Mid Atlantic saltwater fishing is characterized by some of the nation’s most sought after species of fish. These include hard fighting fish such as red drum, black drum, striped bass, bluefish, cobia, speckled trout and others.
Black drum are heavy bodied fish with barbels or whiskers under the chin. Adults are typically 30-15 pounds although trophy fish can exceed 100 pounds. Black drum are members of the croaker family, most of which have the ability to produce croaking or drumming sounds.
Anglers fish for black drum using surf clams, hard clams, peeler crabs and other baits. Tackle is simple but stout, with most anglers using 20-30 lb line, sinkers from 3-8 oz and a single hook rig. Many anglers use circle hooks which work well with these fish. Top baits include surf clams, quahogs and peeler crabs.
Red drum are another large member of the croaker family, sometimes exceeding 50 lbs. Also known as channel bass, redfish and spot tail bass, these fish are easily recognized by their reddish-copper color and black spot or spots on the tail. In 2007, the species was designated as a protected game fish. The red drum is also the state fish of North Carolina.
Depending on the location, anglers use a variety of techniques to catch red drum. Throughout most of the Mid Atlantic region, these beautiful fish are caught while surf fishing. Anglers fish with cut spot, whole mullet, crabs or other baits, using fish finder rigs and medium tackle. A large number of anglers choose to release large red drum, taking only a photo to remember the experience by.
Spotted sea trout, also known as speckled trout are common throughout North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland. The fish are known for their beautiful pattern of black spots on an olive-green or gray back, silver-blue sides and a white belly. Spotted sea trout range from 12 -32 inches in length and weigh up to 10 pounds.
Speckled trout are caught using a variety of methods including fishing with live bait, cut bait and casting artificial lures or fly fishing. Shallow water fishing for speckled trout using artificial lures is popular in much of the region. Anglers cast small jigs, soft plastics and other lures around the edges of grass beds, stumps, points, rips and other likely areas. Fly fishermen also target these areas, fishing a variety of flies that mimic bay local baits such as bay anchovies, mullet, spot, shrimp or blue crabs.
In some areas, speckled trout can be caught by anchoring and bottom fishing with live or baits. Fish are sometimes caught in deep water along a channel edge, but most bait fishing for specks occurs around grass beds in shallow water. In areas such as the Chesapeake Bay, peeler and soft crab baits are popular while North Carolina anglers are more likely to fish with live shrimp or spot.
Striped bass are highly sought after by Mid Atlantic anglers. Also known as rockfish or stripers, these heavy bodied fish follow a predictable life cycle. The major nursery for Atlantic striped bass stocks is the Chesapeake Bay. Young fish feed and grow in shallow estuaries until they are large enough to leave the bay. Some adults remain in the bay but the majority spend their adult lives migrating seasonally along the coast from New England to the Carolinas.
During the fall and winter, the Mid Atlantic coast and Chesapeake Bay has outstanding fishing, with trophy striped bass being caught. These fish congregate in the Chesapeake and along of the Atlantic Coast to feed on migrating baitfish. Fishing can be spectacular and often is very productive, even in foul winter weather.
Light tackle jigging is an easy technique for catching striped bass. Tackle is simple for this type of fishing, with a variety of outfits from 8-30 lb used depending on the situation. Popular jigs include bucktails, metal jigs, soft plastics and other lures.
Wire line trolling works in many locations where striped bass can be found. Working with wire line is a bit difficult to get used to but the results are very consistent. Rods are spooled with #30 monel or other types of wire. Terminal tackle includes a 3 way swivel. A 24 or 28 oz. sinker is added on 3-4′ section of #30 mono. The third part of the swivel gets a 20-30′ leader with either a single lure or a pair of jigs.
Live baiting is another productive technique for catching striped bass. Baits include clams, crabs, eels, small fish, shrimp, and other baits. These vary with season and location. Fishermen choose live baits depending on availability and personal preference. Some anglers obtain live baits from local tackle shops while others catch their own.
Bluefish are an exciting Mid Atlantic gamefish. They are found from Maine to Florida. The fish are voracious feeders and are known for their sharp teeth and ability to demolish even the strongest tackle. Bluefish have been known to gather in schools that cover an area of ocean equivalent to 10,000 football fields.
Along the USA east coast, bluefish can be found along shorelines, inlets, jetties, beaches and areas where rips form such as sharp bends or channel edges. Many of these locations are ideal for shorebound fishermen. Fishing opportunities also exist for boaters, including areas where bluefish congregate in large numbers. Bluefish often work bait to the surface and their location given away by birds or when their backs or tails appear above the surface. Other anglers chum with ground menhaden or mackerel in order to bring bluefish within casting range.
Blue Catfish are the largest American catfish. They can grow to over 55 inches long and can weigh over than 100 pounds, living up to 25 years. Adult blue catfish have stout bodies with prominently humped back in front of the dorsal fin. They have deeply forked tails similar to channel catfish, but lack spots and have a large straight edged anal fin.
The Mid Atlantic has some of the best fishing for blue catfish in the country. Popular areas for catching blue catfish include the James, Rappahannock, Chickahominy, Mattoponi and Shendandoah rivers. In tidal areas such as the James River, blue catfish have adapted to saltwater tidal flows and actively move into position to feed as the tide brings baitfish into range.
Blue cat anglers fish baits such as shad around structure where big catfish lurk. Fishing for blue catfish has quickly become a trophy catch and release fishery in tidal sections of rivers and the anglers who fish for them often share skills and tips.
Cobia are among the largest and most exciting gamefish of the Mid Atlantic region. They are striking fish, with sleek, brightly striped bodies. The fish are brown above, with a very visible black stripe along the lateral line, and white below. They have a wide blunt head, large mouth and deeply forked tail. Averaging 15 to 30 pounds, they can reach more than 100 pounds and nearly 6 feet in length.
Cobia fishermen use a variety of outfits, depending on the type of fishing. Some anglers may choose light outfits, while others employ stronger gear as these fish can reach weights of 100 lbs. For sight casting baits or lures, most anglers use a spinning or baitcasting outfit in the 20-30 lb range. Other situations such as chumming require similar or slightly heavier conventional reels. Because of the cobia’s size and searing runs, a smooth drag and fresh, durable line is essential.
Live baits for cobia include spot, menhaden, mullet, minnows, perch, eels, shrimp, crabs, clams and other baits. These vary with season and location. Fishermen choose live baits depending on availability and personal preference. Some anglers will find live baits in local tackle shops while others need to catch their own.
The author is an outdoor enthusiast and writes for outdoor websites including Hampton Roads Virginia, How to Clean Fish and Virginia Saltwater Fishing.