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The Chesapeake Bay

Chesapeake Bay Light Tackle Fishing, Chesapeake Bay Fly Fishing

Chesapeake Bay Overview
Spanning over 200 miles from its Susquehanna River headwaters to the north to the southern mouth of the bay where it meets the Atlantic Ocean, the Chesapeake Bay is an angler’s paradise offering a large variety of fishing opportunities year-round. The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States and is surrounded by two states, Maryland and Virginia. The Chesapeake Bay's watershed covers 64,299 square miles (166,534 km²) in the District of Columbia (Washington D.C.) and part of six states: New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. More than 150 rivers and streams drain into the Bay.

Chesapeake Bay History
In 1614, colonial leader Captain John Smith claimed that the Chesapeake Bay was so gorged in rockfish that you walk across the water on their backs. Rewind 9000 years, the Chesapeake Bay developed from natural occurrences during the last Ice Age. Around 9000 B.C., melting glaciers filled in the Susquehanna Valley, and about 7000 years later, the Bay assumed its current shape. All along, Native Americans lived in the Bay region, beginning agricultural practices, which led to settling around 1000 B.C. The Native American history of the land is very important to the bay, which is evident by the many streams and rivers with American Indian names; and many of our products are named after these locations. Native Americans lived along the bay for thousands of years before colonials came to America, starting with the Spanish conquistador Lucas Vásquez de Ayllón. Vásquez was the first person to map the Chesapeake Bay, which he did in the early 16th century while establishing the mission-town of San Miguel de Guadalupe, around the same site that Jamestown was established on a hundred years later. The first permanent American settlement was Jamestown, which was founded by Captain John Smith in 1607. The condition of this area has greatly changed since the time of the settlement of America’s original colony when Smith told tales of catching fish in frying pans due to the lack of a net.

This bay has a rich culture in fishing, from commercial crabbers chasing blue crabs to the fly fishers pursuing Striped Bass (locally called rockfish). People estimate that recreational fishing accounts for 85% of the bay’s fishing. High levels of recreational fishing can greatly improve an area’s economy through tourism, this is evident in the Chesapeake Bay. Being an estuary, the Chesapeake is home to wildlife with high tolerances of changes in salinity. Salinity in the watershed can range from 0.5ppm in the areas far inland up to 35ppm in areas closer to the Atlantic. Popular game fish species in the area include Striped Bass, American Shad, Red Drum, Black Drum, Bluefish, Tautog, Sheepshead, and White Perch in the areas close to shore and species such as Grouper and Black Sea Bass dwell farter out into the Atlantic. While there are over 300 species of fish in this region, the majority are migratory and only 32 live in the bay year round—the most common of these is the Blue Catfish, which can reach enormous sizes up to 70 pounds or more.

Chesapeake Bay Conservation Issues
Over the years, human development has harmed the area with high levels of pollution and destruction of marshes. The major cause of pollution in the bay is farm runoff, which causes eutrophication. Eutrophication is the significant blooming of algae, which is a result of fertilizer run-off (it is thought that farm land can only absorb about 10% of fertilizer thrown out while the rest ends up in our water systems). Large algal blooms keep sunlight from entering and lower the levels of dissolved oxygen in a water system, which are critical to the life of fish. This also affects water clarity—these waters have transformed from crystal clear to green in color. Other sources of pollution include industry, which was attracted to the bay due to its central location and ease of shipping. In recent years some of this damage has been reversed and fish populations are on the rise. Another factor that has contributed to pollution is the overharvesting of Oysters, which are natural water filters. Reducing the pollution in the Chesapeake is a daunting task, because its tributaries spread across six states, runoff from New York and Pennsylvania can be detrimental to Maryland waters. Because of this individual state efforts cannot be completely effective. Efforts There are many nonprofit groups that have the goal of improving the environmental quality of the Chesapeake. Environmental efforts have improved conditions since the fish kills of the 1970s, and fish populations are on the rise. Many fisherman of the James River report being scared by the common occurrence of jumping Sturgeon, a fish that was nearly extinct a few decades ago.

Chesapeake Bay Fishing - Common Fish Anglers Seek
Striped Bass (locally called Rockfish), Flounder, Bluefish, Croaker, Redfish (Red Drum), White Perch, Grey Trout, Speckled Trout, Blue Crabs, Cobia, Black Drum, Yellow Perch, Spot, Black Sea Bass, Spanish Mackerel, King Mackerel, Catfish (several varieties: Blue Catifsh, Bull Head), Crappie, Large Mouth Bass

Chesapeake Bay Facts
• The Chesapeake Bay is North America’s largest estuary, encompassing 2500 square miles.
• Over 15 million live in the Chesapeake’s watershed, which spreads across six states: Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and Washington D.C.
• Traversing every cove and inlet of the bay would result in 4,000 miles of travelling, which doesn’t include the tributaries that would triple this distance.
• As the crow flies the bay is about 200 miles long, stretching from Havre de Grace, MD in the north to Norfolk, VA in the south.
• The bay hosts nearly 350 species of finfish and almost 175 species of shellfish.
• The water in the Chesapeake Bay is surprisingly shallow. Although the Bay covers a large surface area, its average depth, including all tidal tributaries, is about 21 feet. In fact, a person who is six feet tall could wade through over 700,000 acres of the Bay and never get his or her hat wet. A few deep troughs running along much of the Bay’s length reach up to 174 feet in depth.
• In 17th and 18th century the Chesapeake’s waters were home to Pirates, including the famous Greybeard, due to the affluent status of the Virginia area. Sunken pirate ships still offer habitat to fish around the lower Maryland Eastern Shore portion of the bay.
• The common Chesapeake Bay retriever is home to this area, a dog commonly used for waterfowl hunting.
• Migratory Waterfowl drop in to rest in the Chesapeake Bay each year when making their annual migrations.
• The bay consists of 100,000 streams and rivers, so abundant that each of the 15 million people that live in the watershed are only a few minutes away from a fishing opportunity.
• Many boat designs are native to the bay, including the log canoe, pungy, bugeye, Chesapeake Bay deadrise and the skipjack. The skipjack is known as the only working boat still in use that is completely sail powered.
• The Chesapeake Bay is an estuary where fresh and salt water mix. It is a very fertile place for things that grow.
• The Chesapeake Bay's width ranges from 3.4 miles near Aberdeen, MD to 35 miles near the mouth of the Potomac River.
• The Bay receives about half of its water volume from the Atlantic Ocean. The rest drains into the Bay from an enormous 64,000 square-mile drainage basin or watershed.
• The Chesapeake holds more than 18 trillion gallons of water.
• There are about 150 major rivers and streams in the Chesapeake drainage basin.
• The Susquehanna River provides about 50% of the freshwater coming into the Bay - an average of 19 million gallons of water per minute.
• The square footage (surface area) of the Bay and its tidal tributaries is 125 billion square feet (or around 4,480 square miles).
• The Bay and its tidal tributaries have around 11,684 miles of shoreline (more than the entire West Coast).
• The Chesapeake Bay has two of the five major North Atlantic ports in the United States (Baltimore and Hampton Roads).
• Everything we do on the land – including the use of automobiles, fertilizers, pesticides, toilets, water, and electricity - affects the streams, the rivers, and the Bay.

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Dolphin Tagging and Derelict Crab Trap Clean up in the Chesapeake Bay
Copyright 2008