Chesapeake Bay: One of The Best Fishing Spots in Northern Virginia

If you’re not from Virginia, you may not realize that a significant portion of North America’s largest estuary, Chesapeake Bay, is in the Old Dominion. The eastern and northeastern-most parts of Virginia encompass the bay, making that region one of the best fishing spots in northern Virginia.

From the mouth of the Potomac River eastward across the southern tip of Smith Island and through Pocomoke Sound to the town of Saxis on the Eastern Shore, Chesapeake Bay offers ample and diverse fishing, plus great boating and wildlife viewing.

Stripers Abound

The foremost reason why it’s one of the best fishing spots in northern Virginia is that the area immediately south of where Maryland and Virginia meet is one of the best places on the East Coast for catching striped bass. Locally known as “rockfish,” or “rock,” the striper is Virginia’s state saltwater fish, and the upper reaches of this estuary provide critical spawning grounds for this species, making Chesapeake Bay the primary source (70 percent) of striped bass on the Eastern Seaboard.

A saltwater fishing license from Virginia allows you to fish the bay in both states, as well as in the tidal portions of the Potomac and other rivers. Fishing seasons and some regulations differ, however, so pay attention if you find yourself crossing state boundaries.

While you can fish for stripers in Virginia on a catch-and-release basis year-round, the season for keeping them (two per person over 20 inches, one of which may be over 28 inches) in Chesapeake Bay is from May 16 to June 15, and from Oct. 4 through Dec. 31. This coincides with the best fishing periods. October is especially good for casting in shallow areas, around structure, and along marsh edges. Open-water casting, jigging, and trolling usually commence in mid-November, and it’s very possible for a boat with three anglers to catch between thirty and fifty stripers in an outing, particularly if you find a concentrated school feeding on menhaden.

Many Other Species

This area of the Chesapeake is also one of the best fishing spots in northern Virginia for other species. Bottom fish like spot and croaker are favorite catches, bluefish in the small to medium sizes are often abundant, and there’s opportunity for spotted seatrout (called “speckled trout” locally), red drum, weakfish (called “gray trout” locally), cobia, and Spanish mackerel. The latter two species are mid-summer visitors, and more prevalent when low rainfall allows for higher salinity in the Bay. Flounder and tautog are even among the fish available, although they’re not prevalent.

Lots of Boating Options

The bay is huge and its surface water often gets very rough, as there are frequent windy days. Large, deep-vee-hulled boats handle open water best and allow you to get to your fishing spots most comfortably. But shallow-draft skiffs can do very well when anglers fish on light-wind days. Those craft, as well as kayaks, can get deep into the shallow marsh areas that abound along the Eastern Shore and among the northern islands like Smith and Tangier. Kayak anglers do especially well on stripers and spotted seatrout in those places and in the many mainland creeks.

Plenty of Wildlife

If you want to see birds while fishing, this region is terrific. Ospreys nest on almost every navigational marker, a sure sign that this is one of the best fishing spots in Virginia. The likelihood of seeing all types of waterfowl is high, as well as bald eagles, migrating loons, and a host of waterbirds and shorebirds.

Diamondback terrapins are commonly observed near the marshes. Blue crabs are abundant, often seen swimming in the water, and available for recreational fishing. Horseshoe crabs come into the bay in the spring, as does an army of cownose rays, and porpoises are a frequent sight in spring and fall.

Chesapeake Bay is such a treasure that in addition to calling it one of the best fishing spots in Virginia, you could call it one of the best natural areas in the world.


Ken Schultz

Ken Schultz

Ken Schultz was a longtime staff writer for Field & Stream magazine and is the former Fishing Editor of ESPNoutdoors.com. He’s written and photographed nineteen books on sportfishing topics, plus an annual fishing tips calendar., and his writing has appeared on various websites for nearly two decades. His author website is kenschultz.com.