Lower Chesapeake Bay Fishing Report, July 2020

Coastal Fishing Reports presented by The Tackle Box

Lower Chesapeake Bay Fishing Report, July 31 Update:

Many boats hitting the Lower Bay are aiming to catch cobia, but in most areas the bite has dropped off a bit. The Middle Grounds, Windmill Point, and Target Ships continue to produce some fish but J&W let us know that for most boats best case scenario is bringing home two. Despite the drop in their numbers, the cobia being caught are large. Trollers, sight casters, and chummers are all on the water right now. Trollers and sight casters seem to be having the most success, with ammunition consisting of of red and green surgical hoses or live eels. As has been the case in recent weeks, chummers are fighting rays.

puppy drum
Though most of the fish are small, there's been a recent influx of puppy drum.

The Spanish mackerel bite is picking up throughout the Lower Bay in the channels. Anglers trolling the standard offerings of small gold, silver, and pink spoons behind in-line planers are finding them, sometimes but not always under birds. The run certainly hasn’t peaked yet but we had reports this week ranging from two or three fish to a dozen in the box. Bigger numbers and larger fish on average are now being reported near Virginia Beach, so hopefully more and more of these fish will make a left-hand turn and chase bait right into the Bay.

Speckled trout can still be located in grassy, shallow areas. White, pink, pearl, and sparkly soft plastics with paddle or twister tails are still the number-one offering. In the lower western shore tribs there were a good number of puppy drum suddenly reported in the mix for shallow-water casters this week, too. All we heard of were under the slot, but they certainly add to the action. If you happen upon any stripers while casting the shallows, remember that with high surface and water temps, keep the fish in the water as you unhook them whenever possible. If you've gotta bring the fish out of the water, try to minimize the amount of time they spend in the air to maximize their chances of survival.

Lower Chesapeake Bay Fishing Report, July 24 Update:

Fishing seems to have slacked off a bit this week, possibly due to the crazy heat we’re experiencing right now. The Tackle Box let us know that some big bull reds are providing anglers fishing the Target Ships and the mud Leads with ample opportunity. Lure jiggers and bait anglers are reporting catches throughout the day, with mornings a stand-out time. They were also happy to report that although the Spanish Mackerel bite isn’t anything like last year’s bite — yet(!!!) — they’re breaking into schools of bait fish throughout the Lower Bay in tide rips and over deep water. Trolling for them with Number One Clarks and Drones at a fast pace is getting them to hit, and bluefish are in the mix as well. The blues this year are ranging in size, with many small snappers and a few larger ones are coming on the troll. Windmill Point came up as a hotspot, with a couple of readers there reporting a mixed bag of Spanish and Blues while trolling. We also had one check in after trolling up several Spanish off Gwynn Island.

lower chesapeake bay red drum
Todd Lester tied into this beautiful red drum - while cobia fishing, of course.

We had two reader reports of schools of big reds on the surface smashing bait and eating jigs this week. Neither gave a solid location, so keep those binoculars handy and keep a sharp eye peeled for surface action.

This week we saw a dip in the reports of good cobia bites, as well. They’re getting a bit harder to locate, and chummers, chunkers, and trollers alike have been coming up short. The bulk of the catch is still coming from trollers, who are pulling red and green surgical tubes. Chummers and chunkers are still catching, but having some trouble keeping lines in the water due to rays running through our area. Cobia fishing with bait in large part has been fighting the rays recently, so if you’re planning on using bait, be sure to stock up.

Lower Chesapeake Bay Fishing Report, July 17 Update:

With cobia a strong focus in the Lower Bay, many boats on the water are heading out with live eels on the ready, chum buckets, or surgical eels in tow. However, while big cobia are coming up in the chum lines daily, plenty of boats are struggling to catch them due to periods of low activity or some serious ray-interference. The Tackle Box reported that fishermen are chumming with frozen chum logs, grinding fresh alewives, chunking fresh alewives, and using cut alewife or live eels or spot for bait. Readers also let us know that Windmill Point and Smith Point have had hefty cobia-chumming fleets at times. Bull redfish have been making up for a lackluster bite on a few rare occasions, and those breaking the surface have been in the 40-pound category. Big redfish reaching 47-inches are also hanging around the Target Ships and Mud Leads areas. We had readers report that there are also widely-scattered cobia trolling fleets at (mostly) the Targets, near Smith Point, and off the Rappahannock. However, we also heard from several trollers that they experienced a slow bite.

cobia and mackerel
David Johnson sent in this pic of a mixed bag with cobia and Spanish, after a day of trolling near Windmill Point.

Readers and the Tackle Box are both talking about that specks are popping up, up and down the western shore. From the Potomac to Mobjack, shallows and creek mouths can be productive on 15- to 22-inch trout. Four and five-inch soft plastics are the top offerings and we had several mentions of pink/green combinations working well this week. Throwing a little sparkle into the mix should further entice the specks. Additionally, we had one report of bull minnow under a cork doing the trick for a lucky reader.

Lower Chesapeake Bay Fishing Report, July 10 Update:

The Tacklebox reports that cobia are now spread out from Hooper’s Island Light south, all the way down the Bay. Angler in Chief Lenny Rudow backs up that account, and notes that although he did better last week than this week while hunting cobia close to the State line, the fish can be found all down the channel edges and near the Target Ship. He also mentioned that last weekend they spotted notably more cobia out over deep water than they did up on the shoals while sight-fishing and it was the chumming bite that seemed to drop off. He mentioned that chumming was made tougher by an influx of some small blues which were biting the live eels in half, and the ever-present hordes of rays. Reports from the Windmill fleet of chummers are of better cobia numbers with most of the fish being caught breaking the 40-inch mark and some boats limiting out, but again, a constant battle with rays. As a result, more people are opting for trolling or sight fishing, as the conditions allow.

cobia caught by an angler
This 43-incher took a bunker chunk fished in a chum slick, near the Target Ship.

The Tackle Box also noted that there were stripers in the shallows of the Potomac at dusk and dawn, moving to deeper water mid-day, but remember that as of July 7 (through August 20) stripers are closed in Potomac River Fisheries Commission jurisdictional waters. Fortunately, speckled trout also continue to be caught in the lower tributary rivers and creeks, and we had numerous reader reports this week from anglers casting four and six inch soft plastics, small silver Rat-L-Traps, and Mir-O-Lures who enjoyed a nice mix of mostly just-legal specks with small stripers adding to the action. The speckled trout action also got a thumbs-up from readers fishing in the lower Rap below the Rt. 3 bridge, with one reporting seven keeper fish plus a snapper blue on his boat during a half-day trip casting four-inch paddletails on half-ounce jigheads. He also mentioned that a neighboring boat came in from the Bay with a couple of Spanish mackerel. Just a couple, but it’s the first we’ve heard of the species moving this far up the Bay so far, so we’re happy to hear it.

Late breaking addition: After last night's Live with Lenny broadcast on Trolling for Spanish Mackerel we had two viewers report that they'd caught Spanish mackerel in the Lower Bay in the past week, one fishing east of Gwynn Island and the other at The Cell. One had "a few" and the other had one fish mixed in with small blues.

Lower Chesapeake Bay Fishing Report, July 3 Update:

BEEP-BEEP-BEEP - Attention Anglers: Everyone should be aware that there's currently a bit of a bloodworm shortage, and you may have trouble locating this uber-expensive but uber-effective bait. Anglers around the dial are reporting that Fishbites Bloodworm flavor has been the next best thing. So if you call around and come up blank on the bloodies, reach for the Fishbites. We now return you to our regularly scheduled fishing report. - BEEP-BEEP-BEEP

happy anglers with a cobia
After battling with this beast, Cindy said that fighting cobia is definitely a different story than fighting a rockfish - we agree!

Happy Fourth, anglers! We’re sure you’ll be spending some time on the water this weekend celebrating the holiday and catching ‘em up. With a great bite and opportunity to get out on the water, we’re expecting one heck of a fleet this weekend. While you’re showing off the red, white, and blue, stop into your local tackle shop and load up on eels. You’re gonna need them. The cobia bite is happening. Our Angler-in-Chief Lenny Rudow fished near the state line this week and found both chumming and sight fishing for cobia productive at times, and so-so at others. One day the fish hit both live eels and bunker chunks set on bottom in 20 feet of water, with four fish between 41 and 43 inches grabbing the baits on the end of an incoming tide. Another day chumming produced a lone 41-incher (on bunker) and a ray. Sight fishing proved tougher, with two fish spotted at the surface and one in the 50-inch class willing to bite. A green Striper Sniper under a white skirt on a 1.5 ounce jighead triggered the hit. Back at the ramp both days, other sight fishers working from the Target Ship south to the Windmill Point zone reported similar results, with a lot of searching to spot the fish and a 50-50 bite ratio when offered jigs. Those who tried chumming also mentioned that rays proved problematic.

Sad note: Rudow also reported that they found the filleted body of a blatantly undersized cobia in the 34 to 35 inch range, at the fish cleaning station at Point Lookout on Thursday. Not only did the angler keep the undersized fish, he or she left the carcass and cuttings sitting on the fillet table rather than tossing them in the dumpster, 20 feet away. Whoever you are, if you’re readying this quite frankly we hope you’re ashamed of yourself and "you're welcome" for cleaning up your mess... not.

The Tackle Box also reported that cobia hunters are doing well, despite sometimes hefty crowds at the Middle Grounds and Mud Leads. They let us know that with so many chum lines in the water, at times there just aren’t enough fish to go around. After a thorough cost-benefit analysis, however, they decided that the risk of watching your neighbor be the one to hook up is totally worth the potential of an awesome catch. The fleet setting up at Windmill Point is experiencing similar results while chumming, with better sight fishing results in this area. However, we also heard from a reader fishing out of the Rap who said he was darn glad he hauled chum because it saved the day Thursday afternoon, when the weatherman’s report was wrong (as usual) and the surface was simply too choppy for productive sight fishing. We also had a smattering of reader reports of success on cobia from the Wolf Trap area, off Gwynn’s Island, and The Cell.

The Tackle Box also reported that trollers are also enjoying good fishing for stripers in the Potomac. There are fish all the way upriver, and trollers have been cruising all the way to Port Tobacco to get in on the action. Additionally, the shallows have been great for stripers at dusk and dawn. Schoolies can be located just about anywhere, a favorite right now for lure casters.

The summer invasion of bluefish and Spanish mackerel in the Lower Bay hasn’t really heated up yet north of Wolf Trap, though they are now showing up in good numbers south of that zone. Assuming no major changes in the weather and the fish’s usual patterns, they should work their way northward in short order.

Crabbing report: Crabbing is good in the Lower Bay with many people filling the bushel basket. One caveat, we are hearing that lots of females are chewing up the baits.