Tidewater Virginia is famous for its saltwater fishing. The following information describes some of the more common inshore and offshore saltwater fish found in the Chesapeake Bay, the waters of the Atlantic, and nearby estuaries such as the Elizabeth River and the James River.
Atlantic Croaker or “hardhead” are popular saltwater fish common along the Atlantic coast. The fish get their names because of the “croaking” noise the make when removed from the water. Croakers are hard fighters and prolific feeders.
They are caught on a variety of baits and lures and even go after flies in shallow water areas. Croakers are easily accessible, being caught on piers, jetties, small boats, charter boats and head boats.
Spot occur along the Atlantic coast in estuarine and coastal waters from the Gulf of Maine to Florida, although they are most abundant from Chesapeake Bay south to South Carolina.
Spot are fun to catch and a great fish for anglers of all ages. Spot are caught along inlets, fishing piers, and in inshore bays.
Anglers use standard 2 hook rigs, using small hooks and small pieces of bait. Popular baits include bloodworms, shrimp, clam and synthetic bloodworm type baits.
Weakfish are beautiful fish. The name “weakfish” comes from the fish’s fragile mouth, which tears easily when hooked. Typically, weakfish have a dark olive back, iridescent blue and copper sides and a silvery white belly.
Other identifying features are yellow fins, large canine teeth in the upper jaw and dark spots on the upper part of the body, sometimes forming diagonal lines. Most adult weakfish range from 12 to 18 inches but can grow up to to 3 feet long and weigh 4-18 pounds.
Weakfish are members of the drum family, which includes spot, red drum, back drum and Atlantic croaker. This family of fish make a drumming or croaking sound by vibrating its swim bladder using special muscles.
One of Virginia’s most popular saltwater gamefish, the speckled trout is known for its beauty, fighting ability, and fine tasting meat. Speckled trout are often caught alongside their close relative, the weakfish.
Red drum or redfish can be caught in a myriad of ways. Probably the most widely utilized technique for catching red drum along the Atlantic coast is to anchor along a channel edge or shoal and bottom fish with cut peeler crab bait or other baits including, squid, cut spot, live spot, and even chicken breast soaked in peeler crab oil.
Surf fishing is a another way to catch red drum. Along the Atlantic beaches and barrier islands, anglers use a fish finder or other rig and fish with baits such as whole spot, spot fillets or heads, mullet, bluefish fillets, crabs, shrimp, or other baits.
Anglers also target red drum on flats and grass beds with live baits such as shrimp or cast artificial lures or saltwater flies to red drum.
Bluefish are an exciting gamefish. They are found all along the USA east coast, sometimes in large schools. The fish are voracious feeders and are known for their sharp teeth and ability to demolish even the strongest tackle.
In some areas cut baits are used, including squid, fish, bloodworms, or other baits. Anglers also troll, jig, cast artificial lures, and fly fish for blues. Bluefish have dark, oily meat but are excellent smoked.
The cobia is one of the most popular sport fish caught in Virginia. The epicenter of fishing effort occurs in the lower Chesapeake Bay and coastal waters around Hampton Roads. Cobia are caught with live and cut bait, artificial lures, and fly-fishing gear. Cobia usually respond to chumming and sometimes follow chum trails up to the boat.
Black Sea Bass
Sea bass fishing is popular along the Atlantic coast. Anglers fish year round for this exceptionally delicious fish. Peak fishing for black sea bass usually occurs in May and early June and again in the fall.
In the spring and fall, wrecks, reefs, and rough bottom in depths of 50 – 120 feet usually hold the most fish. Favorite rigs for bigger fish include single hook rigs with a whole squid for bait, large bucktail jigs with squid strips and large metal jigs.
In winter, black sea bass migrate to deep wrecks, reefs, and rockpiles where they are targeted by deep sea fishing enthusiasts.
Black sea bass are excellent table fare. The meat is firm, white and delicious and is served fried, grilled, baked, or broiled.
Summer flounder are one of the most popular fish of the tidewater area. These delicious fish are found around inlets, jetties and dropoffs. Flounder are very easy to clean and a good value in terms of final yield.
Tautog or blackfish are long lived fish that live along the North and mid-Atlantic coast of the USA. Tautog live in and around structure such as rocky bottoms, wrecks, and reefs, making them a challenge to catch and thrilling to fish for.
Tackle and techniques are simple and no prior experience is needed to catch these tasty fish. They vary in size from about 12 inches to perhaps 12 lbs or more. They are very tough fighters and excellent table fare.
Striped bass have several regional names. Known as striped bass, stripers, linesides, rockfish, and other names, this fish is highly sought after as a recreational fish, as a commercial species, and is even grown in aquaculture operations.
Striped bass are very hardy fish, and even take to life in freshwater where they are often stocked throughout the USA. Rigs and baits for striped bass vary with their location and what the fish are feeding on.
In some areas cut baits are used, including clams, fish, crabs, shrimp, squid, bloodworms or other baits. Anglers also troll, jig, cast artificial lures, and fly fish for striped bass.
The gray triggerfish is one of more unusual saltwater species. Triggerfish are named for their unique dorsal fins which lock in place to ward off predators. Gray triggerfish are found near shipwrecks, artificial reefs, coral formations, and rocky outcrops.
Sheepshead are another popular species with Tidewater Virginia anglers. They are found along bridge pilings, rocks, and other structure. Sheepshead are extremely difficult to hook, making them a challenge to catch.
Fishing for bluefin tuna is heavily regulated. The fish usually appear off the Virginia coast in late May or early June. Bluefin tend to congregate is schools of similar sizes and weigh from 15 to several hundred pounds.
Most Virginia bluefin are in the 25-100 pound range. Bluefin are caught by trolling artifcial lures, natural baits, or by chunking with baits such as butterfish.
A lesser known technique involves drifting baits along the bottom of humps and hills. This works well when large tuna take up residence on structure and are feeding on bottom dwellers such as squid, red hake, and sea robins.
Yellowfin are the most common tuna caught in Virginia. The fish vary from 15 to over 100 pounds. Yellowfin fishing can start as early as late May depending on water temperature. Late June is more typical.
Locally, They are most likely to show up first along the edge of Norfolk, Washington or Poor Man’s canyon. Anglers may find success with a variety of daisy chains, artificial squid, spreader bars, small bullet shaped lures or rigged baits such as ballyhoo.
Yellowfin tuna are caught chunking as well as trolling and are caught from the 20 fathom line out to 1000 fathoms. Off the Virginia coast, yellowfin are common in 30 fathoms, shadowing pods of bait.
Bigeye are among the largest members of the tuna family. These heavyweight fighters are caught beyond the deepwater canyon edges off the coast of Virginia. Bigeye tuna are usually caught by trolling natural baits. Anglers sometimes encounter bigeye tuna ‘wolfpacks’ and multiple hookups are common.
Skipjack tuna are the smallest of the Virginia tuna, ranging from about 3 to 18 pounds. Their size is not an indicator of their strength, and they often fool anglers into thinking they have hooked a larger tuna.
Skipjacks fight amazingly hard and swim at speeds that few fish can achieve. Another reason skipjack tuna are a welcome visitor in the area is because they are among the favorite prey of blue marlin.
Wahoo are among the fastest of Virginia’s pelagic fish and are excellent table fare. Wahoo migrate into range of Chincoteague during the summer and sometimes linger thru October.
Wahoo should laid straight on top of a bed of ice and rinsed well before cleaning. Cleaning the fish begins by cutting the flanks from the body with the skin still attached. The flanks can then be cut into steaks with the skin on or the entire sections can be skinned before cutting into steaks. Wahoo is delicious grilled, fried, or smoked.
Mahi Mahi, or dolphin fish are brilliantly colored, in shades of green, yellow, and bright blue. Dolphin fish are caught in the open at times but often are found near floating objects or mats of weeds.
They appear in Virginia waters from June Thru October. Mahi mahi meat is mostly white with a high oil content. Dolphin fish is best grilled, blackened, or smoked.