Saturday, April 13, 2024
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Capt. Billy Pipkin’s Fishing Line

by Capt. Billy Pipkin

Virginia is for Fish Lovers—catch a great time!

After another mild winter, water temperatures are already primed to hold fish.

The bay water temperature has risen to 60 degrees, and the local rivers are sporting temperatures in the low to mid 60s. The tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay have come alive with action, while the open waters have been slower to respond.

Many anglers have already gotten the smell of fish on their boats. There has been mixed action in the rivers for catfish, perch and speckled trout, with a few striped bass in the mix as well. In the middle and lower bay, tautog and black drum have provided some action.

Catfish have offered a strong bite in the upper Rappahannock River and as far down as the bridge in Tappahannock. The Potomac River is holding large numbers of channel cats from Coles Point up past Colonial Beach. These fish are relatively easy to catch. Live bait such as cut menhaden or shad work well along edges, drop-offs and around deep holes. If a school of cats are found, it is fun to drop rubber jigs and hook them on light tackle. Sizes are averaging 16-20 inches.

Tautog fishing continues to go well in the lower bay waters. In our local waters, there are far fewer available. They can be located on wrecks and underwater structures like reefs and rockpiles. Smashed blue crab or fiddler crab are the best bait, but clam also works to entice bites. The average size tog is two-four pounds, but there are a few outliers that can hit over six pounds.

Black drum are already being caught along the shallow channel ledge running from Fisherman’s Island through Cape Charles. Setting up on the top side of drop-offs with a live presentation like whole clam, peeler crab, or a combination of both will result in good action. Strong sharp hooks are key to hooking the tough mouths of the drum.
Running tides, late afternoons and evenings and full moons are considered the best time to fish for them. The average size Virginia black drum is 20-50 pounds, but they can easily approach 100 pounds. I have landed several citations aboard my charter boat in late April and early May along the eastern shore waters.

Speckled trout have been available for the past month in the creeks and feeder rivers off the Rappahannock and local rivers. They are now biting on both plastics and hard baits. Afternoons, when the water temperature has warmed along the shallow water is a good time to target this species. Action should heat up throughout May. Don’t be discouraged if these fish move from a favorite location. It is essential to try several areas and track them as they migrate along the rivers and tributaries.

White perch have been a good standby each spring for anglers wanting an early taste of the sea. They are not particularly large, averaging around 10 inches, with a few up to 12 inches in length. The lower rivers are holding lots of perch. In the bay, there have been fair numbers between Point Lookout and the Patuxent River.

Striped bass (rockfish) are a member of the perch family, so you can imagine how tasty the little rascals are!

Rockfish should pick up during mid-May. The brackish waters of mid-to-upper Potomac and Rappahannock rivers will offer action on 20-24 inch fish. Many of the tributaries and feeder creeks will also hold these rockfish in areas of structure such as grass beds, oyster shores and inlets.

Although the bay held abundant numbers last fall, I don’t expect it to hold many of the coveted striped bass this spring due to migration changes. This is primarily due to the water temperatures being warmer than usual the past few years. The fish seem to be traveling further up the bay and rivers during the spring and don’t hang all summer in the middle bay like they used to.

Have a great time on the water this spring. Remember, although the air temperature is in the 70s, the water is still cold enough to give you hypothermia if you are exposed to it for a length of time.

Until next time…Fair winds.

Since 1985, Capt. Billy Pipkin has owned and operated Capt. Billy’s Charters and Ingram Bay Marina at the mouth of Great Wicomico River in Wicomico Church. 580-7292,

Rappahannock Record Staff
Rappahannock Record Staff
From the Rappahannock Record news team

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