July 2005
Flounder on the Rocks
By Keith Kaufman

Tough tackle, big baits and heavy sinkers are needed to effectively fish the submerged rocks at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. Anglers who put forth the effort are often rewarded with bragging-size flounder.

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel (CBBT) stretches nearly 20 miles across the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, conveniently connecting Cape Charles on Virginia's Eastern Shore to Virginia's Tidewater region featuring the cities of Virginia Beach and Norfolk. Most of the CBBT is bridges, however, there are also two separate tunnel sections that are each about a mile long. The tunnels are on the bottom of the bay, enabling big ships to sail over the tunnels and the vehicles inside them (the ships are too big to pass under the bridge sections of the CBBT). Tons of boulders have been piled on top of the tunnels to stabilize them, and fortunately for fishermen, the rocks also attract and hold a wide variety of baitfish and game fish, including big flounder of 5 to 15 pounds!

Drift fishing the boulders on top of the tunnels requires the use of heavy-duty tackle, such as conventional levelwind reels, spooled with superbraided lines or fusion lines, which are mounted on heavy, stiff rods. These thin-diameter lines quickly cut through the water to help keep the rig on or near the bottom (an important factor in this type of fishing, as we will discuss in upcoming paragraphs).

Three-way swivel rigs are commonly used when drifting the CBBT rocks for flounder. A three-way swivel is tied to the end of the superbraided line with a palomar knot (an improved clinch knot should can slip and fail when tied in superbraided lines). Attached to the second eye of the swivel is a two-foot piece of 50-pound test monofilament or fluorocarbon leader with a 6/0 hook tied to the other end. The rig is completed with a foot-long piece of monofilament tied to the bottom eye of the swivel. A loop is tied into the end of the mono to hold the sinker.

Sinker sizes are important, and bigger is better, including sinkers of 8, 10 and even 12 ounces. Heavy sinkers and thin-diameter line make it possible to drop the rig straight to the bottom, and to maintain steady contact with the rocks without the need to occasionally let out additional line. This is critical. If line has to be played out to maintain contact with the bottom as the boat drifts over the boulders, then the sinker will frequently get snagged between the rocks. It's very important to use sinkers heavy enough keep the rig in steady contact with the rocks as it bounces over the boulders in a running current.

To begin a drift, position the boat upcurrent of the CBBT rockpile, disengage the spool so the rig drops to the bottom, and immediately stop line from coming off the reel the instant the rig hits bottom. During the drift, the angler should occasionally jig their rig by raising and lowering the rod tip, and as the rod tip is lowered they should detect the sinker striking the rocks. If the rig fails to maintain contact with the bottom, the solution is to put on a heavier sinker. Letting out more line will only cause the rig to be dragged instead of bounced over the rocks, significantly increasing the chances the rig will be fouled in the rocks.

The water surrounding the tunnels is 45 to 60 feet deep, while the water depths over the boulders are 30 to 40 feet. As the boat begins to drift over the submerged rockpile, the water will get shallower. Take in line as needed to keep the rig straight down from the boat and to bounce the rig over the boulders. As the boat moves over top of the rocks and then begins to drift over the downcurrent side of the rockpile, the water will get deeper, and it will be necessary to let out a little line to keep the rig on the bottom - this will be the only time during the drift that line is let out.

Big baits catch big flounder. Productive baits for barn door flounder on the CBBT boulders include 7 to 9-inch strips of fresh cut croaker, bluefish and squid. Strip baits should not be cut into pennant shapes; instead, they should be the same width from end to end, as this make the bait flutter instead of spinning.

There will be no doubt when a heavy doormat flounder grabs the bait, as the rig will come to an instant stop. However, at other times, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a bite and when the sinker has thumped into a boulder. If a bite is suspected, the angler should immediately drop the rod tip and point it toward the fish, then set the hook and begin reeling the fish away from the rocks. There will be times when the hookset comes up empty, which means there probably was not bite to begin with. There's nothing wrong in mistaking the sinker bouncing into a boulder with a strike. Just reel up, drop down, and start fishing again.

The more time you spend fishing the CBBT rockpiles, the better developed your sense of feel will become. And the better your chances will be of hooking a trophy flounder of a lifetime!

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