Eastern Shore of Virginia

In July and early August, I fished the Eastern Shore of Virginia with the hope of finding fly-rod cobia.

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Sandbar shark with an eel mustache.

For the first go-round, I traveled down by car to the Cape Charles area, and headed out with my friend on his boat.  We caught shark after shark while chumming for cobia, eventually changing strategies to fishing inshore on the grass flats common to this area.  I managed one nice striped bass on fly, and harassed a number of small houndfish.  As we prepared to go back out for cobia, we realized the boat’s bilge pump, and float switch, had stopped working, and the bilge was full of water.  Seeing that, we quickly headed back to the dock, leaving fishing behind for the rest of the day.

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The boat that tried to stop being a boat.

With boat trailered, and the mechanic phoned, we called it a night.

The next day, we fished the inshore flats by canoe.  The water was crystal clear, the water full of grasses, stingrays, fish, sponges, hermit crabs, and blue crabs – a living carpet we floated over.  We slung flies on the grass flats, and waded the sand bars at their edge.  We managed a number of houndfish on fly in the 2-3 lb range and a nice speckled seatrout.  We fished the houndfish partly by sight casting, seeing them cruising in the clear water, or hovering along the edge of a silverside school.  On the walk back to the canoe, we nearly stumbled over a 28″ red drum that was crusing in 10″ of water right at our ankles.  It never spooked, passing within a few feet of us.  Seeing that fish, we flogged the water for another hour, hoping to strike gold.  Failing that, we paddled in, and I headed back to DC.

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Speckled seatrout on the grass flats.
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One of a few houndfish that took flies.

The second trip to the ESVA saw me run by boat from Solomons, MD to the Cape Charles area.  The weather was crappy on the way down, and the last 30 minutes saw me running broadside to 4-5′ seas.  My life vest was on.  The floating VHF radio was clipped to my chest.  The boat’s kill switch tied to me.  And with all those precautions, I felt safe.  The boat handled admirably, a tribute to the capabilities of the Parker hull and the “Carolina bow flare” that effectively cleaved each wave.

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Bait.  The purist fly fisherman in me just threw up…just a little bit.

Once on dry land, my fishing buddy and I set out to the secret cobia hot spot (no coordinates here), chumming and baiting 7/0 hooks with menhaden and eels.  Over the course of 3 hours we landed around 40 sharks…and one cobia.  The seas were still nasty, 3-4 foot rollers, but the anchor held and we caught fish after fish.

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That moment where you drop a 20 lb shark in the boat and everyone scatters!
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A nice 37″ cobia – too small for keeping.

The cobia, once hooked, immediately set off for the water’s surface, and gave it’s best impression of a tarpon.  The sandbar sharks did the opposite, boring down and zig zagging around the boat.  As the bite slowed down, we headed in, eager to get an early start the next day, and chase these cobia with fly rods and lures.

The next day we started early, and headed to a few artificial reefs to try for trophy red drum.  We were blanked, though did catch a few croaker on jigs just as big.

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Fly rods rigged for cobia.

After that, we cruised the buoys along the eastern shore.  Surprisingly, not a single buoy held cobia, and the only two we encountered submerged as soon as they felt the boat’s wake.

We did switch to chumming briefly, hoping that we would have a few swim in along the surface (which my fishing partner had witnessed a few times).  No dice, but the sharks again came in and ate a few chunks of menhaden.

As the middle afternoon came, I departed the ESVA, driving back north solo.  I ran across a half dozen cobia along the way, and fished every buoy I came across.  No buoy held fish, and the fish on the surface were spooked before I could get a cast off.  Disappointed, I continued the run north, stopping briefly at the target ship of Tangier island to get the skunk off.  Thankfully a number of 20″ blue fish had taken up residence there, and I preceded to hook a number on fly.

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Nice bluefish on the target ship out of Tangier Island.  Made my day.

30 minutes before sunset, my boat was back on its lift, my gear stored, and I headed back to DC.

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