A Few Simple Tricks Can Improve Spade Fishing


Just a few simple tricks can greatly enhance spadefish fishing.

Spadefish fishers love jelly balls – the mushroom-shaped, non-stinging varieties often found floating near docks and pilings – for bait. They make excellent targets for this predator species.

Cut a jelly ball into strips about the size of a Band-Aid and thread them onto a hook baited with shrimp or squid for bait.


Atlantic spadefish are popular sport fishing targets due to their delicious meat, impressive fighting ability, and ability to grow to enormous sizes. Found primarily in brackish coastal waters with artificial reefs or nearshore structures nearby as their home, spadefish tend to move inshore during fall as water temperatures become cooler; however, they may remain near artificial reefs year-round.

Spadefish are predominantly saltwater fish, although they can occasionally be seen in freshwater rivers and estuaries. Their body usually features several distinct offset black bands, one along the dorsal fin, with another at the base of the anal fins.

These fish tend to school together and follow your bait around in circles until it gets their attention, making them relatively straightforward to target. Because these solid fighters and active creatures require heavier tackle than usual for reeling them in successfully, medium spinning or baitcasting rods equipped with 12- to 17-pound test line spools are ideal.

Virginia typically sees its first spadefish appear near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel and its associated reef complex in June, followed by their spread into bay areas around Wachapreague and Chincoteague, as well as between Wolf Trap light and York Spit light, rockpiles, natural or artificial reefs, shipwrecks and maritime structures such as beacons and buoys.

Jellyfish are an ideal bait for spadefish and can often be found throughout coastal waters in summertime. Look out for enormous cannonball jellyfish as these tend to attract spadefish more effectively than smaller varieties; other alternatives such as small pieces of clam, shrimp, or squid may work too; cut your bait into strips about the size of a Band-Aid for best results.

Spadefish fishing can be best done early morning or late evening when currents are at their lowest and when bait can be drifted more easily and covered more rapidly. However, other times of the day may still provide opportunities to find them.


Spadefish are scavenger species seeking floating food sources such as shrimp and squid. While shrimp, squid, and other baits can work for some anglers, others have found that small, gillless clams (exceptionally cut diagonally with a knife and placed on their hook) perform better at drawing in spadefish strikes. Achieve success when fishing for spadefish with these baits lies in the proper presentation: A piece cut diagonally will often get them excited enough!

Target spadefish when they’re swimming freely on calm seas. Look for schools of spadefish around reefs, pilings, buoys, and bridges – most of which provide cover from elements that spadefish dislike, so they are an ideal place for them to congregate.

Once you’ve discovered a school of spadefish, anchor upwind and drift downstream with the current. Don’t twitch your bait, as this will spook the fish; rather let it drift aimlessly in the water column. Using cannonball jellyfish may also draw these creatures right up to your boat more quickly.

After just a few minutes, you should hear nibblings on your line. If the action doesn’t start picking up after casting out several times, reposition your boat and try again – most often, you can feel fish passing by on the surface before they grab at your bait!

As an alternative to clams, many anglers use small pieces of squid or orange/pink Fishbites on a standard circle hook as an effective bait for spadefish catching. Since spadefish have small mouths, choose a smaller hook size; 6 ounces should provide sufficient support against any fight from finicky spadefish.

Terminal Tackle

Fishing relies on three essential tools: hook, line, and sinker. However, not all hooks, bars, and sinkers are created equal; some boast specific attributes that make them better or worse for various applications – especially terminal tackle such as bobbers, floats, and weights, which Tackle Warehouse provides in abundance.

While more commonly associated with trout species, spadefish tend to favor structures for shelter. They can often be seen around wrecks, reefs, pilings, buoys, and bridges; additionally, they are known to frequent open waters with structures like mangrove swamps and natural ledges.

All fish species, however, are fussy eaters and often prefer smaller live baits, such as sardines or cut clams, for easier hooking. Light tackle, small hooks, and steady presentations are essential. Anglers sometimes anchor over wrecks and reefs and use ground clams or cut squid as bait to draw out more finicky species from depths onto surfaces where they are easier to catch.

A typical setup might consist of a 20-lb line on a medium action rod coupled with a small live bait hook – red hooks are known to attract spadefish, while others use bucktails instead. A light leader should be added around 18 inches long with the aim of fishing at just the proper depth in the water column, and adding a bobber stop can ensure bait reaches just its target depth in the water column.

Spadefish fishing is most successful during the warmer months, from June through September. Spadefish can be found throughout inshore wreck and reef sites from Orange County through Virginia to Lower Bay; generally speaking, it’s best to head out on calm days as spadefish can more easily be seen at the surface than in deeper waters.


Spadefishes are known to have an excellent fight, making them popular targets among anglers. When hooked, these hard fighters tend to head for the depths where they may find refuge in artificial reefs or wrap themselves around buoy cables and snap the line, making having a net nearby even more crucial.

Spadefish can be caught most efficiently by baiting with either clam or squid; both work equally well when strung on a fishing stringer with metal tips at each end and rings at both. When strung onto structures such as coral reefs, jelly balls like pearls on the stringer can attract feeding fish until tugging sensations signal feeding activity from pulling hits on the stringer telegraph feeding signals to you.

Spadefish can be caught almost anywhere where they congregate on the ocean bottom, from wrecks and reefs near pilings, under bridges or off piers in Orange County down through Virginia, and around any significant structure that doesn’t just consist of bare bottom.

A Carolina rig is typically employed when fishing for spadefish. This rig has a heavy sinker at the bottom, fluorocarbon leader, and hook. A bait can then be attached to this hook before sight-casting towards any known feeding areas or structures nearby.

Fly fishing can also be an effective method for catching spadefish. Though more skilled anglers tend to possess this skill set than novice ones, fly anglers can still find this enjoyable and fulfilling activity. Fly anglers typically employ artificial flies designed to resemble jellyfish chunks or clam shells for this kind of fishing – slow sinking lines with 2-foot fluorocarbon leaders are recommended, along with an eight-weight fly rod and eight-weight reel as gear for this method of fishing.

Instead of the more common bait rigs, some anglers enjoy casting lures to triggerfish and using their triggerfish trigger to hook a spadefish. This technique is popular among young anglers or anyone not yet ready to invest in saltwater tackle. When fishing is hooked, anglers should pull hard on the rod for a strong hookset before keeping the fish alive to not exhaust its energy reserves too quickly.