With my boat back from the mechanic, and having heard scattered reports of big striped bass in the middle Chesapeake, my buddy and I set off for an early morning run. Heading north out of Solomons Island, I kept my eyes peeled for birds, oil slicks, or congregations of boats in tight quarters, all of which would mean feeding striped bass. After stopping at a few floating gulls to see if they were on fish, we found a large school in 50 ft of water. The fish were feeding on menhaden and bay anchovies, and were spread out over a half mile area.
I rigged up my buddy with a medium action spinning rod, braided line, and a 1-oz jig head and 7″ Hogy plastic lure, and he was immediately into fish. I used my 10 wt, 400 grain sinking head, and a large baitfish pattern I had made (3/0 hook, “fish skull” brand head, 8″ long hackles and a mix of craft fur), and was also into fish right away. Most fish were in the 19″ to 23″ size range, meaning they were in the 2011 spawning class, and a select few were a little smaller (14″-18″).
I was fortunate to hook, land and release two much larger fish that took me into my backing. These fish were 33″ and 34″, and my buddy hooked two in that size class, breaking one off due to improper drag setting (wrong direction – whoops!) and another one that threw the hook once boat-side. We saw several more fish in this size range, usually chasing after a smaller striper as we were reeling it in, and once, for me, following my fly the entire way back to the boat, half-heartedly trying to eat it.
These fish stayed on top from 7:00AM to 10:30AM, until the bright sun and boat traffic pushed them down to the middle depths (25′ or so). That said, all the boaters fishing this school showed courtesy to each other. Everyone gave each other sufficient space to troll, jig, and fly fish (made easier by the size of the school), and best of all the run-and-gun types (myself included) would turn off their motors when drifting through pods of working fish. This goes a long, long way to keeping fish happy and feeding high in the water column, which of course means easier and more visual fishing.
After catching our fill, and having a harder time finding hungry fish, we headed over to some nearby islands to fish stump fields for striped bass and speckled trout. If you are unfamiliar with stump fields, know that they are fantastic shallow water fisheries, consisting of the remnants of old islands and their long-dead trees. The five-foot deep water was clear, but we did not find any bass or seatrout. We did hook and land a 15 lb cownose ray on a plastic swimming lure, neatly mouth-hooked and released in good condition after a fun fight.
The other great thing about the day: We ran into two distinct pods of porpoises, with the first working the mouth of the Patuxent River numbering around 25. They were swimming south in formation, huddled together in groups of 3-5 animals, smacking their tails periodically (unsure why) and smoothly surfacing again and again. Later in the day we found another large group (or maybe the same one?) coming south, this time numbering around 40 animals. I am surprised to see so many porpoises so far up the Chesapeake, but given the number of porpoises seen, and knowing how many fish they must eat, maybe this bodes well for the overall health of the bay.