Have you always wanted to troll Chesapeake Bay in the spring for striped bass? Or maybe you've been eager to take your son or daughter on a summer salmon trip to San Francisco Bay? Whichever it is, you're very likely to have some luck since saltwater bays are large, partially enclosed bodies of water that are known for being prime areas to find saltwater fish. Tidal movements, such as currents and eddies, that flow through bay areas create an active estuary environment that attracts baitfish, crustaceans and many species of sport fish. With some research beforehand on regulations, proper tackle, and places to fish, you'll come home with bay fishing tales worth sharing for years to come.
Depending on the species being targeted, the area or structure you are fishing, and the size of your baits, a number of different saltwater fishing rigs may be used when bay fishing. Here are some examples:
You might use the gear listed below if you are fishing Chesapeake Bay for striped bass.
If you are fishing the San Francisco Bay during the summer for salmon, the below tackle set up is an option that you can try.
When looking for places to fish in a saltwater bay, consider trying the areas below. You may need a topographical may, fishfinder or GPS to help you locate.
When bay fishing, keep in mind that a reef can be defined as any solid structure. This type of structure can be natural, such as a rock outcrop, oyster bed or coral reef. However, it can also be manmade, like a wreck, artificial reef, bridge or jetty. Either way, a reef will improve your chances of catching fish in a bay. If you are fishing around an area of structure, consider the following:
Good places to fish in bays are marked by major variations in depth and bottom contour, these areas are often referred to as hills and humps. Hills and humps are good areas to target because they offer a hiding place for prey and usually increase or redirect the current. A few tips:
Depressions in the bottom of a bay, such as channels and holes, are the opposite of hills and humps. However, both changes in bottom work in the same way to attract fish. Holes and channels contain areas where fish can hide, and offer relief from conditions that predators and prey find intolerable. Why fish dwell here:
TIP: When fishing these holes, try drifting baits using a rig such as a two-hook bottom rig. Be sure to let out additional line as the depth increases over a depression to keep your bait on the bottom. If trolling through these structures, try dropping your baits in a number of different directions since fish will move depending on the current and food sources.
Like holes, hills and channels, shallow shoals are another good bay fishing habitat because of the abundance of bait in these areas. When fishing shallower water, it’s best to look for any variation in the bottom structure in order to find saltwater fish. Shallow water fishing will often improve at night when baitfish and game fish can move onto the saltwater flats without becoming a victim of fish hawks or sea gulls. Depending on the situation, trolling, anchoring or drifting can be effective techniques over the shoals.
TIP: Be sure to exercise caution at all times, since changing tides and shallow water can cause your boat to run aground and potentially damage the habitat or become the victim of a breaking wave.
One aspect of fishing bays and estuaries that makes the experience unique is the merging of freshwater and saltwater, which is called a convergence zone. Convergence zones are good places to fish because variations in water salinity levels will attract saltwater fish for feeding and breeding. While the border between these two bodies of water might only appear as a ripple or color change to an angler, the boundaries can act like a concrete wall to a fish. Whether the two bodies of water are different temperatures, currents, colors or degrees of salinity, fish will use them as feeding stations where they can find and round up bait.
When bay fishing in a convergence zone, always explore both sides of the break. Trolling is a good way to cover this ground, but you can also find fish by drifting baits or casting towards the break.
TIP: When looking for places to fish in a bay, out on the open ocean or in the backwaters, keep in mind that similar concepts can be applied. Remember to monitor the water temperature, structure, bait and current while paying attention to the weather conditions, and you’ll find fish. If the wind happens to pick up and conditions aren't ideal for bay fishing, it might be a better day to fish in sheltered inshore or backwater areas.
Bay fishing is done best by boat, check out the Boat Selector Tool to find the perfect boat for you and your family.
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