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Chesapeake Bay’s Popular Poplar Island


Striped bass (aka rock) caught by the writer on the fly rod whereas fishing at Poplar Island. Observe the small blonde sort flies that work effectively for this sort of fishing. (C. Boyd Pfeiffer photograph)


Editor’s word: Flyfisherman.com will periodically be posting articles written and printed earlier than the Web, from the Fly Fisherman journal print archives. The wit and knowledge from legendary fly-fishing writers like Ernest Schwiebert, Gary LaFontaine, Lefty Kreh, John Voelker, Al Caucci & Bob Nastasi, Vince Marinaro, Doug Swisher & Carl Richards, Nick Lyons, and lots of extra deserve a second life. These articles are reprinted right here precisely as printed of their day and will include data, philosophies, or language that reveals a special time and age. This ought to be used for historic functions solely.


This text initially appeared within the Could 1971 difficulty of Fly Fisherman journal. Click here for a PDF of the print version of “Chesapeake Bay’s Popular Poplar Island.”

It was a crisp fall day when Sandy and Norm Bartlett launched their boat within the waters of the Chesapeake Bay of their quest for some salt water fly fishing. In a brief run from their launching level, they approached a small island within the bay, minimize the motor and began to forged as they drifted in towards the stump strewn shores. As soon as there, they noticed pods of bait fish scattered over the floor.

Norm’s spouse, Sandy, a succesful fisherman, however extra used to spinning than a fly rod, used a lightweight outfit with a floor popping plug. Norm used his fly rod with a home-made salt-water popping bug tied to the sunshine mono tippet. All through the after­ midday, striped bass (or rock bass as they’re known as there) would seem on the floor chasing faculties of bait fish over the floor. This was when the fishing grew to become so quick that it was a visible montage of seeing scattered faculties, casting, hooking and enjoying fish, and getting the college stripers off the hook and getting again to the motion once more.

Chesapeake Bay's Popular Poplar Bay
Gentle deal with spin fishermen and fly rodders frequent the water round Poplar lsland through the later summer season and fall months. Right here, a New Jersey angler fishes the western aspect of the island. Observe the stumps and bushes within the water. Fishing is healthier right here than on the jap aspect of the island. (C. Boyd Pfeiffer photograph)

The ultimate rating hack on the dock? Norm and Sandy had stored a dozen and a half rock within the two- to four-pound vary whereas throwing again an equal quantity. It’s also attention-grabbing to notice that Norm along with his fly rod caught two-thirds of the fish. Norm, defensive about his spouse’s fishing prowess, claims modestly that this was solely as a result of he made Sandy take all her fish off the hook herself-a job that does not overjoy her.



The Chesapeake Bay is a fly rodder’s paradise. It’s laced with islands and inlets, bays and bars, cuts and guts, grass–and striped bass. However it’s a huge paradise. It measures some 185 miles lengthy from its headwaters from the mighty Susquehanna in northeast Maryland to the broad 20-mile-wide mouth in decrease Virginia. Its whole floor space covers 3,237 sq. miles–roughly distributed equally between the states of Maryland and Virginia. And this huge fishing playground is available to fly fishermen from the close by states of Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.

The issue with fishing the Chesapeake with the sunshine wand is that the striped bass, or rock as they’re domestically identified, aren’t evenly distributed over all of the waters of the bay. To the anglers from different states, and the novices wishing to get into salt water fly fishing, the issue is first the place to seek out the fish. To reply this, and to offer a fun-filled introduction to salt water fly fishing within the Chesapeake, 1 would counsel the spot the place Norm and his spouse, Sandy, took their rock–Poplar Island.

Poplar Island can be a chain of a number of islands. It was once a single massive island however time and tide have eroded away the soil to make small guts or inlets between elements of the island and to divide it up. The island may be simply discovered by any boater on Maryland’s jap shore and launching ramps and boat liveries at a number of areas make for ample entry to this rock sizzling spot. An added plus is that it’s positioned within the Tilghman Island-Japanese Bay space that’s such sizzling spot for fall stripers. Poplar Island is just like the bullseye in a goal of bay light-tackle fishing.

Chesapeake Bay's Popular Poplar Bay
Easy streamer flies like this one tied by the writer work effectively on rock (striped bass) within the Chesapeake Bay. (C. Boyd Pfeiffer photograph)

However like all fishing spot, it isn’t wonderful all the time. Norm and I traveled to Poplar Island the weekend after he and Sandy had executed so effectively. We launched Norm’s boat on the identical place–Knapps Narrows–on Rte. 33, and within the course of met a fellow fly rodder. Fly rodders on this part of the nation are a pleasant lot–there are so few of us within the Bay space–and we instantly struck up a dialog. He was getting back from Poplar Island and had a number of good rock in his ice chest, all taken on the fly rod. This hurried us up and shortly we have been dashing out on the open bay waters headed northwest towards the island.



We arrived at a very good time. An outgoing tide was dashing water via the inlets between the islands and over the bars and grassy backside that border the islands. Approaching the island from the bay aspect we minimize the motor removed from the financial institution after which drifted into the shore the place we knew the rock ought to be. The bay aspect of the island is greatest due to the deeper waters close to the island that drop off from the shallow sandy shores the place the bait fish congregate. This offers the stripers safety via prepared entry to the bay whereas nonetheless offering them with a gradual provide of meals within the bait fish that populate the waters surrounding the island.

We began blind casting the waters of one of many southernmost islands after anchoring close to an inlet. Different small-boat fishermen labored spinning outfits alongside the shore on each side of us, however no person was catching something. No bait fish confirmed on the floor. No swirls of breaking rock appeared to rejuvenate our spirits and flagging power. Then I made a forged similar to dozens earlier than it and hooked a small rock. It hit the white bucktail streamer exhausting, swirled just under the floor within the quick waters of the operating tide, ran round a grassy knoll and began to expire some line. Its spirit was keen, however it was simply too small to take out a lot fly line and shortly got here to the boat.

With this encouragement we fished more durable and shortly Norm obtained right into a rock of two kilos or so–about the identical measurement as mine. After we lastly give up, we had just a few rock apiece plus a small weakfish that I caught fishing over a shallow, grassy backside. The bait fish or breaking rock by no means materialized on that journey however we did do higher than the spin-casters that day, who to the very best of our data, caught nothing.

Different journeys, each earlier than and after this one, satisfied us {that a} journey leading to just a few rock is extra the exception than the rule. I’ve been there when scattered rock within the three- to six-pound vary broke water and poppers all afternoon and night lengthy. The rock are small–within the two- to four-pound vary–however present loads of motion for the fly rodder from the summer season via fall months.

Chesapeake Bay's Popular Poplar Bay
Norm Bartlett casting whereas fishing for rock (striped bass) at Poplar Island on the jap shore aspect of the Chesapeake Bay. (C. Boyd Pfeiffer photograph)

Deal with for Poplar Island is very like that used for many saltwater fishing. A nine-foot rod able to taking a wf-9 or -10 line and a sturdy however cheap reel are all that’s wanted. A lighter outfit could possibly be used for taking part in and touchdown the fish, however the heavy line will cope higher with the winds that generally come up on the bay and the #1 to 2/0 flies that should be forged into these winds. A nine-foot tapered chief with a tippet of 8- or 10-pound check tied to a easy saltwater streamer completes the outfit. Each flies and poppers can be utilized. Norm Bartlett incessantly makes use of a protracted sleek popping bug of his personal design with a lovely scale end and tied on a particular cadmium-plated hook. In truth, it has proved to be so good that he’s now advertising and marketing it domestically for the comfort of different fly fishermen. White and yellow flies in sizes 1 to 2/0 appear greatest for this space in addition to a lot of the Chesapeake Bay. The necessary factor in fishing for college stripers is to match the scale of the fly to the scale of the bait fish. Quick-wing streamers just like the blond patterns appear to do greatest.

Whereas the Poplar Island space is a well-liked one for the skilled fly fisherman on the salt, its actual benefit is for the fly fisherman within the mid-Atlantic space simply beginning to fish salt water. It’s a identified space, simply reached from Easton, Maryland on the jap shore, and readily positioned on maps. It’s also accessible for anglers from the encompassing 5 states with a minimal of driving time over good roads. Fished on the occasions instructed–from June till late October–it may be assured to be one of many surest spots within the bay for taking rock on gentle deal with. An added benefit is that the newbie, as soon as having caught fish right here at a identified location, can increase his fishing to the close by areas of Japanese Bay and the Tilghman Island space. Expertise can have been gained at Poplar Island, expertise which can be utilized in these new areas that are equally good within the late summer season and fall months. In contrast to contemporary water fishing, the place cowl for fish is extra apparent, saltwater fly fishing entails finding fish in huge expanses of flat water. This entails data of bottoms, grass beds, bars, and using depth finders and appreciable talent and expertise. All this the newbie doesn’t have. Poplar Island and related spots within the salt present notable exceptions and make it straightforward to get began.

For the angler wishing to seek out Poplar Island on a map, it’s positioned on Maryland’s jap shore about 20 miles south of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. It’s a little above Tilghman’s Island and a bit of beneath the mouth of Japanese Bay. To succeed in it, Baltimore, Washington and Annapolis residents can choose up Route 50, comply with it throughout the Bay Bridge to Easton after which comply with Route 33 to launching ramps at both Wittman or Knapps Narrows. Fly rodders from New Jersey and jap Pennsylvania can comply with route 40 or interstate 95 to Maryland after which choose up quite a few roads to take them to Easton the place 33 may be picked up. Anglers from Virginia and factors south can take the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, at Norfolk, comply with route 13 to Salisbury, after which choose up route 50 to Easton. Boats can be found at Knapp’s Narrows, which separates the mainland from Tilghman Island, and a free public launching ramp is positioned off Maryland Route 33 at Wittman, Maryland.

Chesapeake Bay's Popular Poplar Bay
Norm Bartlett casting whereas fishing for rock (striped bass) at Poplar Island on the jap shore aspect of the Chesapeake Bay. (C. Boyd Pfeiffer photograph)

For the angler wishing a protracted weekend, lodging is positioned close by, most notably at Capt. Levin Harrison’s Chesapeake Home on Tilghman Island, the place each board and lodging for fishermen is offered. Harrison and his sons captain get together boats within the space and are a wealth of data to the visiting angler. They’re all inquisitive about fostering the game of fly rodding and are most useful in offering up-to-the-minute striper fishing data. Poplar Island just isn’t the one place within the Chesapeake Bay to catch striped bass, however for my cash, it’s the greatest place to begin.

East Coast Striped Bass Motion Survey for Fly Rodders

Massachusetts: Glorious striped bass fishing at Plymouth Bay at Plymouth. Fly fishing for college stripers widespread right here utilizing saltwater flies and saltwater popping bugs. Boats accessible at Plymouth and Duxbury.

Rhode Island: Narragansett Bay greatest wager for fly rodders. College stripers seem right here and in rivers in Could. Good fishing continues via fall. Space round Barrington and Bristol on Rt. 114 good for fly rodders. Wading doable close to Bristol, boats accessible at each areas.

Connecticut: Complete coastal space good for college stripers from Could via October. Spots for gentle deal with fly fishing most any­ the place. Good spots to attempt are mouths of rivers and estuaries. Strive mouth of Connecticut River at Saybrook and mouth of Thames at New London and Groton. Each prime water popping bugs and saltwater flies work equally effectively.

New York: Fly rodding for stripers from boats round Lengthy Island. Stripers massive on this space–heavy fly deal with and sinking strains with massive streamers greatest wager.

New Jersey: Barnegat Bay and Nice Bay good selections for fly rodders. Heavy fly deal with vital, not for measurement of faculty stripers however for frequent wind situations. Each popping bugs and saltwater streamers good selections. Boat leases and ramps in space. As in lots of salt water bays, search for birds working bait fish. Incessantly striped bass will probably be within the bait driving them to the floor. Fishing good spring via summer season.

Tide-water marsh banks all alongside New Jersey coast are additionally good for fly rodding. These marsh banks in brackish water drop off sharply, with striped bass hanging in near the below­ minimize banks. Prime-water popping bugs that make plenty of noise and commotion best option right here. Relying upon abundance of roads and boat liveries in any space, marsh banks may be fished both from shore or boat. Lengthy casts not vital–use deal with solely large enough to throw the wanted saltwater popper. Brackish water largemouth bass in identical space are an added bonus.

Delaware: Many marsh banks and tidal rivers make Delaware fishing much like that of New Jersey (see above). Greatest single spot for stripers at Indian River Inlet and Indian River Bay. Launch ramps, boats and camping services all accessible in space. Fishing good spring via fall.

Maryland: Greatest fly rod striped bass fishing in Chesapeake Bay–not on ocean entrance. For inexperienced persons to this space, see above for particular ideas and data. Different good areas are the Choptank and Susquehanna Rivers. Greatest fishing in each rivers in spring and fall. Choptank fishing requires quick boat to get to breaking faculties earlier than they go down. Susquehanna River at head of Bay is shallow, rocky, and requires a small however seaworthy boat. Susquehanna waters can rise and change into harmful as water is launched via Conowingo Dam close to Pennsylvania border. Use heavy rod-and-line mixture to match wind situations that incessantly come up. Flies in 1-2/0 measurement greatest; popping bugs superb.

Observe: In all the above case, be sure you examine domestically for legal guidelines and laws regarding license necessities, measurement and creel limits of fish. That is significantly necessary in tidal, marsh and estuary areas the place contemporary water laws could apply.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For a contemporary take a look at what is going on on with Atlantic striped bass round Chesapeake Bay, click on to learn this text.

Chesapeake Bay's Popular Poplar Bay

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