We’ve all heard the saying about finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. In the past couple weeks, fishermen on the bay and freshwater areas have been dodging passing rain clouds, but were blessed with the sight of a pretty rainbow.
A serious problem that pains any fisherman to see is dead striped bass floating in the bay, and the scene becomes more common as air and bay water temperatures rise. This time of the year some of these fish are dying not so much from hook injury, but the stress of being brought to the boat. Studies have shown that decreasing the time one takes to bring a fish to the boat can improve fish survival. Use heavy tackle, flattening the barbs on your jigs or lures to quicken your release, and also release the fish without removing it from the water.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is launching a new awareness campaign to reduce striped bass mortality during the summer fishing season. A color-coded recommendation system will advise of fishing conditions, allowing anglers to plan their striped bass fishing trips up to seven days in advance.
Forecast Summary: June 26 – July 2
Anglers are in for a warm stretch of weather this week with low winds and a limited chance of rain or thunderstorms from Friday through Sunday. These conditions will warm surface waters and limit oxygen being recharged to the deeper waters from wind mixing, and increase the chance of algal blooms. This will result in rockfish remaining at similar locations and depths, just above the “don’t fish below this depth” line in the coolest water available. As always, the best fishing areas could be further defined by intersecting these cool, oxygenated areas with underwater points, hard bottom, drop-offs, and large schools of baitfish.
Bay surface salinities are well below normal for this time of year but improving slightly.Salinity at the state line on the west side of the bay is about 8ppt while the Tangier Sound side of the bay is saltier at 12ppt. In most of the shallower bay waters, anglers will find adequate oxygen for gamefish from the surface to bottom. However, to avoid low oxygen conditions in the deep channel waters from the Bay Bridge down to the state line and the lower Potomac River, avoid fishing deeper than 30 feet. However, on the east side from the Bay Bridge south to near Hooper’s Island, avoid fishing deeper than 20 feet.
Bay water temperatures will continue to increase. For the middle-to-upper bay — from Annapolis north — water temperatures are in the upper 70s. Choptank area water temperatures have risen to the upper 70s and low 80s. For the Potomac River, at Little Falls and Point Lookout, surface water temperatures have risen to the upper 70s and low 80s.
Except for some reduced water clarity on the Susquehanna Flats, main stem water clarity is relatively good. However, the upcoming hot, sunny and calm conditions may set up algal blooms from the mouth of the Potomac River north to Chesapeake Beach. On the Potomac River, expect reduced water clarity down to Coles Point and also near Ragged Point. Flows from Maryland’s rivers and streams will be above normal — but dropping — as a result of rain last week in the Potomac and Susquehanna watersheds. There will be above average tidal currents from Saturday through the rest of the week as a result of the upcoming new moon July 3.
For the full weekly fishing conditions summary and more detailed and up-to-date fishing conditions in your area of the bay, be sure to check out Click Before You Cast. You can now get regular updates on Maryland’s waters and the creatures that call them home sent to your inbox with our new Eyes on the Bay newsletter. Sign up online.
Striped Bass Summer Fishing Advisory Forecast:
Red: Air temperatures are forecast at 95 degrees or higher. Anglers are encouraged not to fish for striped bass after 10 a.m. and should target other species of fish.
Yellow: Air temperatures are forecast at 90-94 degrees. Anglers should use extreme care when fishing for striped bass; fish should be kept in the water when caught and released on these days.
Green: Fishing conditions are normal. Proper catch-and-release practices are encouraged.
More information about this awareness campaign can be found on the Striped Bass Fishing Advisory Forecast webpage.
Upper Chesapeake Bay
Striped bass fortunes are to be found if you’re ready for some company. Striped bass are being squeezed into a few of the shallower areas this week and all you have to do is look for the fleets. One of the premier locations is the east side of the Bay Bridge — it is the best place to drift baits back to striped bass suspended near the bridge piers or to jig near the piers. Most boats are anchoring up (from the bow please) and drifting soft crab or cut menhaden baits back to the pier bases. They are finding there is no need to chum, and some are also live-lining small white perch with good results.
Remember, if you are chumming or live lining you must use non-offset circle hooks by regulation. Captains have been telling us they are having good results dropping down to a 7/0 circle hook from the traditional 9/0.
Jigging with a variety of soft plastics is an equally good proposition if you get in tight to the bridge piers. If you have not chipped paint off your jig heads, you’re not getting close enough. Large soft plastic jigs in 6-inch to 8=inch size in pearl, chartreuse or white tend to be a good choice, since there are some 30-inch striped bass in the mix. Those accustomed to drifting while jigging will notice something becoming more common: With the advent of GPS-controlled bow electric motors, some boats can stay on station when working a tidal rip, which can make it a little tough for those drifting through the rip.
I managed to get out last week jigging in the upper bay region and was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the fish. They were fat, broad shouldered and showed no sores. A fair number of the fish we caught and released went 30 inches or better. There are other good places to check such as Baltimore Light, some of the knolls and shoal areas as well as Swan and Love points. A falling tide presents some of the best fishing options when drifting and jigging. If you’re considering a charter there may be room, since many charters are doing two trips a day and tend to limit out fairly quickly.
Fishing for white perch in the upper bay has been good, and dense schools of them can be found holding over shoals and knolls in the region of Love and Swan points. Several party boats from the Kent Island area can be seen taking fishermen to the area to fish for a mix of white perch and catfish. The boats leave daily from the Kent Narrows docks.
Striped bass can be found in a variety of locations. Suspended striped bass are holding in relatively shallow water on the outside edges of Hacketts, the Gum Thickets area, Thomas Point, Bloody Point, Eastern Bay and the Breezy Point area. Striped bass can be found suspended in about 25 feet of water. Many anglers are jigging at these and other locations with good success, while chumming is also a popular option.
Trolling has been a popular way to find fish that are on the move and scattered. Spoons and red hoses have been a favorite when pulled behind planers or inline weights. A mix of bucktails dressed with sassy shads and Storm type swimshads are also a good choice when trailing behind an umbrella rig.
The shallow-water fishery for striped bass is definitely worth the effort to get up at dawn or linger in the evening hours to fish topwater lures. Casting topwater lures over grass and shoreline structure often brings explosive surface strikes. Where grass is not a problem, casting swimshads, crankbaits and jerkbaits can be a great option. Casting these lures at rock piles such as Thomas Point Light and the rocks along Poplar Island can offer some exciting fun.
White perch are an entertaining fishing option. There are plenty of large white perch available and they can be caught in a variety of ways. Bottom fishing with grass shrimp or pieces of bloodworm near dock piers or out in open water over oyster bars has been producing good catches. Casting small lures near shoreline structure in the evening hours is also a fun option. The Bill Burton, Matapeake and Romancoke piers have been offering good fishing for a mix of white perch and catfish.
There has been exciting striped bass fishing in the lower Patuxent and Potomac rivers. In the Patuxent, trolling a mix of spoons and red hoses behind planers or bucktails and Storm type swimshads behind umbrella rigs along channel edges is producing a nice grade of striped bass. Casting swimshads, crankbaits and topwater lures along shoreline structure and the old Cedar Point Light has also been producing fish in the early morning or evening hours.
In the lower Potomac along the steep channel edge between Piney Point and St. George Island, striped bass are being caught buy chumming or jigging. The fish tend to be holding along the 25-foot to 30-foot channel edge.
There has also been some striped bass action along the channel edge off Cove Point and the east side of the shipping channel from Buoy 76 down to 72 for those trolling. Reports of large red drum and cobia are becoming more common in the area below the Target Ship, but the best reports continue to come from Virginia.
Fishing for white perch has been very good in the lower bay tidal rivers and creeks. Most are bottom fishing with grass shrimp or pieces of bloodworm on a bottom rig in deeper waters over hard bottom such as oyster bars. Spot can also be part of the mix in the lower Patuxent River and Tangier Sound. A few medium-sized croaker can add to the mix on the eastern side of the bay.
The abundance of blue catfish in the region’s tidal rivers seems almost without explanation. There are so many of them in the tidal Potomac, Patuxent and Nanticoke rivers that the old fisherman’s saying that “you could sink a boat with them” comes to mind. Anyone wishing to stock up on some tasty fillets with no creel limit and no minimum size can fish till they run out of bait. Most any kind of fresh cut bait works well.
Prospects for good catches of blue crabs are steadily improving this week in the middle and lower bay regions. By far the best opportunities for catching a bushel of crabs per outing are coming from the eastern side of the lower bay region’s tidal rivers and creeks. The middle bay region generally offers about a half bushel of crabs per outing. Most are reporting that they are experiencing the best catches in less than 12 feet of water. Chicken necks and razor clams have been equally favored baits.
With summer vacationers settled in at Deep Creek Lake, there is plenty of family fun to be found fishing for a variety of species such as yellow perch, bluegills, largemouth bass, chain pickerel and smallmouth bass. Drifting along deep grass beds with a minnow is a great way to fish. Largemouth bass can be found looking for shade under floating docks, and trout can be found deep along the dam face by slow-trolling nightcrawlers.
Trout fishing has been good in the tailrace waters as trout tend to nose into the cooler water coming down from the reservoirs. Fishing with streamers is a great way to target the larger brown trout. There are still some ongoing hatches of mayflies, while caddis and stoneflies are slowing down. Recent rain events may cause high water conditions in some areas, but they should return to acceptable levels in a day or so.
The upper Potomac is providing good fishing conditions and smallmouth bass tend to be the main target. Anglers that are out on the river at dawn are enjoying some exciting shallow water fishing around grass with topwater lures. As the day wears on, a good choice is switching to grubs, flukes, and small crankbaits, and targeting deeper waters. Those fishing the upper Potomac report lots of channel catfish taking lures.
The tidal Potomac River is fishing well for largemouth bass with the focus being on grass. Shallow grass is being fished in the early morning or evening hours with buzzbaits, frogs or topwater lures. As the day wears on, the largemouth bass can be found lounging under thick grass mats over slightly deeper waters. Catch them using jigs and stick worms dropped down through the grass. Sunken wood, creek mouths and drop-offs are great places to fish with crankbaits and soft plastics. Northern snakeheads can now be found lurking in thick grass and are back on the feed after spawning; buzzbaits and frogs are two of the best topwater lures to target them.
These same habitat preferences can easily relate to farm ponds, reservoirs and other tidal rivers. The Baltimore reservoirs such as Prettyboy and Liberty are wonderful places to fish from shore or from a small boat. If you are planning to launch a kayak or electric powered boat in these reservoirs, there are certain requirements including a boating permit. More information is available on the city’s website.
For Loch Raven Reservoir, a separate permit is needed from the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks. We’ll have more details on that next week, and more information is available on the Baltimore County website.
Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays
Surf fishing along the beaches of Ocean City and Assateague Island are enjoying good fishing for kingfish, using pieces of bloodworms or Fishbites. Those using finger mullet have been catching small bluefish. Using larger baits of cut menhaden or mullet will entice inshore sharks and cownose rays for a little catch-and-release fishing. A few sub-legal striped bass are also being caught.
At the inlet and Route 50 Bridge area, sheepshead are being caught with more regularity at the south Jetty on sand fleas, and a few tautog are still being caught. Small to medium-sized bluefish continue to move in and out of the inlet and can be caught by casting Got-Cha lures and bucktails or by drifting cut baits. Flounder are traveling through the inlet area and can be caught from shore by casting white Gulp baits slightly up-current and jigging them as the current sweeps them along the bottom.
The back bay channel edges are coming into their own as long as the water stays clear. Flounder are being caught in the channels leading to the inlet as well as up towards the Route 90 Bridge and Sinepuxent Bay behind Assateague Island. White Gulp baits tend to do very well on the larger flounder.
Outside the inlet, anglers trolling from the shoal areas out to the 30 Fathom Lumps are catching a mix of bluefish, Spanish mackerel, false albacore and Atlantic bonito while trolling. Silver spoons and small plastic skirted lures tend to make up a good trolling spread.
Sea bass fishing on the wreck and reef sites continues at a summer pace with generally good catches of sea bass and flounder. Captains are reporting that sometimes the sea bass are less cooperative than other times.
The big offshore news this week is the Wilmington Canyon and the recent yellowfin tuna bite there. Double-digit catches of yellowfins in the 30-pound range are common. The Washington, Poormans and Baltimore canyons are also producing yellowfin tuna along with a mix of gaffer dolphin, bigeye tuna and a Bluefin now and then. A lot of small to medium sized mako sharks are being caught and released in the canyons also as they follow the yellowfin tuna.
As a final note, offshore anglers are reminded to turn in catch cards for bluefin tuna, billfish and sharks.
“Quite possibly this is the key to fishing; the ability to see glamour in whatever species one may fish for.” — Harod Blaisdell
Click Before You Cast is written by Tidewater Ecosystem Assessment Director Tom Parham.
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