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Pursuing the Elusive Rockfish on the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean
"Trophy fish coming aboard!” Those words are sweet music to anglers who dream of catching a once-in-a-lifetime prize rockfish, also known as striped bass. For anglers aboard Net Profits, that music played daily as they reeled in trophies while Virginia Beach fishing during the winter rockfish season.
Tom Perry, a life-long saltwater angler from Pasadena, MD, still gets excited when reliving his 52-pound catch. “I’ve always caught my limit with Chesapeake Bay Sport Fishing, but I had never experienced anything like that,” he said recalling the excursion he took on Net Profits. Captain Steve Dunn was at the helm and Captain Rich Schott, who owns the fishing charter business, was rigging the baits as anglers reeled in the silver-sided striped giants. “Rockfish are one of the most exciting game fish you can catch on the Chesapeake Bay and will test the mettle of the best anglers,” Capt. Rich said praising the staying power of both fish and fishermen.
Serious anglers who have fished on a Chesapeake Bay fishing charter, either Net Profits or Jessie Girl, commend its seasoned captains for bringing first-class charters to the bay. There’s nothing like muscling in a mighty striper but first you have to find them. The captains know all the hot spots, according to Tom. "They’re great fishermen and skilled seamen. They’ve seen it all, done it all. They’re familiar with cutting-edge tactics and can manipulate the proper lures,” Tom said. Not surprising since Rich, Steve and Lee Buckel, who captains Jessie Girl, cut their teeth at the end of a rod and reel. They have a combined 80 plus years of fishing experience, mostly catching rockfish, and are eager to share their knowledge with anglers.
Capt. Rich launched the fishing charter business, Chesapeake Bay Sport Fishing, in 2006 with Jessie Girl, a 52-foot Chesapeake Custom. Net Profits was added to the fleet in July 2009. The custom-built cruiser is equipped with top-line electronics, navigation system, safety equipment, sound system, and fishing gear. The luxury cruiser, also a 52-foot Chesapeake, features a massive deck and fly bridge. “It’s the Cadillac of the Chesapeake Bay,” he said. Both are US Coast Guard certified for 47 passengers.
The boats sport Cove Regional Series rods with 330 Penn reels and custom-made lures. But nature is often the best tackle, according to the master navigators who fix their eyes on the sky for seabirds. “If a mass of birds is circling around and diving into the water, it’s a good sign there’s a school of baitfish below with predatory game fish in hot pursuit,” Capt. Rich said.
When Net Profits was docked at Virginia Beach’s Rudee Inlet December through March, Tom boarded the celebrated cruiser with other anglers seeking world-class stripers. He recalled trolling a few miles out when great flocks of Gannets were spotted plunge-diving at high speed into the water. “There must have been tons of bunkers and other baitfish in the water and a massive school of rockfish was feeding on them. The seabirds were diving into the water like torpedoes and feasting on fragments of flesh left behind; little flakes of scales glittered in the water. We set our lines with lures that mimic the baitfish, gave them a nice presentation, and ran right through them. The birds got their prize and we got ours," he said.
Anglers were catching stripers that averaged 20-50 pounds one after another. Most of them were at the higher end. Tom said it sometimes takes 20 minutes or more to pull one in, "cranking and winding down on the rod, pulling back, winding down while it’s thrashing around. Sometimes your arms wear out but the excitement never does.”
The captains and crew of the 52-foot beauty returned home to the Chesapeake Bay for the spring rockfish season which opens in April. Serious anglers are lured to the Chesapeake Bay each year armed with record-breaking dreams. Both Net Profits and Jessie Girl offer morning and afternoon daily charters. “The bay is good fishing year-round, but spring is the most predictable time for a shot at a trophy-size rockfish. They’re a migratory species and return to the Chesapeake Bay to spawn. As the water warms, they head north. Come fall, as water temperatures drop, they move south again to winter along the coasts of Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina,” Capt. Rich said.
Added Capt. Steve, “With the weather conditions predicted for this spring, we think the striped bass season is going to be one of the most abundant yet. We’re hoping to catch our limit every day.” He’s excited about Net Profits, one of the biggest charter boats around. "It’s a real luxury to be on a brand new boat. People like having the space. There’s plenty of room to stretch out, and the padded seats are so comfortable that some passengers nap a while on the fly bridge. And the views are excellent for those who want to just want to soak in the tranquility and beauty,” he said.
Feature story done by Good Life Destinations - Fishing on the Chesapeake Bay