Chesapeake Bay Fishing: The Complete Guide

Aug 1, 2022 | 10 minute read Comments
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Reading Time: 10 minutes

You’d expect the biggest estuary in North America to be an angler’s haven. And nothing quite compares to a Chesapeake Bay fishing adventure. Hit the hundreds of rivers that flood into this prolific fishery, head to the bay itself, or explore the nearshore treats that await at its mouth. Basically, wherever you look there’s a prize on offer. 

Every angler worth their salt will relish a trip to the Chesapeake Bay. Inshore and nearshore rewards like nowhere else fill these waters, so you’re in for a productive day whenever you visit. 

A view of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge with a rocky beach in the foreground

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about fishing the Chesapeake Bay. We’ll run through the top catches, how to land them, and where to go to get the biggest bang for your buck. By the time you’re done reading this, you’ll be ready to grab your rod and reel to cast your line. So without further ado, let’s dive in. 

What can I catch when fishing the Chesapeake Bay?

We’ve mentioned that fishing the Chesapeake Bay is like a who’s who of inshore fish. You can find some of the same species all over, with a few select creatures hiding in particular spots. While we couldn’t possibly cover all the creatures that call these waters home, here’s a rundown of the top catches. 

Flounder

Three anglers hold a Flounder each caught while fishing inshore in Virginia

Chesapeake Flounder fishing is an institution. If you fish here, chances are you’ll come across one of these tasty critters. While they’re not the most attractive fish to look at – and neither are they the toughest to catch – they provide plenty of fun and are a surefire way to fill the cooler. 

Targeting Flounder is a great way to introduce the little ones to angling. And they’re also a delicious reward for any experienced angler who’s spending the day targeting something more tricky. Whether on shore or on a charter, you can land Flounder galore, as they feed near the shallow bottoms inshore.

Bluefish and Redfish

A man and two women hold a large Redfish caught inshore fishing in the Chesapeake Bay

One of the beauties of fishing the East Coast is that some colorful creatures rub shoulders inshore. Bluefish and Redfish offer up an exciting battle for all anglers, and it’s two for the price of one when casting your line in the Chesapeake Bay’s shallow waters. They grow to incredible sizes here, making you work hard to reel ‘em in. 

Anglers of all levels can practice their skills against these beauties, but fly fishing especially produces some world-class battles. Redfish, in particular, provide some delicious meat, too. Spend your day working hard to reel plenty in, and end it with a well-deserved treat to take home. 

Spanish Mackerel

An angler holds a small Spanish Mackerel caught while fishing the Chesapeake Bay

Another species prized for their delicious meat, but also their readiness to fight are Spanish Mackerel. And like all the creatures we’ve mentioned so far, you can catch them all over the Chesapeake Bay. Whether trolling on a boat or fly fishing in the river mouths, there’s always the chance you could land one. 

Small yet agile, they provide fun for all ages and skill levels. They come to the bay in spring and stay until October. Then, they head off south to warmer climates for the winter. Don’t worry, though. Spring through fall is peak fishing season in the bay (more on that later!), so you’ll most likely have the chance to land this creature when you visit. 

Cobia

A smiling angler holds a Cobia caught in the Chesapeake Bay

Just like Spanish Mackerel, Cobia also migrate to the Chesapeake Bay in spring and stay until fall. However, these creatures are only available in the lower portion of the bay, nearer the Atlantic Ocean. They come ready to spawn in summer, meaning they’re plenty hungry for your bait. And they swim in schools, so get ready for hit, after hit, after hit.

Just like everything we’ve mentioned so far, they also provide some tasty meat. However, these creatures are much bigger than all their counterparts. Landing just one could see you dine for months to come! Try trolling the open water or bottom fishing around structures. You’re in for surefire fun and plenty of rewards. 

Striped Bass (Rockfish)

A group of anglers hold a Rockfish each, caught fishing in Maryland

Striped Bass – or Rockfish, as it’s known locally – is the gem of the Chesapeake Bay fishing scene. As with the whole East Coast, anglers go wild for these monstrous, meaty creatures here. And for good reason! Chesapeake Bay Rockfish are among the best in the world, with creatures growing to incredible sizes. Expect regular catches up to 40 pounds, with 50-pounders not uncommon.

Not only that, but you’ll also find an abundance of Rockfish year-round (although they’re closed for harvesting in January and February). In fact, this creature is so plentiful here that Maryland even named it its state fish! Whenever you come, cast from shore, a pier, a bridge, or boat, and you could end up with the battle of your life – and a prize to match!

And More!

A fisherman holding a Black Seabass in a charter boat

That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the long list of creatures you can land when fishing the Chesapeake Bay. Hit the rivers and there’s the chance of landing Panfish such as Crappie and Perch.

Inshore, Spotted Seatrout, Tautog, and Seabass are also on the menu, with Spadefish, Amberjack, and Weakfish all within reach. And there’s the chance for one of the Chesapeake Bay’s best-kept secrets. 

If you’re near the Chesapeake Bay and fancy an offshore adventure, there’s also plenty in store. Head out to the Atlantic on a long charter trip, and you could land prizes such as Tuna, Wahoo, Mahi Mahi, and prized Marlin. In short, whatever you decide, you won’t go wrong!

How to Fish the Chesapeake Bay

Now you know what you can catch, the next thing to find out is how to go about doing so. As with every great fishery in the world, there’s more than one way to cast your line in the Chesapeake Bay. Here, we’ll give you a rundown of some of the most popular ways to go fishing. 

Chesapeake Bay Shore Fishing

A family of anglers sit with their lines in the water along the Potomac, not far from the Chesapeake Bay

We’ve spoken about the rivers and the shallows, so it’ll come as no surprise to you that you can fish the Chesapeake Bay from shore. Get back to basics and set up camp for the day, as you cast your line to entice all the creatures that come close enough to dry land.

Fly anglers in particular favor this way of getting in on the action, with the rivers and flats making for productive hunting grounds. However, with such an abundance of fish available, beginners and pros alike can get their fill. Bring some waders to get up close to the action or sit back in a chair and let your bait do the work. There are so many fish that pretty much any lure will attract something!

Chesapeake Bay Pier Fishing

A fishing pier leads out next to a small jetty in the Chesapeake Bay

If you like casting your line from shore, then you’ll love pier fishing in the Chesapeake Bay. These purpose-built structures extend out into the productive bodies of water where the fish live, and they gather nutrients and bait fish for all your favorite targets to feed on. Add your bait to the mix, and you’ll fill your cooler with ease. 

There are dozens of piers all over the Chesapeake Bay, so wherever you are, there’s the chance of heading out on one. They’re usually free to fish from, or a nominal fee is charged, so it’s a cost-effective way of getting your fish on. And, you’ll have the added bonus of being surrounded by like-minded anglers. You may make a friend alongside your prized catch!

Chesapeake Bay Kayak Fishing

An angler on a kayak looks for his prey on one a river in Virginia

Every serious inshore fishery is constantly developing, and the Chesapeake Bay is no different. This calm body of water is perfect for exploring by kayak. So, some innovative fishing fanatics decided to combine the ride with angling, too. In fact, plenty of special kayaks have been developed for ease.

Fancy a serious workout on the open waters? Or maybe you want to discover some of the Chesapeake Bay’s more hidden spots and land something tasty. Kayak fishing is a great way to get active and try something new. All the bay’s favorite species are available. Just make sure to start small and work up to the bigger fish, for your sake and for the fish!

Chesapeake Bay Charter Fishing

A group of anglers smile for the camera on a large fishing charter heading offshore from Virginia

While all of the above are fun ways to explore the Chesapeake Bay, one method of fishing is hands-down the most productive. We’re talking about hopping on a charter boat! With the aid of a professional guide, you’ll hit the sweet spots and cast your line in a variety of ways. If the fish aren’t biting, you just whizz off to a spot where they are.

Yes, trips aboard a charter are on the pricier side, but there’s really something for everyone. Hop aboard a small vessel and hit the inshore waters only, join a party boat and explore the center of the bay, or hire a private offshore charter and head offshore. With these options and everything in between, you can’t go wrong. 

Chesapeake Bay Fishing Spots

With 200 miles of fishing grounds, we’d need a book to outline even half of the spots the Chesapeake Bay has on offer. Locals split the bay into three sections, the upper, middle, and lower portions, and here are our top spots in each.

A view of the Chesapeake Bay shoreline, with benches overlooking a small beach and a small fishing pier sticking out in the distance

The Upper Bay

  • Baltimore: The home of fishing in the upper bay, you can cast a line from the harbor, seaside parks, or hop on a charter. Leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind, just minutes from downtown.
  • Rocky Point Park and Beach: Due east of Baltimore, this park offers access to the river, creeks, and open bay. Relax and spend your day in beautiful nature, while going after some prized fish.
  • Bill Burton Fishing Pier
  • Tea Kettle Shoals: Out in the heart of the bay, these underwater structures are prime feeding grounds for all the famous fish of the Chesapeake Bay. 

The Middle Bay

  • Annapolis: Maryland’s capital is a fishing haven for all kinds of anglers. If you’re really lucky, you may find Tarpon on the flats or near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, along with plenty of charters. 
  • The Chesapeake Bay Bridge: This structure attracts such a melting pot of fish, that it deserves a bullet point in its own right. This is one of the biggest Striper hotspots in the bay, so get ready for some of the best angling around.
  • Bill Burton Fishing Pier: Across the bay from Annapolis, this is one of the best structures to cast a line from in the bay. Expect stunning views and plenty of action, all the while surrounded by like-minded anglers. 

The Lower Bay

  • The James and Bush Rivers: These parallel rivers in the south of the bay offer some of the best inshore action around. Target all your favourites from shore, on a kayak, or on a charter, and you won’t go wrong. 
  • Kiptopeke State Park: Sitting opposite from where the rivers flow to sea, this beautiful green area sticks out into the bay. With plenty of structures around to attract the fish, it’s a great place to kick back and get your fishing fix.
  • Virginia Beach: Possibly the number one place to hop aboard a fishing charter in the Chesapeake Bay, there’s something for everyone in VB. Inshore, nearshore, and offshore trips are all available, so come and try whatever you want!

When to Come Fishing in the Chesapeake Bay

A fishing pier sticks out into the ocean near Chesapeake Bay on a cold, blustery morning

When people talk about the best time to come fishing in the Chesapeake Bay, many mention that it’s “seasonal.” Actually, with the changing climate and unpredictable weather, that’s not actually correct. While fishing here is very weather-dependent – the fish go into hiding when the conditions aren’t great – it’s still a 365-day-a-year fishery. 

The rivers and creeks are your best bet if you come in the colder months, with summer offering options all over – as we’ve already mentioned. Charter operators also tend to run only during the traditional “season,” so if you want to follow a professional guide, then you can also take advantage of the best weather, too. 

The bay’s most coveted fish, Rockfish, is only available to take home from March onwards, so if you want your fill of tasty meat, you now know when to come. 

Chesapeake Bay Fishing Regulations

A sign saying "No crabbing fishing or swimming from piers" next to a pier in the Chesapeake Bay

Speaking of open seasons, there’s one thing left to discuss when talking about this incredible fishery. As with everywhere, there are bag and size limits on all fish. Each angler can keep one Rockfish during the season, which is always good to know. But if you want a full rundown of what you can and can’t catch, check out the regulations for Maryland and Virginia

You’ll also need a fishing license to cast your line in the Chesapeake Bay. You can fish in Maryland with a Virginia license, provided you’ve signed up to the MD Saltwater Angler Registration, and vice versa. Find out how to get a VA license with our handy guide, or head over to the Maryland DNR website to apply for your MD license.

Chesapeake Bay Fishing: World-Class Angling Awaits

A small fishing boat makes its way along the Chesapeake Delaware Canal with a bridge in the background

And there you have it. Now you’re ready to cast your line in this incredible fishery. Hopefully, you can see why we’ve hyped the Chesapeake Bay up so much. Of course, the only real way to find out how good it is is by trying it out yourself! Grab your rod and reel and head out, or find a charter that suits you, and away you go. Some of the best inshore and nearshore fishing in the world will be on the end of your line. 

And now over to you! Have you ever been fishing in the Chesapeake Bay? How was it? Have any tips for other anglers? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Comments (3)
  • Kern James Ducote Jr

    Sep 30, 2021

    Tarpon in the Chesapeake Bay.
    Bad info. Never ever ever will you find a tarpon in the Chesapeake!
    Especially In the Annapolis area.

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    • Reply icon

      Rhys

      Sep 30, 2021

      Hi Kern,

      Thanks for reading and for your comment. I’m going to have to disagree with you there. Tarpon have been migrating into the Chesapeake over the last few years, and have been spotted (and caught) as far north as Annapolis. However, you’re right, this isn’t a common occurrence. I’ve reworded the sentence to make it more clear.

      Tight lines,

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    • Reply icon

      Kerns is wrong

      Dec 24, 2021

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