In addition to fishing with bait on a top-and-bottom rig, fishermen have also found success through the use of a three or four hook bottom rig. When using this, fishermen should bait the bottom and top hook with squid and the two middle hooks with bloodworms.

croaker on a top and bottom rig
Bottom fishing with a standard two-hook top-and-bottom rig is very effective for catching croaker.

Croaker Fishing Tackle

Fishermen have found success with a six foot medium rod and a 12 to 20 pound test that is equipped with a double hook bottom rig. The bottom rig is important as it keeps the bait on the bottom, as croakers are primarily concentrated on or near the bottom. Hooks in the number-four to number-one size range are appropriate, and weights of between one and three ounces are the norm. Croaker anglers may use either braid or monofilament fishing line.

Best Places to Fish for Atlantic Croaker

Smaller Croakers can be caught at many different shoreline fishing spots in the spring and summer months. However, if one is looking for a record-setting catch, they may want to venture off to greater depths of water. When setting out for a Croaker, it is important to plan your quest for the evening time as they are more prevalent in the evening hours. In fact, night fishing for croakers is quite popular.

There is an abundance of Croakers in the Chesapeake Bay, whether small or large, that is out there waiting for your next adventure on the water. Even if you do not have a boat to take out or a local fishing pier or beach from which you can fish, there are plenty of local state parks and charter boat options. Take a look at the Chesapeake Bay and mid-atlantic charter fishing guide for more information on charter fishing options throughout the region.

-By Devin Garner