Catching striped bass in winter on the Chesapeake Bay isn’t easy.  It’s not that the fish aren’t around because there are some to be caught.  It’s just that it’s very hard to get to them. We’ve had an exceptionally cold December followed by multiple sub-freezing days in January.  It’s also been very windy.  The windows of light-tackle opportunity are frosted.  Even on rare days when the weather is fishable it’s a challenge to get on the water because the boat launches around Kent Island have been iced in solid.  Fortunately, we got a little warming trend this week, so a few ramps opened up.  

January catch-and-release striper fishing in the Bay  is a feast or famine enterprise.  The days when the fish are biting can be few and far between.  The up side is that there are some monsters wintering over in the Chesapeake.  If you can get around the elements and get lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time, the fishing can be outstanding.

Chesapeake striped bass fishermen have two basic winter options.  One is to fish deep holes, either in the main stem of the Bay or up in the rivers.  Fish hold deep this time of year because the water is so much warmer down there.  It’s helpful to know where the warmest water is, but since most of us can’t carry around advanced scientific equipment, we’ve had to guess at bottom temperatures.  That all changed this year when NOAA launched its latest “smart buoy” at the Gooses Reef.  The Gooses Buoy is the ninth in the Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System (CBIBS). Funded by the Dominion Resources Foundation via a grant to the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA Maryland), it sits in 37 feet of water over a man-made reef near red navigation buoy 78.

The Gooses Buoy is currently the only Chesapeake Bay buoy by which fishermen can look at the contrast between water temperatures on the surface and on the bottom.  You can also look at other critical factors to help determine when rockfish are likely to hold deep such as salinity and dissolved oxygen.  Barometric pressure, wave heights, current velocities, wind speeds, and other data is available as well.  You can get to the data two ways:  By visiting the interpretive buoy website (click here), or by phone at (877) BUOY-BAY or (877) 286-9229.  The cell phone link is especially helpful for real time info when we’re out on the water.  Don’t be alarmed to hear a familiar voice on the end of the line.   John Page Williams swears he just sits out there all day waiting for you to call.

I logged on to the Gooses Buoy site earlier this week.  Water temperature on the surface was 32.5 degrees but the buoy reported 36.2 on the bottom.  A four degree thermocline is significant. Since I know the water temperatures are even more stratified around the Bay Bridge, I thought it was time to give it a shot.  My fishing buddies and I managed to break through the ice at the Kent Narrows ramp and navigate our way around a couple of mile-wide ice flows  to fish the deep holes around the rock piles of the Bay Bridge.

We marked fish right away and had a great day on the water.  To coax a strike out of deep-water stripers you just have to aggravate them to death.  You can jig for hours and not get a single bite, then the fish will turn on and you’re catching every cast.  When fish are deep and sluggish, my strategy is to throw brightly-colored four or five inch twister-tails. I start with pink or chartreuse then dip them in contrasting colored garlic dye.  Since I want to bang the bottom on every cast, I  use ounce and a half or two ounce jig heads with a short shank barbless hook.

I’m always amazed at the huge fish that show up this time of year.  After a couple of hours we decided to pull off and look in some of the deep holes inside the Chester River.  That plan didn’t work out too well because the river was iced over thickly once we got north of Spaniard Point.  We turned around and headed back to the ramp, thankful we were able to get out and fish around the ice in the heart of winter.

The other option for winter fishing is to work the warm water discharges.  There are more than two dozen industrial or utility sources that discharge warmer water into the Bay.  Most of the discharges in Maryland are in the Patapsco River near Baltimore.  Since the river is a short shot across the Bay from Kent Island, it’s pretty easy for me to fish there in the winter.

Probably the best-known warm water discharge is the nuclear reactor cooling outflow at Calvert Cliffs.  It’s a long ride by water or highway, and not a bit unusual to get all the way down there to find no fish. I still take the risk sometimes in January or early February even though the fishing is a lot more predictable there later in the year. The closest warm water discharge for me is the Kent Island Sewer Pipe.  It can hold some huge fish in the coldest weather.

I’ll have more to report about warm water discharge fishing when we get closer to spring.  Since it’s so hit and miss, I wouldn’t want to give anyone the wrong impression. You just have to hit as many spots as you can and find out for yourself because every day is different.  Just like in the deep holes around the bridge, sometimes the fish bite and sometimes they don’t.  I’ve taken my share of skunks this winter. When they turn on, fifty pounders are well within the realm of possibility. This past week, my fishing partner Jamie and I got lucky.

Related posts:

The Right Stuff – Dedication
A Good Start
Needs Salt!
Hidey-Holes
Name That Fish – Father’s Day Weekend

Posted Friday, January 21st, 2011 at 2:57 pm
Filed Under Category: Fishing Reports
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Responses to “Thunder On The Ice”

  1. Roger T says:

    Shawn.Excellent report and boy….What a fish! Nice work.

    Funny most wont venture out this time of yr.or bother to put the time in.

    Sometimes I think I’m nuts when I’m out there with hardly any boats sight in the dead of winter, maybe I am ? But the chance at catching a fish of a lifetime keeps me trying.
    Plus, what else is there to do?

    See you on the water.
    Roger

  2. DK says:

    Man oh man. Where were those guys a few weeks ago. Awesome report.

  3. jumbo1 says:

    Shawn..great read ol’ buddy…fantastic trip with lots of laugh’s..(fishing wasn’t bad either)..looking forward to some more trips soon as long as this weather cooperates..
    that was a very impressive “watch this technique” fish you “snagged” too…Be seeing you soon hopefully on the water..

  4. libbie clough says:

    you guys look like you are having fun. I hear about you and your fishing everyday. Finally found some one who loves fishing as much as Jamie.
    signed…. Jamies’s Mom

  5. sam sellard says:

    Nice catc. I was surprised to such big fish in the bay this time of year. I wonder if thier are any down my way-Pocomoke Sound. This time of year the best chace of for rock is in the ocean. I really enjoy your site since finding it about six months ago. Thank You!

  6. Blue Marlin says:

    Holy Crap! That’s the biggest striper I’ve ever seen. What is it, 60 inches?

  7. Shawn says:

    Mrs. Clough, I am an admirer. I can barely put up with him for a day but you had to since he was a pup! 😉

    Thanks to all for the nice comments.

    Blue Marlin, yep, you got it! 😉

  8. Joseph says:

    Hi guys. New one here. I LOVE the article and the replies. I see I am not the only crazy guy fishing in this weather. For the past 8 years I have been going all the way to indian river in delaware to try and catch these guys from the inlet when all the action is right on the bay. Was this yesterday nearly froze to death, but all worth, I saw a seal but no fish.
    I am about to buy a boat, still debating on which marina to join as I have nowhere to park it. Living in a condo… I saw a place in Solomons MD, is that a good area for fishing and keeping the boat? Any advise would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks again for the great article and pictures.

  9. Mike Burrows says:

    Great job both of you. Thanks for sharing.

    Mike

  10. Shawn says:

    Joseph — Welcome to CLT, home of crazy winter fishermen like you! The Solomon’s area is excellent to fish out of. I know several light tackle guides who work out of there in the summer. Depends on where you live, but I also like a dock south of there, Buzz’s Marina on St. Jerome’s creek. It’s less expensive, more laid back, and run by good people. To the north, consider Chesapeake Beach or Deal. Both are usually open for winter fishing unless iced in. Good luck and hope to run into you on the water.

    -Shawn

  11. Colin Crozier says:

    You pay your dues and you get rewarded. Beautiful fish and great report. Thanks.

    Colin

  12. CURTIS says:

    HEY SHAWN, CURTIS FROM CLARKS I HAVE SEEN YOUR REVIEWS ON ANGLERS LOG.JUST RAN INTO THIS SITE.VERY INTERESTING, I USUALLY TOPWATER IN THE WARMER MONTHS AND TROLL SOME. I SEE YOU DO ALOTOF JIGGING HOPEFULLY WILL LEARN SOME TIPS FROM SITE AND DEVELOP A NEW METHOD OF FISHING.

  13. Shawn says:

    Colin, good to see you at the Boatyard Tuesday and thinks for the cold drink.

    Curtis, happy to see you reading CLT. I haven’t been in to see you in a while since I got the new boat. I can’t really say that’s a bad thing! Let’s go fishing sometimes, I’m usually launching right out your backdoor.

  14. CURTIS says:

    THAT WOULD BE GREAT. I AM NOT AT CLARKS ANYMORE, AT WINNER FORD IN DOVER BUT AM SURE I CAN GET OUT TO FISH. COULD RETURN THE TRIP WITH SOME TOP WATER IN THE MILES OR CRABBING IN THE WYE SOMETIME.IKNOW YOU HAVE A PARKER NOW I STILL HAVE CONNECTIONS IN MARINE IND. IF YOU NEED HELP

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