You never know when you’re going to run into breaking fish. It doesn’t happen terribly often, so when you do get lucky enough to spot them busting the surface, you want to know how to take full advantage of the situation. Join us aboard a fishing trip on the Chesapeake Bay, and you’ll pick up a few pointers that will help you catch more fish—and bigger ones—the next time you encounter them breaking water.


Remember the basic but important tips covered in the video: Pull up-wind of the school, so you get a nice long drift and can catch as many as possible. Let your lures sink below the main body of fish (when they’re small) to find the bigger fish. And when the fish quit, don’t sit around and wait. They may pop back up but if they don’t quickly, you’ll burn all your fishing time floating around and waiting. There are, of course, more tricks and tactics than we could cover in a two minute video. Here are some more to keep in mind:

  • Don’t drive your boat right over the fish. Your turning propeller makes a lot of noise underwater, and you may drive the school down. As a rule of thumb, come off of plane 100 yards from the school. Back down to idle speed 50 yards away. And on the final approach, shift into neutral (if you have a four-stroke) or shut down the engine (if you have a two-stroke, which makes significantly more noise underwater).

  • When there are birds working over the fish, try not to make long, arcing casts. If you do, sooner or later you’ll either snag a bird or one will fly into your line. Then, you’ll lose valuable fishing time as you try to get it freed.

  • Retrieve quickly. Quite often fish busting water will ignore a slow-moving bait, which seems very unnatural in the middle of a feeding frenzy.

  • Match the hatch as best as you can. The predators will sometimes get tunnel vision, and only attack lures that match the prey they’re busting on.

  • Try to minimize the noise you make onboard. Sharp noises like slamming hatches, dropped weights, or even people yelling can be enough to alert the fish, and cause them to sound.

  • The treble hooks on surface lures can be dangerous, and they do a lot of damage to the fish. Crimping down the barbs is a good idea.

Remember, finding breaking fish is usually a stroke of luck. So be prepared to employ other tactics and techniques, for when you don’t see them. Check out our Fishing Section, which has numerous how-to articles and videos that will help you fill your cooler whether those breakers show up or not.

Written by: Lenny Rudow
With over two decades of experience in marine journalism, Lenny Rudow has contributed to publications including YachtWorld,, Boating Magazine, Marlin Magazine, Boating World, Saltwater Sportsman, Texas Fish & Game, and many others. Lenny is a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, and he has won numerous BWI and OWAA writing awards.