How to Fish "Bad Water" - Part II

By John Page Williams, CBF Senior Naturalist and avid boater and fisherman. In Part I of this two-part series, John Page gives anglers some insight into the images on your sonar fish finders. In Part II he looks at how you can use that information to catch more fish.

So what's an angler to do when bad water shows up on the fish finder? 
First, think about what the fish are telling you: they won't--or can't--go any deeper than the levels where you see them. This kind of situation calls for precise depth control. Can you cast out a jig, count it down to just above the level where you see them, and swim it back through them? Can you troll a plug or a spoon through them? If you're live-lining, can you use a bobber to hang your bait at their level? Think through your options. You may just find that the way bad water concentrates fish actually makes it easier to catch them.

In the short run, that is. 
In the long run, though, bad water costs our Bay a huge loss in summertime fish habitat. For one thing, it concentrates fish in thin layers of warm water where diseases like Mycobacteriosis can spread. On a broader level, over the past 10 summers, more than 80 percent of the Bay has qualified as "bad water" that does not meet the EPA's water quality standards for dissolved oxygen. Between 10 percent and 20 percent of that bad water qualifies as dead zones that are completely off limits to fish and crabs each summer. Think of having to give up 20 percent of the space in your boat, or in your house, and being uncomfortably stressed in most of the rest of it! Think how that loss affects the "carrying capacity"� of the Chesapeake, its ability to serve as home to the fish species we love! Bad water is costing us the resource we love most in our Bay. 

What causes the bad water problem is pollution, nitrogen pollution to be specific. Too much nitrogen (about 600 percent too much, in fact) fertilizes the growth of trillions of algae cells. (See yesterday's post "Hampton Roads Algal Blooms Send Distress Signals") 

Over the past twenty-five years, many sewage treatment plants have made good progress reducing nitrogen pollution, and so have some farmers. To really make a difference, though, the Bay needs more farmers to participate fully in reducing nitrogen pollution, more sewer authorities to continue their upgrade progress, and most of all, many states, cities, towns, and private citizens to reduce polluting runoff from roadways, parking lots, and rooftops.  

Now there are solutions, and Bay anglers can help, big-time.
Over the next two months, contact your U.S. Senators and ask them to support Senate Bill 1816, the Chesapeake Clean Water Act. It offers the most important legislative opportunity to reduce runoff pollution to come along in the past thirty-five years. For more information, visit

In addition, the Bay states are putting together Watershed Implementation Plans ("WIPs"�) that lay out specific actions they must follow to improve the Chesapeake's water quality. We anglers can help there by following the WIP development process, participating in the public hearings about them, and urging our state agencies to submit strong plans that really will make a difference in the Bay's health. CBF's Anglers for Clean Water Web Site ( will keep you informed of those opportunities to help.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation



The views and opinions expressed in the media, articles or comments on this site are those of the speakers or authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by CBF and the inclusion of such information does not imply endorsement by CBF. CBF is not responsible for the contents of any linked Web, or any link contained in a linked Web site, or any changes or updates to such Web sites. The inclusion of any link or comment is provided only for information purposes. CBF reserves the right to edit or remove any comments and material posted to this website and to ban users from the site without notice. Partisan, pornographic or other inappropriate content, product or service promotion, foul language or bad behavior is expressly forbidden and will be removed.

Share Your Clean Water Story

What does the Bay, its rivers and streams mean to you? What impact have the Bay and its local waters had on your life? We'd like to know.

Share Your Story


Do you enjoy working with others to help clean the Chesapeake Bay? Do you have a few hours to spare? Whether growing oysters, planting trees, or helping in our offices, there are plenty of ways you can contribute.