The 23-Mile Artificial Reef: Fishing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel

The Chesapeake Bay is renown for its one of a kind inshore game fishery.  What makes this fishery so abundant in species and quality fish is the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel (CBBT).  The CBBT is a 23-mile along artificial reef, its structure attracting numerous inshore species while creating a prime spot for anglers targeting fish in the bay.  You may have heard anglers referencing to the four islands of the CBBT.  These islands are numbered from the Virginia Beach side moving North.  Each of the four islands has an entire ecosystem unto itself and should be studied and learned to produce the most success when fishing.  You may find that most of your catches are produced close to or right up against the structure of the CBBT pilings and tubes, or right at the islands by the rocks.  The bridge has certainly provided an artificial reef with all of its structure, creating an ecosystem for many species to adhere to.

For anglers looking for that inshore slam or those looking for a solid mixed bag, look no further than the Chesapeake Bay.  In close proximity to the CBBT, fishing between the first small boat channel and the First Island has been one of the hottest places during the Summers for solid catches.  For those targeting species during the Summer months, quality hook ups to Sheepshead, Spadefish, and Black Drum are extremely common. Reports typically flood into tackle shops all Summer based off of quality action found at the CBBT tubes and pilings.  These fish are feeding off the the ecosystem growing on the artificial reef of the CBBT whereby much of the activity is happening below the surface of the water.  If you’re close enough to the pilings, you will be able to spot tons of fiddler crabs and activity crawling on the structure of the bridge, hopefully giving you a good indication that there should be fish not too far away.  For all three of these species, anglers have success using Fiddler Crabs, Blue Crabs, and fresh Claims for Spadefish.  Triggerfish can also be caught when using Clams as well. All of these inshore species will give you a run for your money so when you get that hook up, it’s going to be a fun fight!

The Yancy Wreck is one area you can work and target fish as you near the First Island.  This is a barge that hit the CBBT and took out several pilings and the roadway. The remnants of this collision are now scattered along the bottom and attract numerous specifies including, Taugtog, Sheepshead, Flounder, and Spadefish.

Although the first small boat channel to the First Island has been successful in holding quality fish for many anglers over the years, venturing down to the Second and even the Third and Fourth Islands have produced a lot of activity for bay fishing anglers as well.  You can cover a lot of ground by moving between pilings and islands until you discover where the fish are feeding during a particular tide cycle.

Another species you can target during the Summer months around the islands, buoys, pilings, and cans, are Cobia. On Sunny days and especially when the water is calm, site casting for Cobia can be extremely rewarding.  Although Cobia can be finicky and challenging at times to catch depending on their spawn and the weather conditions, if you keep consistent with using live eels or a Bucktail, you’ll be sure to have success with persistence and precision when casting to them.  Pro tip, although this might very well sound commonsense, using polarized sunglasses is absolutely key in order to effectively site for Cobia.

Depending on what season you’re fishing the bay, anglers may be coming home with a healthy mixed bag of Flounder, Blues, Rockfish, Red Drum, Croaker, just to name a few.  Triggerfish are among the many species you can target in the bay as many enjoy the hunt.  Spanish Mackerel is also a highly desired species and easily targeted when trolling.  Planers and Clark Spoons are often most successful when trolled at 7MPH.

If your trying to target Red Drum, schools of monster Drum cruise the CBBT from Spring until fall.  During their Spring and Fall runs, you will probably get lucky and see large schools on the surface, while other times you might have to work at attracting their attention.  Baits such as cut Bunker, live Blue Crabs and whole Clams, might just produce the most action you’ve seen out on the water with these Drum! Large Black Drum are often seen inhabiting the same areas and can be caught interchangeably.  There’s nothing quite like the Fall Drum Run.  If you’ve never stuck around long enough after the Summer, you definitely want to think again because it’s sure to be a feeding frenzy with some of the largest Drum in play!

When thinking about targeting a specific species, it’s always important to know what the fish are biting on and what type of bait will produce the most action and success.  Many anglers prefer the use of live and or fresh bait for to maximize their success of filling their coolers, but there are also many who are partial to artificial baits.  I personally have always been a huge advocate of lures and soft plastics!  Surface lures in the bay have a good chance of providing exciting action early in the morning and also in the evening.  Chum will always increase your chances of attracting more fish and can help produce more success out on the water.

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel truly is a unique fishery unto itself for its own inherent ecosystem.  Anglers all over the world travel to fish this great artificial reef while we are the ones lucky enough to call it our backyard.  The CBBT’s artificial reef has spurred the inshore sport fishing to a new level of fishing and has given anglers an appreciation for its diversity and abundance in species, quality, and overall healthy ecosystem.

Kristi Anderson

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