Birds and metal save the day
A typical striper that took my Li’l Bunker jig. (Bill May photo)

We finally succeeded with “Plan C” but only with a little help from our feathered friends, experience, and an old favorite lure, arguably the most effective on Chesapeake Bay.

Wednesday I booked an early evening trip with Captain Kevin Josenhans and another angler to flyfish the shallows around James Island outside the Little Choptank River. In an email a few days before, Kevin suggested I forego my usual fast-sinking flyline in favor of an intermediate sinking line, since the water was so shallow and loaded with stumps and fallen trees.


I dug through my gear and found a rarely used intermediate, tied on a new leader and my favorite Clouser Deep Minnow pattern, added a couple of poppers and spinner jig and grubs for the spinning rod, and I was ready.

I was cranked. Fishing buddies Joe Bruce and Chuck Thompson had taken 50-some stripers, mostly undersized but up to 22 inches, fishing fly and spin tackle out of the South River the day before.

“Plan A” began to unravel Wednesday morning; the other fisherman had to cancel for medical reasons. When I met Kevin at the ramp at 2:30 p.m., he was grim.

Fishing Monday was terrific, but Wednesday morning fishing yielded only a little over a dozen fish, mostly undersized.

James Island has now eroded and broken into five small clumps. (But it does feature two occupied eagles’ nests.)

We fancast the surrounding shallows with poppers, jigs and spinner jigs with grubs for two hours without a tap. Clearly the fish had departed and left no forwarding address.

So we headed to a channel feeding the area. I was on the seat in front of the center console of Kevin’s boat when suddenly I saw his hand Pointing overhead, and he increased speed.

Birds! A small flock of mixed gulls was dipping and diving picking up small baits from the surface, but we saw no fish breaking the surface.

So “Plan B” of fishing poppers and jigs was immediately discarded.

Kevin Josenhans displays a beautiful Spanish mackerel that took his metal jig.
Kevin Josenhans displays a beautiful Spanish mackerel that took his metal jig. (Bill May photo)

But Kevin was seeing fish on the depth finder on the bottom and suspended. Fortunately he was ready with “Plan C,” and handed me a spinning rod loaded a Li’l Bunker metal jigging lure. This single hook model jig, popular with Chesapeake guides, is one of many such metal jigs used in freshwater and salt water everywhere with The Hopkins and Stingsilver models are most popular.

After a few casts the brain synapses fired, and I remembered how to fish the lure. The basic technique is to drop the lure straight to the bottom while watching the line for a sign of a strike on the way down. Then immediately tighten the line and lift slightly. Often, with the flatter models, with their fluttering action, fish hit on the initial drop or first lift.

The “retrieve” then consists of a series of slow lifts then letting the lure drop back — on a tight line, since many hits come on the drop. Strikes can be violent or, more often, subtle with larger fish, since they simply inhale the jig.

Hook sets must be quick; this is not a lure fish hold onto. If fish are on or near bottom, simply bounce bottom with the lure lift, drop on a tight line and repeat.

If there are no hits or the fish are clearly suspended, then “stairstep” the lure toward the surface with larger lifts and smaller drops. Fish that hit near the surface may have chased the lure all the way up.


Sometimes fish are suspended. On our trip, we often found them at 15 feet in 26 feet of water. You can use the stairstep approach or try to estimate how deep to drop the lure with your “cast” (initial drop.) Here’s another approach: Hold the rod straight up, then lower it to the surface and release just that amount of line. So for a 6-foot rod, the jig drops six feet.

Repeat as necessary to get the lure to the desired depth. Then begin the series of lifts and drops.

Metal jigs come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. With any depth of water, they are most effectively fished vertically, just dropped to the bottom, not cast. The deeper the water, stronger the current, and faster the speed of the boat drift, the denser the lure should be to be effective. Since silversides and other small minnows are predominate now, compact, dense, silver jigs should be in your arsenal.

My personal preference for heavier jigs is Stingsilvers, chrome finish, 1 1/8 to 2-ounc sizes, regular and short. I clip off one tine of the treble, mash down the barbs and sharpen the points of the other two for effective hooking and easy releases.

Kevin and I tracked this small school of fish right down the channel, following the birds for about 90 minutes. I caught about a dozen stripers, only two over the 18-inch keeper size and a small bluefish. Kevin fished intermittently and took a few stripers and the gorgeous Spanish mackerel shown. When the action stopped. we went in.

Though the numbers and sizes of fish and the lost opportunity for fly fishing was disappointing, the pattern of the day was pretty typical in fall from the top of the Bay to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.

Spend hours searching for fish trying different structure and depths, scout for birds via binoculars, scan the depth finder, plumb the water column with metal jigs. But those 5- to 20-plus-pound stripers and big trout are far less common than they were 10 years ago.

Still, experience, persistence and the right tackle can produce a good day — especially if you get help from feathered friends.