I was tourist fishing. Tourist fishing means you pay no attention to the wind, tides or time of day. You just go fishing when it’s convenient, because you’re a tourist on vacation. As a rule, tourist fishing usually translates into empty stringers. You don’t catch much. But on a morning at Kiptopeke State Park on the Eastern Shore, it was pretty much a fish on every cast. I was tossing out bottom rigs baited with shrimp from the huge pier and hooking up with sea bass, spot, hogfish, white perch, blowfish and assorted bottom fish while my wife Nancy was leafing through the pages of her latest novel. We had three days to kill and had decided on the Eastern Shore.
Kiptopeke is the crown jewel in Virginia’s state park tiara.
When Doug Wilder was governor, the opportunity to acquire this beautiful piece of property arose, and he gave it his quick approval. I consider it one of the greatest accomplishments of any Virginia governor in the nearly 50 years I have been in the state.
This 562-acre tract is the only park on the Eastern Shore. It has a long and colorful history. Kiptopeke, which means “big water”, was originally purchased by the Virginia Ferry Corporation as the northern terminus of the ferry, which sailed back and forth from Virginia Beach. Around 1949, the ferry moved up to Cape Charles to better connect with the railway system and the burgeoning concrete industry in Cape Charles.
Kiptopeke has nearly a mile of beachfront, with a white, sandy beach for swimming and sunbathing, plus miles of trails for hiking and, a camp store, which also rents bikes, kayaks, and other beach-type equipment. And, of course, there is fishing from the pier, which is more of a bulkhead then a pier. It has over 1,000 feet of fishing opportunities.
This is deep-water fishing. The water at the base of the pier was about 14 feet where I was fishing. Off the end of the pier, anglers with live minnows can drift baits in the current and hook up with some serious flounder. The pier is an excellent spot for gray trout and croakers, though the croaker bite has shifted to late evenings, but remember, I was tourist fishing.
There is an outstanding boat ramp at Kiptopeke with easy parking for trailers. A few hundred yards from the ramp is an amazing fish structure called the concrete ships. There are actually 9 of these surplus World War II ships that were sunk off Kiptopeke to form a 1,500-foot barrier. Those grounded, concrete ships provide amazing cover for all sorts of fish ranging from tautog and spadefish to cobia trout, bluefish, flounder and all sorts of bottom fish.
Kiptopeke is a camper’s delight. There is a lovely campground offering everything from primitive sites to those with full hook ups. You can even rent fully furnished travel trailers, and new to Kiptopeke, are six family lodges rented on a weekly basis that will sleep up to 16 people.
Nancy and I didn’t stay at Kiptopeke, but at one of our favorite resort hotels, the Sunset Beach Hotel, located just past the Bridge Tunnel connection to the Eastern Shore and about 2 miles from Kiptopeke.
Should you decide to venture to the Eastern Shore for a few days or longer, you can rent fishing boats at Cape Charles Watersports in the Cape Charles Harbor. They have jon boats and 16- and 19-foot Carolina Skiffs. Call 757-387-WAVE for more details.
A top-notch fishing guide – Capt. Ralph Gianinni – can also put clients on everything from big drum to spadefish, from rockfish to flounder. Call Gianinni with Good Times Guide Service at 757-331-4459. For information on lodging, call Kiptopeke State Park at 757-331-2267 (www.virginiastateparks.gov)
The Eastern Shore is about a 3-hour drive from Charlottesville if you can sneak though Hampton Roads without confronting significant traffic. The toll across the CBBT is $12 each way, but a bargain for the beauty and bounty of Virginia’s amazing Eastern Shore.