Croaker, sometimes known as hardhead, enter the Chesapeake Bay in early spring and are caught in most locations thru mid-fall. These popular bottom fish are sometimes found in large schools and can be caught with basic equipment.
Peeler crabs or soft shelled crabs the most popular croaker bait in the Chesapeake Bay. During peak periods of the crab molting season, using cut soft crabs or peeler crabs can provide anglers with coolers filled with croakers.
Squid is another widely available bait for catching croakers in the Chesapeake Bay. Anglers can purchase whole frozen squid (calamari) at grocery stores or seafood markets, or obtain higher quality squid from area saltwater fishing tackle shops. Squid that will be used for bait should be white, firm and not freezer burnt. This bait works best when cut into long strips which resemble a baitfish.
Bloodworms, although expensive, are excellent baits for catching Chesapeake Bay croakers. These strange worms are blood filled, which allows croakers to detect their presence in murky water. Anglers should be wary of the hidden mouth of bloodworms and remove it if possible while cutting up each worm.
Mummichogs (bull minnows) are sometimes used as bait for catching croakers. These saltwater minnows are native to the Chesapeake Bay and can be caught easily or bought from bait suppliers.
Fresh bait strips can be made from fillets of spot or other saltwater fish. These fresh baits often work well for catching croakers, seatrout and other top level fish. Leftover strips of fish can be coated with kosher salt and frozen for later use. If properly brined and frozen, strip baits retain their tough texture and fishy aroma for several months.
The most popular setup for catching croakers in the Chesapeake Bay is a basic 2 hook “top and bottom” rig. There are many variations of this rig, but most feature some combination of plain hooks, beads and a snap for connecting to the sinker..
The single hook rig is also popular in some areas of the bay. This rig typically includes a single long leader which is attached to a 3 way snap-swivel. Single hook rigs usually include beads, a bucktail hair teaser, and a spinner blade. Single hook rigs are frequently used when drifting along channel edges. They not only catch croaker, but also trout, flounder and other bottom species.
Jigs are useful for catching croakers in some areas. Some anglers prefer a bucktail jig dressed with a plastic lure body or morsel of crab while others may use all artificial jigs.
Rigs and lure setups come in several variations. Some anglers prefer the bare essentials, while others prefer rigs equipped with bucktail skirts, colored beads, spinner blades or other accessories
Popular 2 hook rigs are sometimes equipped with kahle style hooks. These light wire hooks straighten out when snagged, thereby saving the leader. Kahle hooks are inexpensive and offer good hookup ratios.
Another option for croaker fishing is the circle hook. Several variations are popular, including offset and non-offset styles. Circle hooks require a slightly higher skill lever to use, but have several important advantages. Circle hooks pierce most fish in the corner of the jaw, which helps to reduce mortality of throwbacks. These odd looking hooks seldom pull when hooked in the fish’s jaw.