The endless record setting heat has kept many local anglers fishing the early morning post dawn hours. Some have braved the late evening option for fishing, hoping the heat of the day has subsided and any thunderstorm chances have diminished. While these narrow windows of angling options have been challenging, fishing during these times has some routine benefits. This is the time of year when right after the sun rises, Spanish mackerel, bluefish and striped bass may be schooling on the surface in the early morning hours and chasing schools of shiner minnows or peanut bunkers. Not that this kind of event doesn’t happen later in the day, as tidal changes, especially the flood tide, can affect baitfish movement and location. Some of my best fishing memories are leaving a Chesapeake Bay, Potomac or Rappahannock River tributary and seeing birds working on breaking fish in the distance. Likewise, surface action from feeding fish can take place in the early evening hours if recent baitfish locations and their movements have attracted feeding schools of predators. Continue to remain current to weather forecasts and pay attention to changes in local weather conditions where you are fishing. If threatening weather conditions are in your forecast area of fishing, consider either waiting out the potential weather event or fishing somewhere that is in close proximity to where your boat is docked.
Find the Bait and Follow it
Spanish mackerel continue to move across wide swaths of local waters including Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay, nearby Southern Maryland waters and the confluence of the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers with the Chesapeake Bay. Hooking up with the mackerel remains dependent on the location of shiner minnows. Like the mackerel, this baitfish is constantly on the move. Their large schools are often visible at or near the surface and usually follow the direction of tidal currents along bottom contour changes or the edges outside of the shipping channels. It’s a given that when shiner minnows are on the move, Spanish mackerel, blues or stripers will intersect or catch up to them. If you don’t catch or see any immediate signs of larger fish near a school of shiners, consider staying near but outside of the school for a while, to see if some feeding predator fish show up.
Fast Pace Trolling
Spanish mackerel are one of the quickest travelling fish that visits the Chesapeake Bay so trolling speeds for catching them are usually a few knots more than those used for catching bluefish. That doesn’t mean that you won’t catch blues while trolling at a quicker pace for mackerel. If the blues are chasing shiner minnows they will use whatever speed they need to stay with the pace of the bait. The faster trolling speeds can make the planers run a little deeper than at slower speeds. Whenever this happens, I usually find the mackerel and hook them up as opposed to not having the lures where the fish are travelling. Trolling with in-line sinkers will
have the opposite effect, in that higher trolling speeds can make the leader and lures run closer to the surface.
Hardware and Tackle
Small and medium sized Drone and Clark spoons remain the favored lures to use when trolling for Spanish mackerel. Consider mixing up the colors and mirror finishes to determine which ones get the most hits. Sometimes the best color, silver or gold, combined with either red, pink or chartreus mirror back finishes, is what is mimicking the appearance of the shiner minnows. The amount of sunlight permeating the upper water column verses overcast or cloudy day can determine the best lure color to use. If you are using both #1 and #2 planers, try having a different color combination on each of the shallower running planers (#1) as well as the deeper running #2 planers.