The Fishing Line

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July fishing… it’s full throttle

by Captain Billy Pipkin

With the variety of fish available this month, if you’re not excited about fishing, check your pulse.

The Cobia bite is hot. Since mid-June, the conversation among anglers has been centered around “The big fish wearing brown suits.” Local waters resemble the 1800s California gold rush as boats, big and small, congregate along the shores of the western bay.

Cobia have blanketed the region as they make their northern trek into the bay. They are without a doubt the most aggressive fighting fish in the bay and can reach lengths of over six feet and a weight pushing 100 pounds. Anglers may keep one fish, minimum 40”, with a max of three per boat each day. Only one fish per boat may exceed 50” each day.

This month you can find them from Windmill Point up to the Great Wicomico River and from Smith Point up into Maryland waters as well as in the lower Potomac River. Most are found in relatively shallow water of less than 20 feet on or near contour lines dividing the shallow bars from deeper water.

Early in the season, Cobia prefer live bait to artificial lures. The best live offerings are soft shell crab, live eels, spot and croaker. The best way to present your bait is on a stout, sharp 7/0-8/0 circle hook on a 40-60 pound test leader. Both fish finder rigs as well as free floating baits will entice bites. Chumming is normally incorporated with live bait fishing and produces surprisingly rewarding results. My charters have landed several cobia in excess of 50 inches this season with live baits.

We deploy artificial lures after the spawn when single fish are found prowling top water during late July. Bucktails are effective near structure and around buoys such as those along the “cut channel” located outside of the Rappahannock River. On many occasions the fish can be found cruising the surface away from any visible structure. Cobia caught by sight casting with spinning gear is a light tackle dream.

With summer in full swing, July offers excitement for all anglers. Variety is key as both shallow water and bay waters offer up an abundance of species for your enjoyment.

Many of the same species available last month are also obtainable in July. They include bluefish, croaker, trout, spot and flounder. Additionally, Spanish mackerel will be available.

Croaker populations remain below average, yet the persistent angler can find larger fish among the smaller more abundant ‘pinheads’. Nighttime fishing is always very productive as they move out of the deep channel areas into the shallows. A variety of baits may be used including squid, shrimp, and bloodworms.

Spot fishing continues to improve throughout July. These fish will continue to increase in size and number into August and September. Hard bottom locations with oyster beds are the preferred structure for spot. Bloodworms outperform other baits by far and due to their small mouths, a #4 hook is recommended.

Speckled trout are found in locations boasting skinny water (3’-5’) with grassy structure or protection. Mobjack Bay, Piankatank River, Gwynn’s Island, and the creeks between Windmill Point and the mouth of the Great Wicomico River are all traditionally good locations to find these fish. I find that small jig heads sporting rubber shad or worms are very productive. You may prefer drifting a live minnow under a bobber.

Gray trout are making a slow comeback yet sizes remain small. Regulations remain quite limited with a creel of one fish per person each day with a minimum length of 12 inches.

Flounder have made a fair showing this season and should continue to pick up this month with larger fish being available along the channel edges near the Cell and inshore at the mouths of creeks where a sharp drop-off is present.

Good production can be realized by slow trolling or drifting bucktails and beaded rigs dressed with bucktail skirts and minnows or squid. They have a creel limit of four with a 16.5-inch minimum.

Spanish mackerel should be in full swing by month’s end and peak in mid-August. They have a potential size of three feet in length and a weight of nearly 9 pounds. The local catches average between 16 and 24 inches in length.

Mackerel often school along with Taylor blues. As with bluefish, they can be found feeding along the flats leading to, and atop the edges of channel areas. Spanish mackerel prefer a quickly trolled spoon at speeds of 5-7 knots. Size #0 Drone and Clark spoons are deadly.

When trolling for mackerel, a 2-4 ounce sinker will keep your line just below the surface. A 6 or 10 ounce sinker will carry the lure 4 to 8 feet deep respectively. A #1 planer placed out 50-80 feet will attain depths of roughly 15 feet.

Bluefish average 1-3 pounds. Trolling with the same lures as mackerel will bear good results as will surgical tube eels.

Spend some quality family time out on the water. Fishing is more than ‘catching’ it’s about the whole experience. Practice up this month and join in on the fun in the fourth annual Bay Bash Family Fishing Tournament at Ingram Bay Marina on August 10. It is a 10 species contest that definitely puts the “Fun” in Fishing! For more information on that event, go to BayBash.com

Until next time…Fair winds.

Capt. Billy Pipkin owns and operates Ingram Bay Marina, IBM boat rentals and Capt. Billy’s Charter Service located in Wicomico Church. ingrambaymarina.com (804) 580-7292.