After discovering that there was a forecasted weather window of light winds that coincided with day off for the first time in nearly a month, I was chomping at the bit to get back out on the bay. Excitedly I jumped on the opportunity and planned for a C&R trip to the lower bay. Even though the lack of C&R fishing reports from the bay is sometimes deterring, a friend and I had fly fished a few nights prior and landed several quality fish up to about 43”. After this experience, along with a few other reports that I was able to scrounge up, I was certain that there were still big fish to be had in the lower bay. Since I have had superior striper fishing this past season compared to the last couple, my wife and I headed east from Richmond in the wee hours of the morning with high expectations. I was not exactly sure what to expect, but I knew the day held a vast potential with the amount of bait and fish present.
As we crossed over the bay bridge tunnel, the sun had just finished peeking over the horizon, and the cloudless morning made for a brilliant sunrise. Although the bright sunshine offered a bit of warmth against the morning chill, I would have much preferred more overcast skies to fish under. Arriving at Kiptopeke State Park, I immediately noted that the NW wind was slightly higher than forecasted, but still manageable in my small boat. I also noted a few gannets that were flying high, but occasionally diving, on the other side of the ships. We hastily prepared the boat and were quickly headed out into the bay with an arsenal of fly and light tackle equipment at the ready. Just after clearing the concrete ships, we saw a few more gannets to the northwest and noticed about 6 boats trolling north of us, which was not overly unusual considering that we were fishing on a weekend. The word on the radio was that there were a few release citations being caught already. We steamed out to investigate. Shortly after we started running, the depth finder showed a false bottom of bait and fish about 20’ down and all the way to the bottom in about 45’ of water. I quickly stopped the boat and we both dropped jigs down to probe this pod. Nearly immediately, I felt the tell tale thump of a striper inhaling my white and chartreuse bucktail. After setting the hand sharpened hook hard, I knew that I was in for a battle. Armed with only a medium heavy Shimano rod, I quickly realized that this was no schoolie sized striper, and that I had brought a knife to a gunfight. Even with nearly 8 pounds of drag pressure and palming the spool, pushing the 20lb leader to near its limit, the dogged fish peeled braid off of my deep spool Shimano Curado at an alarming rate. I told my wife to turn on the boat and go toward the fish so I could try to catch up and gain some line back. After 15 more minutes of lifting, waiting, and hoping, I finally saw my knot at the top of the fluorocarbon leader. Still few minutes later, after having the camera and measuring tape at the ready, I hoisted the fish over the gunwale, quickly measured it out at 48” with a 27” girth and took a picture, all in a little over 30 seconds. I then promptly cradled the fish in the water until it swam away with a strong flick of the massive tail, leaving me with a splash of water on the face, a mild state of shock and a rush of adrenaline. We immediately put away the lighter tackle and broke out some heavier gear, so as not to stress these fish from enduring a longer fight. Within a few more minutes we found the bait ball again and my wife dropped a swimbait on top of them, and were shortly rewarded with another take. After another similar, but shorter battle, she boated a 49” fish. We had only been fishing for about 30 minutes, and were both in awe of the amazing fishery that is in the lower bay, and also how few people were taking advantage of it. The rest of the day was icing on the cake after those first two fish, and although we each caught several more fish on flies and light tackle, none of them approached the size of the first two.
Of the few boats that we saw in the bay all day, many were from out of state. I still do not understand why so few of us enjoy this spectacular fishery that is in our backyard, but people drive for hours from all around to enjoy it. Although I do enjoy a fine meal of striped bass, I can enjoy a day of catch and release fishing just as much, if not more, because I feel that I am doing my part to sustain this amazing fishery and resource for future generations to enjoy.