Fishing the upper Chesapeake Bay

August 27, 2011
Connie Yingling shows off her prize rockfish caught out of Rock Hall, Md. SOURCE SUBMITTED

When I was growing up in Claymont my family would drive to Betterton or Tolchester beaches in nearby Kent County, Maryland to swim and enjoy a day away. The bay was clean and there were some amusements available to entertain a young boy.
That was a long time ago, and last week I was able to visit the area again. While some things have changed, Kent County is still one of the most beautiful locations in all of Maryland.

This visit centered on fishing, and we did a lot of that. We stayed at the Kitty Knight House on the Sassafras River where our hosts provided fantastic rooms and wonderful food.

On Wednesday we traveled down to Rock Hall to board the Gone Fishin’ with Capt. Mark Hall ( Our little group consisted of Vin Sparano, Jim Stabile, Rick Methot and Ken Schultz, outdoor writers from New Jersey and Virginia. Connie Yingling from Maryland Tourism and Jen Davis from the Kent County Tourism Office pulled the onerous duty of going along on the boat to shepherd the old and infirm (Burnley, Stabile, and Sparano).

Capt. Mark’s plan for the day was to find flocks of birds and cast to the fish below. This we did almost as soon as we cleared Rock Hall Harbor. The bluefish were not choppers, but they were anxious to hit the small metal lures and leadhead jigs we tossed in their direction. At one point, after the blues sounded, I began to jig my metal lure on the bottom. I could feel several hits before hooking up and was very surprised to crank in a big white perch.

I repeated this several more times before another school of blues was spotted working under birds and we were off again. The blues took a lunch break around noon and so did we. Right after lunch Capt. Mark moved to one of the nearby oyster sanctuaries where we blind casted with bucktails and plastic-tailed jigs. Ms. Yingling once again proved her superior fishing skill by hooking and landing a 28-inch rockfish on one of the jigs. This would end up as the largest fish of the day and makes at least a half dozen times she has outfished everyone on a boat that I have been aboard.

After working over the oyster bar we went back to chasing birds and found the blues were still in a feeding mood. We ended the day with a good number of bluefish, a few white perch and one rockfish in the box.

That night we ate at the Granary (410-275-1603) where the food was equally as delicious as the previous night’s meal at the Kitty Knight House. It has been several years since I have been able to enjoy a meal here, and if anything it was better than I remembered.

Thursday morning found the wind blowing hard from the south and putting a damper on Capt. Mark’s plan to fish the Bay Bridge with bunker chunks. Between the wind and waves he was unable to anchor close to the bridge so we changed locations to a spot above the span and tried our luck there. It wasn’t good.

The captain moved farther up the bay to some lumps and the SONAR lit up with fish. He set the anchor, and as soon as we came tight on the rode the catching began. Our bunker bait would not get 6 inches under the water before a rockfish would inhale it. Using circle hooks, all we had to do was let the fish run until it ran out of line and it was hooked.

We kept catching and releasing small rockfish until the captain suggested trolling with surgical tubes in an effort to catch one large enough to keep. He put out six rods and before long one went off. Vin cranked in a keeper rockfish about 30 inches long. The next rod that went off was close to Ken and he reeled in a 32-inch rock. We finished the day with two nice rock and a few more blues in the box.

Rock Hall has excellent fishing from early spring into late fall. The trophy rock season brings in plenty of big fish and during the summer you have a mixed bag of blues, rock, white perch and croaker. When fall arrives, so do the big ocean run rockfish.

While I always recommend a charter when fishing in a new location, there is a boat ramp for those who want to try it on their own.

I believe you will enjoy any trip to Rock Hall in Kent County, Maryland, either to fish or just spend some time in the beautiful setting of the Kitty Knight House.

  • Eric Burnley is a Delaware native who has fished and hunted the state from an early age.  Since 1978 he has written countless articles about hunting and fishing in Delaware and elsewhere along the Atlantic Coast.  He has been the regional editor for Salt Water Sportsman, Field and Stream, Outdoor Life and the Fisherman Magazine.  He was the founding editor of the Mid-Atlantic Fisherman magazine.  Eric is the author of three books; Surf Fishing the Atlantic Coast, The Ultimate Guide to Striped Bass Fishing and Fishing Saltwater Baits.  He and his wife Barbara live near Milton, Delaware. Eric can be reached at