Fishing On The Chesapeake Bay With Capt. Dave Schauber!
Hoopers Island, MD
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Live-Lining For Chesapeake Bay Striped Bass
Over the past several years, from June through October, I have been using live bait to catch those resident Chesapeake Bay striped bass that tend to stay in the bay all year long. These fish typically range anywhere from 18 to 28 inches in length. When catching these fish, you are allowed to keep two per person in Maryland.
Live-lining involves putting a spot fish on your hook and tossing it out, letting the line free-spool off of your spinning reel. A spot fish is a fish that's about the size of your hand and has a spot on each side of it. We have found that when a Chesapeake Bay striped bass encounters one of these spot fish that is struggling on a hook, it can't help but bite! In fact, when you are on a school of rockfish, you can catch your limit in a very short period of time. I've had days where some of my parties of 10 or more people catch their legal limit of Chesapeake Bay rockfish in less than an hour of fishing!
Spot Fish For Live-Lining Striped Bass
Before we all discovered that you could catch rockfish with spot, we all used a technique known as chumming for rockfish. This technique involved throwing globs of ground-up menhaden overboard, which would create an oil slick on the surrounding water. The rockfish would then feed off of this, and hopefully, bite your hook in the process. However, the biggest advantage that live-lining has over chumming is that it is much cleaner. If you spill chum on your boat and don't clean it up right away, it will leave a stain on your boat. Not only that, the chum doesn't smell very good either. Nowadays, chumming for rockfish doesn't work as well. It seems that now, all those striped bass want is a spot on a hook. They're smarter than many of us give them credit for.
We also troll for those smaller stripers when there aren't any spot fish available. When doing this, we usually fish with umbrella rigs that pull small bucktails with artificial lures. However, this isn't anywhere near as exciting as live-lining, as most people like to have the rod in their hand when they "hook-up."
Now, let's get into the specifics of how live-lining works. First, you start with standard-size fishing rod. You don't want anything that's really flimsy, but you want your rod to be sensitive enough to know when you got one on. Remember, that most of these summer striped bass weigh between 2 and 6 pounds, unlike those monsters we catch in the spring and late fall of the year. For this type of fishing, I like to use the Shakespeare Ugly Stik.
I also use spinning reels, as we have found them to work best. Baitcasting reels are okay as well, as long as you don't "birds nest" them. I generally use 20-lb. test monofilament line, which is strong enough for what we're doing, and thin enough so that the fish don't see it. I try to avoid the use of braided line, particularly that Fireline stuff, because if you get it tangled, it can be a real mess. At the end of the line, I tie a treble hook. This treble hook is a size 6 hook, although sometimes you can get away with a 2 or 4-size hook. Mustad makes really good hooks for this type of application. Depending on the strength of the prevailing current, you may want to attach a weight about three feet up the line from your hook. One or two ounces will usually do the trick.
Mustad Treble Hooks For Catching Chesapeake Bay Striped Bass (Photo From Zeiners.com)
You also need a live-well for storing your live spot. Remember that you can't live-line with dead spot. The stripers just won't bite it. I use a 55-gallon plastic drum with a hose going into it from my washdown pump. Sometimes, I put an aerator stone in the live-well to insure a sufficient supply of oxygen for keeping the bait alive.
Now, I take one of the spot fish, and I insert one tine of the treble hook into the back of the spot, just below the dorsal fin. Then, I release the bail and let the spot swim away from the boat. I hold the line in between my fingers with a little bit of tension, in order to make the spot struggle. When the spot does this, it appears to be injured to a hungry striped bass, making it easy pickings. If you feel a bit of sudden tension on the line, let it go and let the fish swim with it. As most bass fisherman will tell you, the most common instinct when you feel this kind of tension is to snatch the rod. But, with this technique you do not do that. This is because the rockfish is trying to swallow the spot, and he's running with it like a dog with a bone, trying to get away from the other dogs. If you yank back on the rod, then you will either pull the fish out of the striper's mouth, or the striper will know something's up and let the now-dead spot go. When you get a bite, let the fish run with the hook for about five seconds, to allow enough time for the spot and the hook to become embedded in the striped bass. Sometimes, it's best to leave the bail open until the line stops spooling off. Then, close the bail and start to reel in the fish, keeping the rod tip up while you do it.
Some of my customers have a hard time in determining whether they have a Chesapeake Bay striped bass on the line, or just a feisty bait fish. To help eliminate this guesswork, my spinning reels have a baitrunner drag, that allows the bait fish to swim with the bail closed. If a striped bass hits it, then the drag will start singing. The baitrunner drag will stop when you turn the handle by one crank. At that point, the line will become tight, and you can reel in your fish. For live-lining, I like to use the Shimano Baitrunner reels, as well as the Penn Captiva reels.
Shimano Baitrunner and Penn Captiva Fishing Reels
When you get your fish in the boat, you may have difficulty in trying to get your hook out of the fish's mouth. Due to the fact that the striped bass will typically try to swallow the spot, the hook will often be down in the stomach of the striped bass. I like to use the Baker Hook-Out to help me de-hook these fish.
Baker Hook-Out (Photo From LandBigFish.com)
So, that is how you catch Chesapeake Bay striped bass with live-lining. However, because the striped bass normally swallows the hook down to its stomach, the fish will suffer an injury that will eventually kill it, especially after you rip out the hook with the de-hooker. For this reason, I do not allow my customers to catch and release these fish. I like my customers to have a good time, but I refuse to waste an extremely precious and valuable resource.
Now, you may be asking, "What about the spot? Where do I get any spot?" Well, most people buy them from tackle shops or from commercial fishermen who set traps out in the bay. I like to fish in the tributaries of the bay, such as the Patuxent River. These fish can usually be found on hard, shelly bottom. Bottom fishing with bloodworms is the most effective method of catching these fish. Some of my customers have more fun doing this than catching the stripers.
By using this technique, anybody can catch their legal limit of Chesapeake Bay striped bass with live-lining, provided that the fish are there.
Remember, that if you want to try your hand at this type of fishing, and don't have your own boat, please give me a call and book a trip! Tight Lines!