The Chesapeake Bay rockfish, also known as Maryland striped bass, is the most sought-after fish on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. This article focuses on the technique of using spot fish for live bait to catch Chesapeake Bay rockfish. This technique is also known as live-lining.
Live-lining for Chesapeake Bay rockfish is the most popular method of fishing on the Chesapeake Bay during the summer months right on through October. Most Chesapeake Bay rockfish range between 18 and 28 inches in length during this time period, and anglers in Maryland are allowed to keep up to two per person as long as the rockfish fall within that range of length.
In order to be successful at live-lining for Chesapeake Bay rockfish, an angler must first catch the bait, in this case, spot fish. Spot fish are about the size of an adult human hand, very seldom more than nine inches in length. They are known for having a dark spot on each side behind the gill. Although there are many who catch spot fish using traps, the most popular method is fishing with a hook and line. The best way to fish for spot fish is with a sensitive rod and spinning reel, using a standard two-hook bottom rig with small hooks, plastic standoffs and a 2-4 ounce lead sinker. The most effective bait for catching spot fish are bloodworms, although you can also use artificial bloodworm alternatives (Fishbites is a popular brand), peeler crab, squid, shrimp, and cut chicken. With the line in the water, hold the sinker on the bottom, and occasionally jig the line while leaving the sinker on the bottom. This type of fishing involves a lot of patience as spot fish do like to nibble. Spot fish are caught most often in the tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay, such as the Honga and Patuxent rivers, on hard, shelly bottom.
Once a significant quantity of spot fish have been caught and stored in a live well, it is time to go after those Chesapeake Bay rockfish! It’s usually best to have at least five spot fish in the tank for every rockfish that you are trying to catch. For instance, if there are three people on your boat, the limit for Chesapeake Bay rockfish is six fish. In this case, it’s best to have at least 30 spot fish on board. You will lose some spot while trying to catch these rockfish, so it’s always best to have too many as opposed to not enough.
The best way to liveline for Chesapeake Bay rockfish is with a sensitive rod and a spinning reel. Shakespeare UglyStiks and Penn 550SSg spinning reels or Shimano Baitrunners make a good combination here. Use monofilament line that is about 20-lb test. Small treble hooks (#6 or smaller) are most effective. Mustad makes a very good treble hook. Attach the hook to the line, and you may want to use one or two egg sinkers depending on the strength of the current.
Insert one tine of the treble hook into the back of the spot fish, just below the dorsal fin. Then, release the bail and watch the spot fish swim away. Leave the bail open and let the line run through your fingers, but keep some tension on it so that the spot struggles while trying to get away. While struggling for freedom, the spot will look as if it is wounded. This is all a Chesapeake Bay rockfish needs to see before it goes after its first meal. If a Chesapeake Bay rockfish does connect, you will feel a sharp pull and the line will free-spool. In the event this happens, let the line run. At this point, the rockfish is trying to get the spot into its mouth. Any tension applied at this point will simply pull the spot out of the rockfish’s mouth. Let the line run for about five seconds. Then, once the free-spooling slows down or stops, close the bail and slowly raise your rod. Then, reel in your catch.
Live-lining is unlike most other methods of fishing. There is always the tendency to violently snatch or Chesapeake Chiropractor jerk the rod upon getting a hit from the fish in order to set the hook. However, when live-lining it’s best to let the fish take the hook and swallow the spot fish down. Otherwise, you’re more than likely to pull the bait out of its mouth. This is a habit that must be un-learned in order to be successful at live-lining.
Because Chesapeake Bay rockfish are apt to swallow the spot fish, the treble hook will almost always be found in the “guts” of the fish. In these instances, you can’t remove the hook without causing serious injury to the fish, and leaving the hook in doesn’t do any good either. Most fish that are caught and released using this method will die. Just because these fish don’t float on the surface doesn’t mean that they don’t die, as many just go to the bottom. This is why catch-and-release should not be practiced when live-lining. As soon as you catch your legal limit, go on and do something else, and let someone else have a turn.
Live-lining for Maryland rockfish is one of the most exciting methods of fishing. Due to the uniqueness of it, if you can master it, then you should be able to master any other type of fishing.