Chesapeake Bay Fishing Forecast: Spring 2021

The pandemic made 2020 a challenging year. I hope that you, your family, and friends are well. One bright spot for my business was being selected as Virginia’s top light tackle fishing guide by the readers of Chesapeake Bay magazine. A humble thank you to all who voted! I would like to increase my business reviews on Google, so your review is greatly appreciated.

I am optimistic about the fishing prospects on Virginia’s Middle Peninsula. My guide season this year will run from June through October. Over the last 12 years, the availability of quality fishing has shortened my season. Excellent striped bass fishing once available year around is now limited to the warm half of the year when these fish can be targeted on shallow water structure. Even with the striper stock in decline, we still catch countless numbers in skinny water as I know their haunts. In addition to rockfish, the mixed bag of species includes speckled trout, redfish, and Spanish mackerel.

2021 is shaping up to be the year of trophy speckled trout. Over the last three years, speckled trout numbers have been rebuilding in the region with above-average spawns and relatively mild winters. We experienced a kill of specks locally in February due to an extended cold spell, but it seems fish to our south survived. Several trout over 10 pounds were found dead which goes to show that some real gators are out there. Last year produced a 4 week period where we landed over 1,100 specks on my boat, so I hope for more of the same action in 2021. I recently did a podcast for Eastern Current talking all about specks and my guide techniques, so be sure to check it out!

Like speckled trout, we are at the northern end of the range for redfish. They tend to be a boom or bust shallow water fishery on the Chesapeake. I am expecting good numbers of reds in a variety of sizes. We see reds under 28” down to small pups in the shallows and large red drum over 30” in deeper water. Historically, mid-summer to early fall is prime for redfish of all sizes.

Spanish mackerel continue to be a viable target for fly and light tackle anglers. Last year we had days where hundreds of these speedy rockets where skying out of the water all around us as they chased down bait. Spanish can be a challenge to hook at times but provide variety for those looking to add another species to the list.

Please keep in mind that I stay booked every day during the fishing season. With excellent shallow water fishing on the horizon, I decided to sell my tower boat last year and will not be offering cobia charters this season. If you would like to cobia fish, I can send you a referral. Please do not hesitate to schedule a fun day on the bay!

Future Adventures Abroad

The pandemic clipped my wings this past year, but I am itching to coordinate future exotic hosted trips. I have a few places on my short list, so let me know if you’re interested in joining one of these fishing adventures.

Cuban Mothership:
The experience of fishing the pristine flats of Cuba while living aboard a yacht is a true fishing voyage of a lifetime. The long archipelago of islands stretching off southern Cuba make up the expansive marine protected areas of Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen) and Cayo Largo. I equate visiting these remote islands to what it must have been like fishing the Florida Keys 200 years ago. The Italian owned Avalon Fishing Centers has exclusive access to fish these marine parks. Despite all the challenges of running an operation in Cuba, Avalon manages to provide a first class vacation on its motherships with excellent service and fantastic dining. Modern flats skiffs and knowledgeable guides make for a quality fishing experience. As for the fishing… I can attest that once you fish the flats of Cuba, you won’t want to go anywhere else! This is a top-dollar trip, but well worth the price of admission. Watch my video Fly Fishing the Forbidden Gardens.

Christmas Island Atoll (Kiritimati):
The island of Kiritimati or Christmas Island (CXI) is situated about 1,300 miles south of Hawaii. While CXI has been on the radar of anglers for over 30yrs, the entire country of Kiribati has been on lockdown since the start of the pandemic. With no foreign travelers, the flats of Christmas Island atoll have laid unfished for over a year. The reopening of the country will mark the best opportunity one will ever find to fish CXI. The island is known for having the most reliable wade fishing for bonefish on the planet. While the bones are generally on the small side, they are numerous making CXI a great choice for the first-time flats fisherman. The big draw for experienced saltwater anglers is giant trevally. Nothing quite compares to the adrenaline rush of wrestling a big GT! In addition to geets, several species of triggerfish are available which provide a unique and challenging target. Ikari House, the best lodge on the island, offers a week with shared guide and lodging for $3,1000/pp plus airfare. Compared to other GT destinations like the Seychelles, that price is hard to beat!

Vanuatu OFF THE GRID:
This trip is for hardcore do-it-yourself anglers only. You will need to be in good physical shape and willing to work hard for your fish. Final destination will be the Banks Islands of Vanuatu’s Torba Province. The Banks Islands consist of mountainous jungle and coral reef flats. Several days will be spent camping on uninhabited Rowa Atoll. The South Pacific nation of Vanuatu has one of the smallest GDPs in the world yet one of the highest happiness indexes. The country is safe and peaceful with most of the population living in remote tribal villages. This will be a two week expedition that can be done on a shoestring budget other than airfare. The fishing is unknown, but a journey of exploration is guaranteed! Check out my previous Indian Ocean Odyssey.

A Crossroads for Striped Bass

Those who cherish the Chesapeake Bay resource must speak out for conservation & restoration of gamefish such as striped bass, forage fish like menhaden and habitat created by oyster reefs.

We are currently at a crossroads in the management of striped bass. Striper fishing in Virginia has been in decline since 2008 and the Atlantic stock is found to be overfished. The striped bass fishery is managed through the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). An amendment to the fishery management plan governing striped bass is currently being drafted. It is important that anglers voice their opinions to ensure abundant striped bass numbers in the future.

I am proud to be part of the American Saltwater Guides Association who is working hard to represent marine conservation. Please visit the ASGA website to learn about how you can impact striped bass management. You also can view my comments on Amendment 7. We cannot just take from the resource without giving something back, so please consider making a donation to ASGA to aid in the fight for marine conservation.

Chesapeake Bay Fishing Forecast: Spring 2020

I hope that you, your family and friends are doing well in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Virginia will allow reopening of the fishing charter industry on May 15th, and Bay Fly Fishing, LLC will be taking steps to ensure the health of its clients.

I am very optimistic about the 2020 guide season on Virginia’s Middle Peninsula. After several sub-par years of shallow water fishing, all signs point to excellent fishing this season. The skinny-water mixed-bag of striped bass, speckled trout, redfish, and Spanish mackerel should be in full force!

Hopefully, we are rounding the corner in striped bass management with Virginia taking a leadership role in conservation of the species. These rockfish have been the mainstay of my guide business over the last 20yrs and have accounted for innumerable smiling clients. During the warmer months from mid-May through early November, schoolie striper reside in the skinny water of the Middle Peninsula. Water of 2 to 6ft is where most biodiversity and abundance of marine life can be found during the warm half of the year; this is the reason gamefish such as striped bass seek out the shallows to feed on a variety of forage. You can bet my fingers will be “duct taped” from the countless fish brought to hand!

Speckled trout numbers have been rebuilding in the region with 3 consecutive above-average spawns. The majority of these fish migrated south each winter to replenish the population that resides in North Carolina. Aided by the lack of a cold snap this winter, the speckled trout stock should be at a point where the population range expands thus pushing more specks northward into the Chesapeake Bay. Last year produced short runs of excellent speckled trout fishing on the Middle Peninsula in spring and fall, but most speckled trout moved up the bay to Tangier Sound where they settled for most of the season. With greater overall abundance of speckled trout in the Chesapeake watershed for 2020, the specks will be spread throughout the system; this should translate into consistent speckled trout action on the Middle Peninsula from late May through early November.

Redfish are a boom or bust shallow water fishery on the Chesapeake. We haven’t seen an excellent year of skinny water reds in over 5yrs. A tremendous number for adult red drum resided in the Atlantic Ocean off the Virginia coast all of last summer, so my fingers are crossed that these drum had a prolific spawn which occurs in late summer. Young-of-the-year fingerlings made it through winter easily without a cold weather kill. By late spring, these juveniles will be close to 12” with some reaching 20” by late fall. In the mix with the puppy drum will be fewer but larger specimens up to 28 inches. Structure in deeper water will provide shots at adult red drum over 32 inches. Historically, late summer and early fall are prime for redfish of all sizes.

A surprise in the skinny water the last couple seasons has been Spanish mackerel. One theory for the abundance of Spanish is the lengthening of the warm season; Chesapeake Bay water temperatures are documented to be hotter for more months than in the past. This results in conditions that facilitate a northward shift in the range of Spanish macks. I expect these high-skying rockets to be of greatest abundance on the Middle Peninsula from late June through August.

Please keep in mind that I stay booked everyday during the fishing season. With excellent shallow water fishing on the horizon, I decided to sell my tower boat and will not be offering cobia charters this year. I want to assure everyone that deposits will be refunded in the event your charter is cancelled due to the pandemic, so please do not hesitate to schedule a fun day on the bay!

Striped Bass Need Your Help

I continue to work hard behind the scenes fighting to restore fish and their habitat on the Chesapeake Bay. Currently, I need your help regarding striped bass management in Virginia. The latest ASMFC stock assessment has found that striped bass are over-fished and over-fishing is occurring coastwide.

We are very fortunate that our current VA Secretary of Natural Resources, Matt Strickler, understands fisheries issues and is making conservation of our marine resources a priority. In response to the stock assessment findings, Virginia Marine Resource Commission (VMRC) is proposing emergency measures of one fish and maximum size limit for this fall’s recreational season to protect large breeding female fish. In addition, a maximum gill net mesh size and reduction in quota is proposed for the commercial fishery. All states are mandated to take action next year, but Virginia is taking a proactive stance which should be applauded.

It is critical that VMRC hears from stakeholders like you in support of conservation. Please email Commissioner Steve Bowman in support of the above proactive emergency measures and future measures that have a high probability of ending over-fishing and rebuilding the stock as soon as possible. As I like to say, we cannot just take from the resource without giving something back, so please take the time to send the email and visit the American Saltwater Guides Association website to learn more.

Indian Ocean Odyssey 2: Hosted Trip Feb 4-19, 2020

I recently returned from an exciting solo scouting mission to a remote Indian Ocean atoll known as the Cocos Keeling Islands (CKI). During the two week odyssey, I traveled a distance that would more than circle the global. In case you were wondering, covering so much ground was definitely worth the effort!

Cocos is a truly magical place with a thriving marine environment and striking tropical beauty. As territory of Australia, I cannot imagine a better place to get away from it all while still maintaining access to the creature comforts of the modern world. Of the 27 islands that make up the atoll, only 2 are inhabited. A friendly population of 400 CKI residents share coconut palmed paths leading to deserted white sand beaches and crystal clear waters filled with tropical marine life. Sand flats, coral reefs and surf breaks drop off into the deep blue ocean creating a perfect environment for saltwater fishing nirvana!

A unique history has kept Cocos Keeling off the radar of most travelers. There are no fishing lodges or outfitters. Only in the last couple years have a handful of Home Island locals started guiding fly and spin anglers. In addition to the local guides, the atoll offers superb do-it-yourself options. Numerous DIY fishing grounds are within reach on West Island which houses several small tourist accommodations. Motorized outrigger canoes are used for exploration of the waters surrounding undeveloped South Island. High-speed ferry allows access to the more distant Direction Island which is home to a stretch of sand voted the best beach in all of Australia.

The fishing is challenging but spectacular! Both fly and spin fishing opportunities abound in the water of Cocos Keeling Islands. Drag burning GT’s, bluefin trevally, titan triggerfish, bumphead parrotfish, Indo-Pacific permit, monster bonefish and countless other exotic species roam the shallow waters. Pelagic species such as dogtooth tuna are within reach of the guides’ skiffs. Calm weather allows for battles with behemoths from the deep while popping and jigging the bluewater. You can experience the atoll from my perspective in this video – Indian Ocean Odyssey.

I am looking for a small crew of 5 seasoned anglers to join me on a followup expedition to Cocos Keeling Islands on February 4-19, 2020. Compared to the well-known Indian Ocean atolls of the Seychelles, this trip will cost significantly less. I recommend that all anglers be physically fit since the fishing is primarily wading over often difficult terrain. The area is conducive for both fly and spin fishing with each discipline having it’s advantages depending on quarry and conditions. On our way to CKI, we will spend one night layover in Perth, Australia followed by 11 nights on Cocos Keeling’s West Island. Our return home will be a long haul with no overnight in Perth.

During my exploratory visit, I learned a ton of travel insight regarding Cocos and it’s fishery that will aid in making future trips a success. I have developed an itinerary for the February trip that will let you experience all Cocos has to offer with fishing time split between local guides and DIY with my guidance. Cost for lodging, guides and transportation (excluding airfare) is $4,500 per person. Round-trip airfare from Dulles runs approximately $2,200 per person. Additional details are available to serious inquiries only. Feel free to visit the Cocos Keeling Islands tourism website and contact me if you’d like to join the February 4-19, 2020 group. The Cocos Keeling Islands fishery is quickly gaining notoriety so this hidden gem will not remain untouched much longer!

Chesapeake Bay Fishing Forecast: Spring 2019

Another season of fly and light tackle fishing on Virginia’s saltwater is about to begin. Nineteen years in the fishing charter business have flown by with countless fishing memories. I’m ready to create another chapter in my Chesapeake Bay guiding saga this season.

Mid-April through May is trophy time for large striped bass and red drum. When conditions are right, we sight cast to schools of monster reds and striper in shallow water using my tower boat. Cobia become the main trophy fish target starting in June and lasting until the end of September. Sight casting to cruising cobia in the open bay waters will test your angling skill and mental strength. My trophy charters are not for the faint of heart; experienced anglers, however, can be rewarded with the fish of a lifetime!

The shallows of the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck come alive with bait and gamefish by June. We will target schoolie rockfish, speckled trout and redfish around shallow structure until early November. This is my bread-n-butter fishery with very consistent catches in just about any weather condition. With a mild winter, I’m expecting speck and puppy drum numbers to rebound after a dismal season for them last year.

Please remember that I stay extremely busy during the fishing season, so contact me as soon as possible to reserve a fun day on the bay!

Fish for the Future: American Saltwater Guides Association

I am pleased to announce that I will be serving as Virginia’s representative on the board of directors for the American Saltwater Guides Association (ASGA). I have worked behind the scenes for many years on issues regarding fisheries management and habitat restoration, however I never felt there was an organization that aligned with my views… until now. The ASGA will serve as the voice for anglers who value the opportunities that sportfishing provides, while acknowledging the fact that our fisheries are finite. Striped bass need our help as the science has finally caught up to my on-water observations – the stock is overfished and overfishing is occurring.  We cannot just take from the resource without giving something back, so please visit the ASGA website to learn more.

Cayo Cruz, Cuba – The Caribbean’s Last Fly Fishing Frontier: Hosted Trips Jan 19-26 & Feb 16-23, 2019

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Cuba has been a destination of intrigue for me since I was young.  The closure to American travel has kept the Caribbean’s largest and most pristine flats systems located on this island nation virtually unfished.  In the past, US citizens had to enter the country “illegally” through Mexico or Canada.  Many of the travel restrictions are now removed and there are several flights a day from the US to Cuba making it very quick and easy to enter the country.

Avalon, an Argentine fly fishing company, has been working with the Cuban government for two decades to set aside marine sanctuaries throughout the undeveloped and biologically diverse waters of Cuba.  This has led to fisheries protection unmatched in virtually any country in the world.  As part of Avalon’s work in designating marine parks, the company is given exclusive rights to fish in these sanctuaries.  Avalon puts strict limits on the number of anglers that fish each region.  Unlike most other tropical destinations where the same flats get pounded everyday, Avalon gives each flats boat roughly 50sq/km to fish on a rotating basis so you are always fishing new water!

I recently had Scott Osborne, the US representative for Avalon, out fishing for striper here on the Chesapeake Bay.  I am coordinating with Scott to arrange two group trip that I will be hosting to the Cayo Cruz region of Cuba during the winter of 2019.  Cayo Cruz is located along the north-central coast of Cuba.  A look at Google Earth and you will see that the Cayo Cruz marine sanctuary provides extensive habitat for flats species like bonefish, permit and tarpon.  Cayo Cruz may be the last virgin flats fishery left in the Caribbean since this location has only just begun hosting fly anglers.  This means most fish there have never seen a fly!

Cayo Cruz is a great winter destination since the many cays provide shelter from northeast wind ushered in by cold fronts.  The bonefish in Cayo Cruz are big, plentiful and uneducated.  What makes Cayo Cruz a real jewel is the permit fishing.  It is common to see 10-30lb permit riding the backs of stingrays.  Some are calling Cayo Cruz the best location on the planet for quality permit fly fishing.  While winter is early for the spring tarpon migration, the region supports a resident population of 20-30# tarpon which makes the flats “grand slam” a possibility.  In addition to the “Big 3”, there are numerous other flats species to target at Cayo Cruz like cuda and triggers.  For those who like to wade fish, the vast hard sand flats of Cayo Cruz stretch for miles.

Unlike many “fishing lodges”, accommodations in Cayo Cruz are at the brand new Oceans Arena Blanca all-inclusive resort which is scheduled to have its grand opening next month.  As the only hotel on Cayo Cruz, non-fishing companions have uncrowded access to the island’s pristine Caribbean waters.  In addition to the pool and fitness center, this luxury hotel offers activities and tours for non-anglers.  With the flats skiffs a couple minutes away, you get the best of both fishing and 5-star accommodations.

Since Cayo Cruz is a new fly fishing destination, Avalon is offering a special price of $2,999 for 7nights/6days guided fishing (non-fishing rates available) until the end of February.  These are the cheapest rates you will find to any fly fishing destination in Cuba.  Flights from Richmond, VA are roughly $500.  If you are interested in joining me on this trip to a virgin piece of fly fishing paradise, please take a look at this brochure and contact me as soon as possible.  Cayo Cruz will not remain undiscovered for long!

Both January & February trips are now full.  Plans are in the works for November of 2019.  Contact me early to get on the list!

The Ambitious Ambidextrous Angler

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Unlike many other fishing disciplines, fly fishing is more akin to an athletic sport which requires practice and dedication to become proficient.  The fly cast is by far the most challenging and often most rewarding aspect of fly fishing.

Volumes have been written about the technical nature of casting, but little is ever mentioned about the benefits of becoming an ambidextrous caster.  Despite the lack of attention, the ability to cast with either hand opens up a multitude of opportunities to catch more fish.

As a fishing guide, I must always be aware of which hand my fly angler uses to cast.  Wind often dictates how I approach the boat to a piece of structure to best set up the angler for the cast.  There are many times where a spot cannot be fished effectively due to the relationship of wind direction and the angler’s dominant casting hand.  Outside of my home waters of the Chesapeake, the ability to cast with either hand has many other benefits both in salt and freshwater scenarios.

Becoming an ambidextrous caster pays huge dividends while wading a bonefish flat. The best wading technique is to approach a flat with the sun at your back to allow for sighting fish and to have the wind blowing at a slight angle behind and away from your body to keep the fly from hitting you.  Unfortunately, mother nature does not always provide this perfect scenario and the fly must be presented with the wind blowing onto your casting shoulder.  Of course, you could try to make a backhand presentation with your dominant hand but it will never be as fast, accurate or effective as the ability to wade a flat with the rod in your non-dominant hand.

Being restricted to one hand for casting limits your success in freshwater scenarios, as well.  The tight quarters of a wooded Appalachian stream or the fast water of a large western river present opportunities to the ambidextrous caster that are otherwise a hindrance to someone restricted to casting with just their dominant hand.  Learn to cast with your non-dominant hand and you’ll never be on the “wrong side” side of the river.  There are ways to present the fly with the dominate hand like an off-shoulder cast; but again, there are limits to distance, accuracy and presentation compared to the ability to deliver the fly with your non-dominant hand.

Now, I’m not saying that learning to cast with your non-dominant hand is easy — hence the title “Ambitious Ambidextrous Angler.”  However, the dividends are great and will put you in an elite class of fly anglers that can present the fly in all scenarios without limits.  I love the fact that fly casting can never be perfected but always improved upon.  It is the challenge that I find intriguing and the only way to get better is with a rod in the non-dominant hand!