Rockfish Fishing in Chesapeake Bay: The Complete Guide

Aug 25, 2022 | 7 minute read Comments
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Reading Time: 7 minutes

The Chesapeake Bay is one of the world’s great fisheries. With hundreds of rivers flowing to over 200 miles of protected waters and access to the Atlantic, it’s home to some truly impressive fish. But one creature stands apart. Striped Bass – or Rockfish, as they’re known here – top the list for every angler who visits. 

A group of anglers hold a Rockfish each in the Chesapeake Bay

Chesapeake Bay rockfishing is something of an institution. Heck, these creatures have even been named Maryland and Virginia’s state fish! Monster specimens put on the fight of a lifetime for even the most experienced angler. Meanwhile, there are also plenty of small fish for beginners to target. And, wherever you cast your line, chances are there’s one biting.

In this guide, we’ll show you why Chesapeake Bay’s Rockfish population is so revered. We’ll let you in on some of the best techniques, top spots, and everything you need to know for a successful Chesapeake Bay rockfishing adventure. So without further ado, let’s dive in!

Why Rockfish?

So we’ve given you a little taste of what makes these creatures so special, but let’s expand on that. These fish are highly-prized all over the East Coast, and for a number of good reasons. They grow to incredible sizes. They put up an immense battle. And they’re delicious to eat.

A family sits on the dock with their Chesapeake Bay Rockfish in front of them

As if that wasn’t enough, they inhabit pretty much all kinds of waters. From the freshwater rivers and lakes, out to the brackish bays and deep ocean waters, there’s always the chance of coming across one of these beauties. They say “the more the merrier,” and that’s certainly true with Chesapeake Bay Rockfish! 

We also briefly mentioned that anglers of all skill levels can target these feisty creatures. That’s no word of a lie! Bigger specimens offer a monster test for the more experienced anglers, with smaller Rockfish providing a great introduction to beginners. These fish also like pretty much any bait, so you can try out a whole range of techniques (but more on that later).

Why the Chesapeake Bay?

We’ve already said that Rockfish are aplenty in the Chesapeake Bay, but it’s worth emphasizing again. They’re everywhere! The range of waterways on offer for anglers here is unrivaled almost anywhere else on the planet, and Rockfish are the only creatures who love to inhabit them all.

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

As with every serious fishing destination, the Chesapeake Bay makes the most of what it’s got. That means you’ll have no issue finding somewhere to cast your line. From wading the flats upstream to parks on the side of the bay, to piers, bridges, and charter boats, there’s something for everyone. 

And, there’s stunning beauty all around. Whether you’re in the shadows of the skyscrapers in downtown Baltimore, in Maryland’s luscious state parks or wildlife refuges, or down on the boardwalk in Virginia Beach, you can cast your line and enjoy more than just fishing. 

How to Catch Chesapeake Bay Rockfish

Now that we’ve got the introduction out of the way, let’s get down to what matters – the fishing. As we said, there’s no shortage of ways for you to land prized Chesapeake Bay Rockfish. From hands-on approaches to letting your lines do all the work, there are numerous ways to sink your hook into this beauty. 

Fly Fishing

A fly angler casts his line in a Virginia river

Reserved for the hardcore angler, fly fishing for Rockfish in the Chesapeake Bay is simply magic. Hit the rivers, flats, or even cast from shore and get ready for plenty of fun. We mentioned that these creatures will take any bait, and that goes for flies too. Use fast-sinking lines and heads, and make sure to keep your fly at the fish’s feeding level for the best chance at success.

When you feel the bite, get ready for an immense battle, as these creatures do everything to get off the end of your line. Pound for pound, you’re hard-pressed to find a better fighter in the Chesapeake Bay, especially on a fly, so make sure you’re prepared.

Fishing from Shore (or a Pier)

Two anglers sit on a bench fishing from shore in the Chesapeake Bay

If you’ve not quite mastered the art of fly fishing, don’t worry. There’s plenty of opportunities on conventional gear from shore. Bring your waders and get into the rivers and flats or hit the banks and parks that line the bay’s shoreline. You can even check one of the dozens of piers on offer on all sides of this famous waterway. 

Again, as these hungry creatures will take any bait, fishing on foot can be just as effective as any other method. Cast your line around structures that draw plenty of nutrients and bait fish for your best bet. Although, no matter where you are, you’re sure to find a prized Rockfish nearby.

Trolling

Lines troll from outriggers aboard a fishing vessel

Head out with a charter guide, and you’ll spend at least some of the time trolling. This effective way of targeting numerous fish will see you drag multiple lines in the water behind the boat. That way, the bait will mimic the moves of the bait fish, enticing the bite of Rockfish and more. 

Aboard such a vessel, you’ll be able to cover a range of fishing grounds unimaginable on foot. Slow trolling with sandworms is most effective, meaning you can sit back and relax while the lines (and the engine) do all the work for you. Don’t let your guard drop, though. You’ll want to leap into action as soon as you hear the reels screech, before entering into a battle like no other. 

Where to Go for Chesapeake Bay Rockfish

As the bay spans 200 miles, picking a Chesapeake Bay fishing spot can be tricky. The good news is that wherever you go, you’re probably in for some good fishing. If you want to get your hands on the famous Chesapeake Bay Rockfish, keep an eye out diving birds and leaping bait fish, as this is where you’ll likely find the hungry Bass.

A fishing boat anchored next to a lighthouse in the Chesapeake Bay

The bay is split up into an upper, middle, and lower section, and here’s our pick of where to go to get the biggest bang for your buck:

The Upper Chesapeake Bay

  • Susquehanna Flats: As this mighty river flows to sea, the flats are a great spot for targeting Rockfish. Take a light vessel or bring your waders and cast away for this prized fish. 
  • Rocky Point Beach: With waters averaging between 3–12 feet, everything’s possible around this beautiful fishing spot. Set up camp for the day and reap the rewards of this prolific fishery.
  • Battery Island: Hop aboard a charter and head out to this remote isle in the middle of the bay. The rusty lighthouse is worth a visit alone, but the fishing here is simply incredible. 

The Middle Chesapeake Bay

  • Bloody Point: The Chesapeake Bay record Rockfish was caught just off this productive spot. This spit of land stretches out into the bay, meaning both shore and charter fishing is possible, and the rewards are great.
  • Tilghman Island: Another productive spot that sticks out into the bay. Maryland’s fishing is at its finest here, so get your fill of delicious Rockfish and more.
  • Patuxent River: Towards the VA border, this body of water is seriously fish-filled. Hit the mouth of the river for the best action and you could land Rockfish after Rockfish, after Rockfish.

The Lower Chesapeake Bay

  • Cape Charles: From the creeks to the bay, there’s plenty going on here. This is a prime spot for trolling for Rockfish, so head out, sit back, and get in on the action.
  • Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel: Plenty of rivers flow to sea at this prime angling spot, with the structure beneath providing plenty of nutrients for bait fish and Rockfish alike, so come and make the most of it!
  • Lynnhaven Inlet: As the name says, this is a protected body of water, offering calm seas and incredible action. Hit the miles and miles of shoreline or get out on the water and you’re in for a treat.

Chesapeake Bay Rockfish Regulations

Before you grab your rod and reel and start going after these prized creatures, you’ll need to make sure you’re up to date with the latest rules. However, it all depends on where you’re fishing. 

A picture of a badge with words Fishing License on it

Virginia and Maryland have different rules concerning keeping Rockfish. You can keep one year-round in VA, with size limits varying. Meanwhile, Maryland prohibits their harvesting in January, February, and April. You can keep one in May, with two per person allowed after then, with varying size limits. Check out the regulations for Maryland and Virginia.

The good news is that you can fish both states’ waters with the same license. Just make sure you register with the other’s Saltwater Angler Registry. You can find out how to get a VA license with our handy guide, or you can head over to the Maryland DNR website to get your MD license.

A Word on Conservation

Despite the strict regulations in place, you can do your bit to help keep the Chesapeake Bay population healthy for many anglers to come. Make sure to practice slow trolling to reduce the impact of the hook. You should also try using heavy tackle to avoid a complicated battle that could damage the fish. When practicing catch and release, carefully place the Rockfish back in the water, as throwing them in could cause unnecessary shock. 

And You’re Good to Go!

A group of anglers hold their Chesapeake Bay Rockfish under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge

There you have it, now you’re an expert in Chesapeake Bay rockfishing, too. Of course, the best way to see what all the fuss is about is by getting out on the water yourself. Wherever you are in this famous fishery, serious fun awaits. Get ready for the trip of a lifetime and plenty of tasty rewards!

And now over to you. Have you ever landed a Chesapeake Bay Rockfish? Let us know all about your experiences in the comments below!

Comments (7)
  • Sam

    Jul 23, 2022

    Sorry, but I’m going to agree with Joe. But my biased opinion is based on actual experience as well. As a native Washingtonian, grew mostly in MD, and fished the Bay since the 80s. This vast body of water was not just a fish haven. But the life source and home for all aquatic creatures.

    The water was clean enough that you could catch postage stamps (small summer flounder) with just night crawlers on the shoreline in the Svern river across the Naval academy. You’d pull up at least two if not three crabs out of every hand crab traps or basket.

    Unfortunately, the motor boat population, fishing industries, watermen, lack of government control, due to greed and powers of persuasion. All these variables have led to an overwhelming and exponential pollution problem that has deteriorated the water. Such as so, to the point, it might and may not even be reversible.

    The solutions are there to rectify the situation. To start with, electric motors only within the bay. Limiting catch limits for commercial fisheries, and most of all is start the process of cleaning the water.

    I’m not a geologist, nor a biologists, and one doesn’t need a degree in either. It just requires common sense, and the morals and uncompromising values to address it.

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      CaptainHook

      Oct 2, 2022

      Wow, Mr. Washingtonian. Watermen? Oh yes, get rid of them too. Electric motors? Did you know 90 percent of the raw materials for your electric batteries is mined by hundreds of thousands of starving slaves in India and other third world locations. Did you know that production of these same batteries is extremely dirty, polluting huge amounts of land and water in the producing areas? Of course you don’t know. Just as long as you can spout the stuff you seem to believe in and don’t see the cost in human lives and the environment, from in front of your TV or from your house, you will believe anything. With all due respect, Sir. SMH

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  • Joe

    Jul 7, 2022

    I’m in my 70s. Grew up on the Bay and it’s tributaries fishing, crabbing, and oystering. To tout this fishery as “one of the greatest” is disgusting and so wrong. The Bay may have been that at one time but MD and VA have allowed this estuary to become so polluted, over populated and overfished that it’s resources are a fraction of what they were even 20 years ago. It’s barely worth wasting your time pursuing the rockfish, crabs, and oysters anymore.

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      Andriana

      Jul 7, 2022

      Hello Joe,

      Thank you for sharing your opinion. Many fisheries have lost some of their splendor in the past decades due to different reasons, but hopefully, we’ve learned from the past and things will get better as we become more aware of human impact on the local fishing opportunities.

      The Chesapeake Bay must have been amazing to fish in your time, I can only imagine. To this day, people love to go fishing in the bay because there’s still a lot to catch, and they can have a great time on the water, which is the point in the end. We can only hope that fishing conditions will continue to improve so that future generations can enjoy this beautiful fishery as well.

      All the best!

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      Glenn

      Jul 8, 2022

      When have we ever learned from our past. The bay has never been worse as far as pollution goes. I grew up on the Chesapeake. I wouldn’t want my loved ones to eat anything that comes from there. I haven’t had any crabs in over 20 years. Haven’t been there to fish in 15 years. The picture at the head of your story says it all… A bunch of idiots w/ maybe one over 5 lbs. You’re catching nothing but baby rockfish. And people won’t stop till they’re fished into extinction. Then we’ll blame everything on anything but ourselves… That’s how we humans roll! Don’t waste your time. Or if you if you like come and fuck up this part of the planet a little more. Catch baby fish eat crabs that are loaded with heavy metals and other carcinogens… Hope you have a blast like the idiots so proud of a catch that I laughed and would make my father would roll over in his grave.

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  • Ken

    Apr 4, 2021

    What is the area know as, let’s say from Hoopersville to the Rappahannock called. I’ve always wondered about that and have been asked before where I fish. I usually reply, the lower middle lol. Of course I fish the Tangier and Pocomoke Sounds and that is easy to describe but have often though why this section of the bay wasn’t named or included. Thanks and this was a great article.

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      Rhys

      Apr 5, 2021

      Hi Ken,

      Thanks for reading and for your kind words. I agree that the best way to describe the spot from Hoopersville down is the lower middle bay! As for the Tangier and Pocomoke Sounds, I agree they’re also excellent spots. Maybe we’ll need to write another piece just outlining the top spots in the Middle Chesapeake Bay!

      Tight lines,

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