In Chesapeake Bay, striped bass, known locally as rockfish, come in two varieties: resident and migratory. Residents occupy the bay year-round until they grow over 30 inches. Then the fish leave the bay and join the migratory stock in the ocean.
Migratory striped bass leave the bay in the spring and return in fall. Grown-up striped bass weigh from 10 pounds to over 50. They swim close to shore and congregate around structure, so trophy striper are the perfect targets for kayak anglers.
Dream Bass: How to Catch Huge Chesapeake Bay Stripers
Three observations enable me to target high-probability areas perfectly suited for kayak fishing: identifying historical spawning grounds, looking for swift current and finding the food.
Chesapeake Bay spans 200 miles with countless bays, points, inlets and tributaries. I cannot wander around aimlessly and expect to catch a trophy striped bass. To narrow the search, I know trophy fish enter the mouth of the bay and head to the rivers where they were born.
I draw the path on a map and then look for areas where the path crosses current and points, grass lines or depth changes.
As they move up the bay, the fish are looking for a meal. With my fish finder, I search the area for gizzard shad, herring or hickory shad.
When I find the combination of structure, current and bait, I know I’m in a hot spot.
I target trophy striped bass with artificial lures. Lures not only present a greater challenge, but in my opinion they also improve the fish’s chance of surviving release. Since striped bass rarely swallow a lure, there is less chance of deep hooking the fish.
To cover miles of water in search of fish, I troll with light tackle. I like four- to eight-inch crankbaits in a variety of dive depths.
I choose a seven-foot, medium-heavy spinning rod with considerable backbone to set the hook and with enough play to work the lure. Spool a 4000 series reel with 20-pound braided line and three feet of 25-pound fluorocarbon leader. The mainline is light enough to allow me to troll a small crankbait and the fluorocarbon leader is more abrasion resistant to survive rocks and grass.
Striped Bass Tactic
I find striped bass by targeting current breaks and keeping the lure close to the bottom. I work the lure down current of rocks, shoals and deadfalls.
To mimic a baitfish struggling in the current, I troll across the current while working the rod back and forth.
I call my top secret technique the sway. I hold the lure in the current and move my kayak back and forth while barely moving forward. This leaves the lure in the strike zone.
I bring plenty of extra lures and leader. If I’m not losing lures, I’m not catching fish.
When people see photos of my huge striped bass, their first question is, “How did you get that on the kayak?” The answer: very carefully. Adding a 50-pound fish can easily exceed the kayak’s capacity and make the boat less stable.
I never lean toward the huge fish. Instead, I secure the striped bass with a lip gripper. Then, keeping my body weight over the kayak’s centerline, I slide the fish into the kayak. My camera is ready, so I can take a quick photo and return the fish to its journey up the bay.
For trophy Chesapeake Bay striped bass, focus on current, structure and bait. | Feature photo: Alan Battista