The Chesapeake Bay is one of the country’s premier fishing spots. Its status as the largest estuary in the United States makes it an ideal place to catch saltwater, freshwater, and anadromous fish (fish who spend most of their lives at sea before migrating to freshwater rivers to spawn). Hundreds of fish species call the Chesapeake Bay watershed their home, from the famous striped bass to different types of croaker, drum, perch, and trout.
If you’ve been thinking of staying with us here at Cape Charles Yacht Center, why not take this opportunity to go fishing in the abundant waters of the Lower Chesapeake Bay? Here’s our handy guide to the different fish species you can find in the Lower Chesapeake Bay, the best fishing spots, and everything else you need to know about fishing in the Lower Chesapeake Bay.
Fish Species of the Lower Chesapeake Bay
The Chesapeake Bay is home to many different species of saltwater and freshwater fish, making it an excellent place to go fishing! While most of these species can be found mainly in the estuary, more can be found in the Chesapeake’s tributaries and rivers, such as the Potomac, the Rappahannock, the York, and the James Rivers.
These are some of the most common fish species you’re likely to find in the Lower Chesapeake Bay:
Striped Bass: Also known as “Rockfish” by the locals, the striped bass is the most popular fish species in the Bay and can be found all across its waters.
Shad: American and Hickory Shad are known to migrate from the sea to freshwater rivers and creeks in the Mid-Atlantic during the spring and are known to be popular catches in the Bay’s tributaries, such as the Rappahannock and the Potomac.
Blue Catfish: The blue catfish is the largest American catfish species and can occasionally grow heavier than 100 pounds. They can usually be found in freshwater rivers, streams, and lakes. Channel Catfish and White Catfish can also be found in the Bay.
Drum Fish: Several drum species can be found in the Lower Bay, including the Red Drum, Black Drum, and the Freshwater Drum.
Croaker: Also known as “Hardhead”, croakers are characterized by the “croaking” sound they make when they are removed from water. They are some of the most popular catches in the Bay and can be caught from piers, jetties, and bays.
Spanish Mackerel: Spanish Mackerel are a favorite for Lower Bay anglers and can be caught from the summer to early fall before they migrate during the colder months.
Flounder: Also called Summer Flounder or Flukes, these fish can be found all over the Mid-Atlantic coast and are one of the easiest fish to catch.
Bluefish: Schools of bluefish are common in the Lower Bay and are also fairly easy to catch.
Speckled Trout: Speckled Trout are so-called for the black spots found on their bodies and can be caught in shallow water.
Gray Trout: Also called weakfish or sea trout, Gray Trout are another popular shallow-water fish species for anglers and can often be caught with speckled trout, bluefish, croaker, and flounder.
Cobia: Cobia are found mainly in the Lower Bay from spring till fall. They’re a large species that travel in schools and more than one can often be caught at once.
Perch: White and Yellow Perch can be caught in the freshwater rivers, streams, lakes, and tidal creeks of Chesapeake Bay (though they can also tolerate the brackish waters of the estuary), while Silver Perch can be found in coastal waters and estuaries and can even be used to bait other fish.
Herring: River Herring is the collective name of 2 herring species found in the Bay’s rivers and tributaries, the Alewife and the Blueback Herring, although catching and possession of any species of river herring in the Bay is under moratorium.
Atlantic Sturgeon: Although they’re not up for angling, like the herring, you may still be lucky enough to catch sight of an Atlantic Sturgeon, the largest freshwater fish native to the Mid-Atlantic region. These fish can reach up to 200 pounds in weight and can grow to 6 to 8 feet in length.
In addition to these common fish species, you may also find black sea bass, tautog, spadefish, triggerfish, American eel, largemouth bass, sunfish, carp, northern snakeheads, scups or porgies, spadefish, triggerfish, and spots, just to name a few.
Best Fishing Spots in the Lower Chesapeake Bay
Now that you know what kind of fish you’ll most likely be seeing in the Lower Bay, it’s time to pick out the most ideal spots to catch them! We’ve taken the liberty of finding the most abundant fishing spots in the Lower Chesapeake for you, all within access of the Cape Charles Yacht Center to make it easier for you to get there.
Cape Charles and Cherrystone Inlet
Why stray too far from home? Cape Charles is an excellent place to catch plenty of saltwater species, including the famous striped bass. The Eastern Coast of the Delmarva peninsula is also chock full of tributaries and inlets, and even marshes and creeks, where you can catch a variety of freshwater or anadromous fish as well. Just north of Cape Charles you’ll find the Cherrystone Inlet, Hungars Creek, and Nassawadox Creek. It’s right there at your doorstep when you come and stay with us here at Cape Charles Yacht Center.
Kiptopeke State Park
Located just below Cape Charles, Kiptopeke State Park provides easy access to the Lower Chesapeake Bay and has a boat ramp and a fishing pier. Anglers can fish from the pier or the shore directly into the Bay. You can find many of the above saltwater fish species here, like striped bass, flounder, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, and croaker.
First Landing State Park
First Landing is Virginia’s most popular and most visited state park, attracting millions of visitors every year. Located right in the heart of Virginia Beach, First Landing State Park is one of the best places to fish directly at the Bay from the land. You can find plenty of the same fish species in Kiptopeke here and have the option to fish from your boat or on their lighted fishing pier.
Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, or CBBT, is a 17-mile long bridge that connects the Delmarva peninsula to the rest of Virginia. The waters around the CBBT, also known as the Middle Grounds, is a fishing haven. The waters of the Middle Grounds are simply teeming with fish, especially during the summer months, making it a popular spot for anglers. Here you’ll find flounder, red and black drum, sheepshead, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, weakfish, croaker, and trout, among others.
Made up your mind about fishing in the Lower Chesapeake Bay? We’re glad to hear it! But first, you need to be aware of some rules and regulations surrounding recreational fishing in the Lower Chesapeake region, specifically in the state of Virginia.
While some public piers and beaches may allow fishing from the shore or pier without a license, a recreational saltwater or freshwater fishing license is required to fish in the Virginia area of the Chesapeake Bay, including its rivers and tidal tributaries, unless you’re fishing on a licensed pier (such as some public piers and state parks), on a licensed charter, or a licensed private boat.
In addition to that, you may be prohibited from catching and keeping some species of fish. Some fish species are on a catch-and-release basis only, while others can only be possessed at a limited quantity per vessel or per person or up to a specified size. For a complete list of the type of fish you can catch, release, or possess, refer to this list.
The type of fish you can find in the Lower Chesapeake Bay will, of course, vary depending on the season. Some fish migrate to freshwater during the colder months or during spawning season, and vice versa. You may also find more options during certain seasons, such as the summer, than others. Whether or not some fish can be caught also depends largely on the weather when you set off.
Here are some of the most common species you can find in and around the Bay and the best seasons and times to catch them:
Striped bass: Available year-round; most abundant in early spring, at early morning or late afternoon
Flounder: Fall to early winter, during early morning or early evening at high tide
Spanish mackerel: Spring to early fall, during the day
Bluefish: Late spring to early fall, early morning or early evening
Cobia: Summer, morning to afternoon
Most fish species can be caught year-round in the Lower Chesapeake Bay, but can be more abundant in certain seasons. In general, the best time to go fishing in the Lower Chesapeake Bay is from late spring to early fall, often peaking during the summer. Several fish species can be caught at the same time around those seasons, making fishing all the more productive and fruitful. It all comes down to what type of fish you’re aiming to catch and when that fish is most active in the Bay. It pays to do your research ahead of time while planning your trip.
Boats vs. Docks vs. Shorelines
Because the Chesapeake Bay region is so large, there are plenty of different ways you can go fishing in it. You can fish right from the shore or cast your line into shallow waters and still get a good catch, or you can head out on a charter boat and get unique hands-on experience and try your hand at catching the best fish the Bay has to offer.
There are some fish that are more bountiful in areas like piers or the shoreline, while others can only be caught out in the open water far from the shore. Whichever one is best suited for your fishing trip can depend on your personal preferences, the type of fish you’re planning to catch, and the season.
Each area has its own advantages. Shore fishing is most popular around freshwater areas of the Chesapeake and is a great way to catch fish that frequent more shallow waters. Pier fishing, meanwhile, allows you to stay on solid ground while bringing you closer towards deeper and more abundant parts of the water where you can catch both shallow- and deep-water fish. You’ll find plenty of piers all over the Lower Chesapeake Bay and most are free to fish on or require a minimal fee.
Heading out on a charter boat or your own private vessel, however, could be the best way to go fishing out on the Bay if you want to be able to catch as much fish as you can. You can easily navigate to all the sweet spots and can use different methods of catching you might not be able to use on the shore or the pier. Cape Charles Yacht Center offers seasonal and transient boat slips if you’re aching to get out on your own private fishing vessel if you’ve been aching to do some fishing on the Lower Chesapeake Bay.
Fishing on the Lower Chesapeake Bay is always a fun experience for any experienced angler, and even for beginners. The wide and varied species of fish you can catch within the Lower Bay alone make it an ideal spot for fishing year round.
Cape Charles Yacht Center would be happy to be your gateway to all the wonderful angling opportunities Chesapeake Bay and picturesque Cape Charles has to offer! Be sure to book your slip today and stay ahead of the best fishing seasons on the Bay.