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Rivah Visitor's Guide

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The Fishing Line


Cindy Evans displays the flounder she caught April 7 at Buoy 36-A. The 7-lb., 3-oz. flounder was weighed at The Tackle Shop at J&W Seafood in Deltaville.

Baseball, Hotdogs, Apple Pie and Fish Fillets!

It’s American and it’s the way folks here in Virginia’s Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula define springtime.

Little League baseball, an apple pie cooling on the window sill, and a freshly-grilled rockfish fillet are among the many things that make living here so special.

The fishing season blooms in spring and offers a variety of action throughout the region.   

We can usually get a feel for the overall population and availability of species through watching their migration patterns throughout this month.

STRIPED BASS (rockfish) are our main ‘calling card” and our prime springtime fishery. They enter the bay during the month of March and spawn in the upper bay and river waters by mid-April. As they move off the spawning grounds and back toward the ocean waters, we catch them while trolling the channel edges.

Both the Maryland and Potomac River trophy seasons began on April 17 and continue through May 15. There is a minimum size of 28 inches and a creel limit of one per person.

Those jurisdictions continue on May 16 with the regular season, which runs through December. Anglers are allowed 2 fish per person, 18-28 inches (one of the two may exceed 28 inches).

The Virginia Trophy Rockfish Season is open May 1-June 15 and offers anglers one fish per person each day. The minimum size is 32 inches. After May 15 anglers have a choice of two fish in the 18-28 inch slot or one fish in the slot and one fish over 32 inches.

Trolling is the ticket to success in the trophy season as parachutes, large spoons and Stretch 25’s are all used to land the large 32-48 inch rockfish. Most of the fish that are caught during the post-spawn migration are shallow in the water table. I seldom fish more than 20 feet below the surface. The majority of bait fish frequent the upper water table during the spring season and best results can be found within 10 feet of the surface.

On the Potomac, I recommend trolling the channel edges from the #9 buoy to the mid-channel marker near the river’s mouth. In Maryland bay waters, working the channel from buoy 64 up to buoy 72 will produce good hauls while covering both the east and west channel edges. Virginia waters offer a very good opportunity between the Smith Point Lighthouse and the buoy 62 area outside of Ingram Bay Marina. To the south, an area of interest is in and around the “Cut Channel” outside of the Rappahannock River.

Once the schools of menhaden or other baitfish are located, a zig-zag route up and down the channel edges will help you to catch the rockfish. Sometimes a crossing pattern is also effective. This minimizes the effects of tide on your boat and keeps lure speed consistent. Keep your speed down below three knots, be patient and work over the schools of bait. Success will surely follow.

CROAKER, locally called “hardheads,” have been moving through the lower bay and up the Rappahannock and Potomac rivers. These fish should be plentiful throughout May. The first catches are usually landed with bloodworms, yet as the spring matures, squid, shrimp and cut bait also work well. Morning and evening are both good times to catch the tasty croaker.

FLOUNDER have already made their way into the bay waters. During April these flat fish were available from the Bay Bridge Tunnel deep into Virginia’s bay waters. The “Cell” is a great location to find these tasty flat fish, yet they can also be found along the lower Tangier Sound and up the eastern channel edge to the Maryland line. Squid and bull minnow combos have been deadly as the flounder are hungry and ready for their move to the north.

PUPPY DRUM and SPECKLED TROUT will be in the house during the latter part of May as water temperatures rise. The best baits are the Gulp Grubs and shrimp, respectfully. Speckled trout are a little ahead of the drum in migration. These shallow water fish will be frequenting a marsh or grassy flat near you.

BLUEFISH have picked up in numbers over the past few years. I feel the sizes will continue to increase as they did last year. The availability of food will play a major role. The menhaden population needs to be abundant in the bay in order to support both a flourishing striped bass and bluefish fishery. Sizes have been improving over the past five years and look to average in the 3-5 pound class this season with late season blues tipping the scales at nearly 10 pounds.

Lures that work well for me and other charter captains are parachutes rigged with a 9-inch double hooked sassy shad. There are several color options and combos available, yet for me white and chartreuse are the only colors necessary for a successful outing. You may run these lures as a single or tandem rigged. You may even drag them on an umbrella rig.

Enjoy this month of baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and fish fillets!

Until next time…fair winds.

Capt. Billy Pipkin, a charterboat operator and fishing columnist, owns and operates Capt. Billy’s Charters and Ingram Bay Marina in Wicomico Church. (804) 580-7292,

posted 05.12.2010

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