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Chesapeake Bay

Updated on October 20, 2014

The Chesapeake Bay - "Great Shellfish Bay"

The Chesapeake Bay Watershed includes more than 400,000 acres of land and thousands of miles of open bay, rivers and streams, making the Chesapeake Bay the largest estuary in North America.

The Chesapeake Bay begins in Pennsylvania, as a small part of the Susquehanna River. It passes thru Maryland and Virginia, emptying into the Atlantic near The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.

The name "Chesapeake" is a Susquehanock word meaning "great shellfish bay."

The Chesapeake Bay

The Chesapeake Bay Watershed is the largest estuary in North America, covering more than 400,000 acres of land and thousands of miles of open bay, rivers and streams.

The estuary begins in Pennsylvania, passing thru Maryland and Virginia before converging with the Atlantic Ocean. The bay and its tributaries are a vital breeding ground and sanctuary for thousands of fish, shellfish, reptiles, birds and mammals.

The Chesapeake Bay is famous for its fish, crabs, oysters and other seafood . The region is a major nursery for striped bass or "rockfish", one of the most important sport and food fish of the USA east coast.

Chesapeake Bay Crabs

The blue crabs of the Chesapeake bay are important to Maryland and Virginia both as a natural resource and tourism icon. In addition to supporting a major commercial fishery, the blue crab is a valuable recreational species as well.

Chesapeake Bay Oysters

After a long history of boom and bust, the outlook for Chesapeake Bay oysters has begun to improve. Once decimated by disease, oysters have begun to thrive in the bay again. Oyster restoration programs have created reefs, bars and sanctuaries while private shellfish farmers have been successful in growing high quality oysters my the millions.

Oysters are a traditional food in the Chesapeake Bay region. They are sometimes given as a gift when coastal travelers visit inland relatives or friends. Although fresh oysters require a cool environment, the added care will be appreciated by everyone once they reach their final destination. For instances where chilling is not practical, there are canned oysters, oyster stew and other non-perishable products.

Chesapeake Bay Sea Level Rise

The rates of sea level rise around the Chesapeake Bay are the highest on the East Coast. Sea-levels are increasing by 3.2 to 4.7mm/per year across the area.

source: U.S. Geological Survey

Rivers That Feed the Chesapeake Bay

On the eastern side of the Chesapeake Bay, major rivers include the Choptank, Nanticoke, Honga, Wicomico, and Pocomoke.

The Pocomoke and Nassawango River watersheds have been designated as an important bird area (IPA) by the National Audobon Society. The organization recognized the rivers because of their importance as breeding areas for a number of birds.

Many of these rivers offer outstanding fishing for both freshwater and saltwater species. The non-tidal sections of these rivers provide an ideal environment for freshwater species including largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, pumpkinseed sunfish, pickerel, gar, white perch, yellow perch, shiners, herring, shad and bullhead catfish.

As these Eastern rivers flow towards the bay, the environment changes to open marshes and saltwater species begin to be more common.

This mid-river zone holds good fishing for largemouth bass and other freshwater species as well as fish such as striped bass, perch, channel catfish or other species.

The river mouths are frequented by trout, red drum, black drum, croakers, Norfolk spot, bluefish, striped bass, flounder, perch, eels, channel catfish and other fish.

Fishing the lower parts of the Eastern shore rivers can be very productive during certain periods of the year. Late winter and early spring river areas may hold schools of yellow and white perch that have congregated prior to spawning. Again the fall, rockfish, croaker and other saltwater fish school up to feed before leaving the rivers.

Birds of the Chesapeake Bay

Song birds

The Chesapeake Bay is home to large numbers of song birds. The shoreline, marshes, and islands provide ideal nesting and feeding habitat. Warblers, nut hatches, sparrows, red wing blackbirds and others nest near the Chesapeake Bay in the summer, while cardinals, jays, woodpeckers and finches reside there during the winter months.

Shore Birds

Herons, egrets, ibises, oyster crackers, march hens and other shorebirds are frequently spotted along the marshes and islands. On the beaches, dozens of species of sandpipers, plovers, gulls and terns feed, nest and raise chicks.

Birds of Prey

A number of birds of prey visit the Chesapeake. Ospreys arrive in the spring to raise young and feed on the abundant fish stocks. As seasons change, some ospreys migrate south while other birds of prey arrive. American eagles, red tailed hawks and other large hunters are present in the fall thru spring. Other hawks such as sparrow hawks may be found year round.


Ducks, geese, brant and swans all make stops here. Some geese and swans take up residence year round. Other full time residents include black ducks, wood ducks and mallards which raise their young on the marshes of the Chesapeake. As autumn arrives, ducks and geese migrate into the refuges and surrounding areas of the Chesapeake Bay. Shoveler ducks, pintails, mallards, widgeons, teal, rudy ducks, canvasbacks, redheads, ring necked ducks, bluebills, and others fly in. Mergansers, buffleheads, goldeneyes and other diving ducks show up in the bay waters as cold weather sets in. Rafts of sea ducks and small groups of oldsquaw ducks forage the bay over the winter.

Chesapeake Bay Saltwater Fish

Atlantic Menhaden

The Atlantic menhaden is one of the most important forage fish of the Chesapeake Bay. Atlantic menhaden are an important food source for striped bass, bluefish, seatrout, dolphins, osprey, bald eagles, and other wildlife.

Atlantic Croaker

Atlantic Croaker or "hardhead" are popular saltwater fish common in the Chesapeake Bay. The fish get their names because of the "croaking" noise the make when removed from the water. Croakers are hard fighters and prolific feeders. They are caught on a variety of baits and lures and even go after flies in shallow water areas. Croakers are easily accessible, being caught on piers, jetties, small boats, charter boats and head boats.


Bluefish are an exciting gamefish. They are found in several ares of the bay, sometimes in large schools. The fish are voracious feeders and are known for their sharp teeth and ability to demolish even the strongest tackle. In some areas cut baits are used, including squid, fish, bloodworms or other baits. Anglers also troll, jig, cast artificial lures and fly fish for bluefish. The fish have dark, oily meat but are excellent smoked.


Spot are abundant from the Chesapeake Bay south to South Carolina. Spot are fun to catch and a great fish for anglers of all ages. Spot are caught on fishing piers, in creeks, along channel edges and other areas. Anglers use standard 2 hook rigs, using small hooks and small pieces of bait. Popular baits include bloodworms, shrimp, clam and synthetic bloodworm type baits.

Summer Flounder

Summer flounder are found around reefs, channel edges and dropoffs. Flounder are not born with both eyes on one side. During growth, the "bottom" eye migrates to the upward-facing side of its body. This allows the flounder to lie on one side, burying in the sand where it can ambush its prey. Flounder feed on a variety of small fish and crustaceans


Tautog or blackfish live in structure such as rocky bottoms, wreckages and reefs. Tautog are a challenge to catch and thrilling to fish for. The fish live in and around structure such as rocky bottoms, sunken ships and artificial reefs. Tackle and techniques are simple and no prior experience is needed to catch these tasty fish. They vary in size from about 12 inches to perhaps 12 lbs or more. They are very tough fighters and excellent table fare.

Red Drum

Red drum or redfish can be caught in a myriad of ways. Probably the most widely utilized technique for catching red drum in the Chesapeake Bay is to anchor along a channel edge or shoal and bottom fish with cut peeler crab bait or other baits including, squid, cut spot, live spot and even chicken breast soaked in peeler crab oil. Some anglers fish off the shore with a fish finder or other rig and baits such as whole spot, spot fillets or heads, mullet, bluefish fillets, crabs, shrimp or other baits. Other anglers cast artificial lures or saltwater flies to red drum.

Striped Bass

Striped bass have several regional names. Known as striped bass, stripers, linesides, rockfish and other names, this fish is highly sought after as a recreational fish.

Rigs and baits for striped bass vary with their location and what the fish are feeding on. In some areas cut baits are used, including clams, fish, crabs, bloodworms or other baits.

Anglers also troll, jig, cast artificial lures and fly fish for striped bass.


Weakfish are beautiful fish. The name "weakfish" comes from the fish's fragile mouth, which tears easily when hooked. Typically, weakfish have a dark olive back, iridescent blue and copper sides and a silvery white belly. Other identifying features are yellow fins, large canine teeth in the upper jaw and dark spots on the upper part of the body, sometimes forming diagonal lines. Most adult weakfish range from 12 to 18 inches but can grow up to to 3 feet long and weigh 4-18 pounds. Weakfish are members of the drum family, which includes spot, red drum, back drum and Atlantic croaker. This family of fish make a drumming or croaking sound by vibrating its swim bladder using special muscles.

Chesapeake Bay River Associations and Riverkeepers

The Waterkeeper Alliance is a network of local waterkeeprs and riverkeepers. There are several riverkeepers in the Chesapeake region. They are full-time paid employees who work on issues such as education, water quality, restoration and public policy. A riverkeeper is usually connected with a nonprofit watershed group.

Waterkeepers and Riverkeepers

Chesapeake Bay River Associations

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel connects Delmarva to the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. The structure is sometimes referred to as the 8th wonder of the world. This 13 mile bridge is the largest bridge-tunnel complex in the world. The structure is 23 miles long, with 2 spans, 2 mile long tunnels, 2 bridges and 4 man-made islands.

The original bridge-tunnel complex was 17.6 miles in length. The structure opened in 1964, having an initial cost of approximately $200,000,000. This first phase later became the Northbound span when the second span was added.

Located on the bridge is the Sea Gull Fishing Pier. The pier extends into the bay, providing and excellent structure for fishing. Trout, croakers, spot, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, small sharks and even black drum are sometimes caught on the pier. Daytime fishing can be productive and at night, bait congregates under the lights,

Chesapeake Bay Hard Clams

The lower Chesapeake is known for its hard clams. Clams are wild caught or grown in aquaculture operations.

Hard clams are sold in several sizes, each having a preferred use:

Cherrystone 3-4 per pound ~ 2 inches

Topneck 5-7 per pound ~ 1 1/2 inches

Middleneck 7-9 per pound ~ 1 1/4 inches

Littleneck 10-13 per pound ~ 1 inch

Chesapeake Bay Comments

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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I mainly know of the Chesapeake Bay area for having great seafood like crabs and clams. It's little wonder that places with nearby bodies of water have excellent seafood!

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image


      7 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      I once drove (rode) from Norfolk over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel to the Delmarva Peninsula. The bridge view was spectacular -- the tunnel 'terrified' me -- I have problems being 'underground' and particularly 'under-water'. I know it was a short time we were in the tunnel, but I practically held my breath the whole time! Enjoyed your review of the Chesapeake Bay area. It's really a gorgeous part of our East Coast.

    • cdcraftee profile image

      Christine Larsen 

      8 years ago from South Australia

      Hi from Australia - where I have nearly finished reading 'Chesapeake' by James A. Michener - just love it, like all his books. What an amazing and beautiful corner of the world - and although his books are obviously fiction woven into facts - they make great reads. You have certainly filled in the 'factual' side - really well. Great job!


    • naturegirl7s profile image

      Yvonne L B 

      9 years ago from Covington, LA

      I applaud your efforts to preserve the Chesapeake Bay habitat. Thanks for joining the Naturally Native Squids group. Don't forget to add your lens links to the appropriate plexos and vote for them.

    • Kiwisoutback profile image


      10 years ago from Massachusetts

      Great work! I've been to the area several times, including Virginia Beach, Norfolk, etc, I really like the area. 5 Stars! Lensrolling to our I-95 road trip lens.

    • starlitparlit profile image


      10 years ago

      sounds like another great place to visit. Another 5* lens

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Great Lens keep up the good work!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Thanks for joining my world travel group! World Travel Group


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