Updated: Jan 28
Night fishing for 'rockfish' on the Patuxent River
I first became enamored with fishing as a regular pastime just after graduating from college. My father had just bought his retirement home on the Jersey Shore and we would spend countless hours surf-fishing for striped bass (or stripers), most often at first light. We had a terrific pre-fishing ritual that comprised buying a few dozen whole clams, shucking them into a bucket and adding rock salt to toughen up the clam so it would cling better to the fishing hook. Then we would wheel the gear up the block to the beach in the dark on a trolley and camp out at either side of a rock jetty that was a magnet for these fish.
Surf fishing for Jersey Shore stripers
It was only a few years ago that I began fly-fishing for striped bass, which are called rockfish in the DC area. This was because I added a kayak to my fishing arsenal, which made getting to the fish using a fly rod much easier, particularly in habitat with structure, like rip-rap, as well as inshore marshes and inlets. Most often these excursions were also at first light, but rarely into the evening because of the hazards of navigating the water in a small watercraft at dark.
Eastern Shore kayak fishing
Recently, an acquaintance from Falmouth Flats Fly Fishers invited me to join him to fish the 'night bite' on the Patuxent River. I have fished a few of the tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay from my kayak in the past, including the Wye River below Kent Island, as well as the Corsica River, which empties into the Chester River above Kent Island. These excursions yielded a number of species, including speckled trout, perch, blues and small rockfish. But this would be my first experience on the Patuxent.
Patuxent River fishing for stripers
I met Johnathan Peake of Chesapeake Bay Fly in late November at a boat ramp near the Patuxent River Bridge and we headed out in his Boston Whaler just as the sunset was creating an iridescent glow of pink and orange on the water. The mid-season run of striped bass had been very good, but with the season coming to an end in less than two weeks, most of the larger fish had already migrated toward the bay. Our hope was that we would have some good action from smaller fish in the 14 to 20-inch range, and maybe a keeper above 19 inches.
The strategy was to target areas of structure close to shore that were exposed to flood lamps. These acted like magnets for bait fish and the stripers hugged the bottom waiting to ambush their prey. We motored up to one spot that was brightly lit and I cast a black/purple clouser with a 7-weight rod just to darker areas on the fringe and retrieved the fly slowly through the lighted area – bang! – first cast was a hook up on a 16 to 17-inch striper.
Over the course of about 90 minutes, I was able to hook up 8 to 10 fish on the same clouser fly. But the temperature began to drop considerably, and a slack tide had discouraged the fish, so we called it a night and turned back to the boat ramp with one keeper in the boat. It is rare that I bring home my catch, so my wife was delighted to have a fresh striper for dinner the next evening.
Note: Jonathan Peake is a professional guide. His Chesapeake Bay Fly guiding service can be found on Instagram. I joined Jonathan as his guest on this excursion.