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


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


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!

Feel the Pressure: The Barometer & Fishing


As anglers, one intriguing aspect of fishing is solving the mysteries of nature.  We try to figure out why we have epic fishing one day and bring home a skunk the next.  There are countless variables that influence fish behavior – tide, current, water temperature, moon phase, time of day and salinity level to name just a few.  Probably the most mysterious and debatable variable is barometric pressure.

In layman’s terms, barometric pressure can be thought of as the weight of the air, and it is influenced by weather systems.  High pressure is generally associate with cloudless conditions and low pressure with rain.

I am not aware of any scientific research that proves barometric pressure has a direct correlation to fish behavior, but it has a definite place in angling lore.  Those that dismiss barometric pressure having an influence on fish point to the fact that water pressure is much greater than that of air, so even huge changes in air pressure are virtually undetectable underwater.  Still, many avid anglers follow the barometer as a predictor of fishing success.  Fishermen, by nature, are a superstitious crowd.  It could be that barometric pressure’s influence on fish is just an old wives tale.  I’m on the fence as to the direct influence on fish.

My observations generally show that quickly rising pressure causes a slow bite while falling or stable pressure make for better fishing.  It may be that barometric pressure indirectly influences fishing by altering other variables.

I find that many of the fish I target prefer low light conditions.  It would make sense then that a rising barometer would slow fishing due to the bright cloudless skies that are caused by a high pressure weather system.  Conversely, overcast skies caused by a low pressure system will prolong the transition from night to day which will likely make fish active during a longer time period.

Quickly changing barometric pressure causes strong wind which can effect water clarity, tidal height, and current speed.  Also, barometric change typically means changes in air temperature.  The combination of wind and air temperature can cause a noticeable change at the water’s surface.

In conclusion, fish have the ability to sense numerous variables that we as humans cannot; whether the impact of barometric pressure direct or indirect remains a mystery.  One thing that I know for sure is that “you don’t know if you don’t go”, so let’s get on the water and wet a line!


Give Your Reel a Helping Hand


Other than cranking the handle, most anglers only touch their spinning reel to open the bail before a cast.  Well, there is a lot more that can be done to give your spinning reel a helping hand!

Your fingers can be used to adjust the distance of your cast by applying pressure to top edge of the spool as line uncoils.  The amount and length of pressure will let you place the lure right where you want.  This technique should be used in place of two common angling errors.   The mistakes are quickly cranking the handle to close the bail and/ or jerking the rod.  The use of your fingers to “feather” the line is far more accurate, effective and better for your reel.

Closing the bail by hand after making a cast is a great habit to learn.  For starters, it will extend the life of your reel.  Turning the handle to initiate the bail trip mechanism causes unnecessary torque on the reel that will lead to worn and broken parts overtime.  Using your hand eliminates this torque, plus it is just as fast and efficient as turning the handle to close the bail.

Another bonus of closing the bail by hand is the elimination of most loose loops that can develop on the spool.  These loops are caused by slack line at the end of the cast and often lead to a bird nesting tangle on the subsequent cast (especially with the small diameter GSP lines like  Power Pro).  When you use the handle to close the bail, the bail arm makes a partial revolution before closing which allows the loose loop to develop.  The better alternative is to put your hand on the bail wire to close the bail manually.

A cause of the dreaded bird’s nest is cranking the handle when the drag is feeding out line during a battle with a large fish.  This causes twists to form in the line which leads to tangles; therefore, it is important to remember not to reel when you hear the drag clicker.

It is often necessary to quickly put the brakes on a hard charging fish headed to break you off on barnacle encrusted pilings.  In this situation, you want to apply pressure with your fingers on the spool to slow or stop its rotation.  It is common for anglers to apply spool pressure with baitcasting or fly reels but for some reason people forget to use the same technique for spin fishing.

Give your reel a helping hand with these techniques.  You’ll be fishing with less frustration and bring more fish to the boat!

The Beat Goes On


The beat goes on… the drum beat that is!

Redfish (Sciaenops ocellatus) and speckled trout (Cynoscion nebulosus) are both members of the family Sciaenidae, informally known as the drum family.  Of the 270 Sciaenidae species, 17 are found in the Chesapeake; some of the most recognized are croaker, spot, grey trout and black drum.  Many members of this family have special swim bladders and muscles that can produce noise – hence the name “drum.”

Anglers are often surprised to learn that specks, despite their appearance, are not actually trout but drum.  Only male speckled trout make noise which resembles a grunt.  When you are fishing next time, take notice that plump, roe-laden females are silent but slender males produce grunts when you land them.  It is believed that males make grunting noises to attract females during spawning.  Here is a fantastic article by Jerald Horst of the Louisiana State University about speckled trout grunting behavior –  I learned a lot of new facts from the article.  There are four specific types of grunting sounds and the majority of grunting occurs from sunset to three hours after sunset.  Most important from an angling perspective, speckled trout do not feed when they are grunting.

Grunting and body shape can be advantageous for conservation minded anglers looking to take home a tasty meal of trout.  In any fishery, it is important to protect breading females to ensure sustainability of the population.  So try to release the potbellied females full of roe and keep those grunting males.

Impress your fishing buddies with this lesson in speckled trout “gruntology”!