There is a growing trend amongst charter boat captains today. Many will wonder the Chesapeake Bay throughout the year seeking the best fishing possible. These captains are very much the gypsies of their trade. Light tackle captains are the most mobile of fish-catching seafarers, as they trailer their vessels from port to port. Still, those who operate the more traditional charter business are getting into the act.
Captain Jeff Popp is unique within the gypsy captain set. He operates from a 23-foot Sea Ox center console on the Susquehanna Flats in spring. When the opportunity presents itself, he will run a light tackle trip in the upper bay waters. Popp also runs a traditional charter boat, VISTA LADY, in the lower bay in spring and fall.
He brings her north in summer to fish the upper Chesapeake in the dog days of summer.
Here is where and how you will find Captain Jeff fishing this late spring and summer.
You can find VISTA LADY docked at Buzz's Marina on St. Jerome's Creek in Ridge, Maryland. It's a premier location for running to locations like Point Lookout, the mouth of the Patuxent, Buoy 72A, and any Middle Grounds locations. As soon as Captain Jeff feels that the migration of big spring stripers has past, he stows his trolling gear and breaks out the chumming tackle. His primary destination is the Northwest Middle Grounds. If he feels the need to change locations, he'll motor a bit further south to the Southwest Middle Grounds.
Chumming is very productive in early June. Popp says that the noise of a diesel motor must be a dinner bell of sorts. Often it seems as if the action starts as soon the first scraps of chum hit the water. Captain Jeff has fresh alewives ground into chum at the marina, and whole fresh alewives along to be cut for bait as soon as the chum line is established. He lets rockfish dictate how much chum he broadcasts and the size of the bait he uses. If they come to the boat with a minimal expenditure, there is no sense in being excessive. If they will take a small piece of alewife as bait, why use a big hunk. Sometimes even a small bit of entrails will be the best bait. For the angler who wishes to use artificials, a rod can be set up with a 4-inch Storm swim bait, or a small spoon if bluefish are present.
Popp's chumming rig consists of a 6-foot medium power St. Croix Premier Series rod and a Shimano reel spooled with 14-pound test braided line. A black barrel swivel connects the braided line to a 20-pound test fluorocarbon leader with a 2/0 short shank Eagle Claw hook to complete the set up. The rate of tidal flow dictates how much weight is added to the line. When there is no current, lines are fished with not weight. As the tide begins to surge, Captain Jeff will add split shot on the initial flow, then up to a ½-ounce egg sinker on a full ebb or flood tide.
Once a limit of rockfish is boated, Captain Jeff pulls anchor and starts looking for croakers to end the day. He searches along the channel edge from the Target Ships to buoy 72A. Swivels and leaders are removed from the rods and sassy shad jigs are tied in their place. Jig heads in 1/2 and 3/4-ounce sizes are used to take the soft plastic fish imitator to the bottom. Popp finds that using the sassy shads helps keep the small pinhead croakers off the line.
Captain Jeff heads north by the end of June to take advantage of the best fishing in his home waters of the upper bay. He frequents the Love Point area for the best striper fishing. Chumming is the best tactic on most days, but when schools of stripers of less than 18 inches dominate the chum line, Popp knows it's time to break out the trolling gear.
When trolling in the summer months, bottom bouncing is by far the best method. Popp keeps the lines from his spread as close to the boat as possible without tangling on the turns. He uses Diawa Baitfeeder rods with Shimano lever drag reels spooled with 50-pound test braided line. He uses tandem rigs including double bucktails, and a bucktail rigged with a swim bait or Tony Accetta spoon. After a limit of stripers is taken by either chumming or trolling, Captain Jeff looks for breaking schools of fish so his clients can catch and release more stripers or bluefish before heading back to the dock.
Traveling to the section of the bay where fishing is the most productive makes perfect since. The gypsy captain is becoming common within the trade. Whether Jeff
Popp is fishing
at the Northwest Middle Grounds in late spring or at Love Point in the
dog days of summer, he knows that he is in the best location possible
to bring rockfish to the boat for his customers.
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