Click Before You Cast is written by Tidewater Ecosystem Assessment Director Tom Parham.
This report is now available on your Amazon Echo device — just ask Alexa to “open Maryland Fishing Report.”
While everyone is caught up in the pre-holiday rush, those looking for a little respite will find plenty of fun fishing opportunities this month. The preseason stocking of trout has begun and walleye, chain pickerel, yellow perch, and catfish are all eager to entertain those who fish for them. The Chesapeake Bay striped bass season will come to a close on December 15, and the past couple weeks have been like the grand finale at a fireworks display.
This will be the final weekly Maryland Fishing Report until next year. As the sun sets on the 2019 season, we look ahead to 2020.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has produced a fact sheet, available online, to address the many questions recreational anglers may have concerning future striped bass regulations and management.
The Sport Fisheries Advisory Commission recently created an annual recreational fisheries achievement award, to be given once a year. This is a great opportunity to recognize someone you know who goes that extra distance in volunteering their services to aid in promoting and conserving our recreational fisheries resources in Maryland. For more information and to nominate someone, find everything you need on the department’s website.
Forecast Summary: Dec. 11 – Dec. 17:
As we approach mid-December, Bay temperatures continue to drop. The cool weather has reduced the surface water temperature of the Bay mainstem and rivers to the mid 40s. This cooling will continue through the next week. Warmest waters continue to be found in the bottom quarter of the water column from the mouth of the Patuxent River down to the Virginia state line.
Anglers should focus on prime habitat areas for larger concentrations of baitfish and hungry gamefish as they migrate to their winter holding areas. As always, make sure to focus on moving water periods for best results.
Expect normal flows from most of Maryland’s rivers and streams. There will be above average tidal currents Sunday through Tuesday as a result of the full moon Dec. 12. Bay surface salinities are at normal conditions.
Expect normal water clarity in Maryland Bay waters with potentially reduced water clarity early next week following predicted rains. To see the latest water clarity conditions, check Eyes on the Bay Satellite Maps.
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.
Upper Chesapeake Bay
The lower Susquehanna River area striped bass fishery has slowed down to almost a halt due to cold water temperatures. A few fish are being caught at the dam pool in the early morning hours, but the pickings are pretty slim. Most anglers have switched to fishing for a mix of catfish — channel, flathead, and especially blue cats.
Yellow perch are found in many of the tidal rivers and creeks and should provide some fun fishing through the winter months. They often are holding in some of the deeper holes and can be caught on beetle spins, shad darts, and small live minnows. The lower Susquehanna, Northeast, Chester, and Magothy rivers are all good places to look for yellow perch.
A few striped bass are being caught along the deeper edges of the shipping channel near Podickory Point. Most are trolling umbrella rigs close to the bottom by using heavy inline weights and trolling at slow speeds. Bucktails dressed with sassy shads tend to be the favored trailing lures. Jigging can also be a way to target striped bass when found suspended in deep water. Jigs in the one-ounce size range with 6-inch to 10-inch soft plastics in a variety of colors are popular offerings.
The Bay Bridge deep water piers, rock piles, and concrete abutments tend to hold striped bass through the month of December. They will be found hugging the bottom at the deepest depths, 40 feet or so. Jigging with metal or soft plastic jigs is about the only way to catch them, and as water temperatures drop below 40 degrees they will be less enticed to take a lure.
Large white perch can be found at the bases of the Bay Bridge rock piles and at numerous deep holes in the upper Bay, often in 40 feet of water or deeper. Jigging with a heavy sinker and two dropper flies or hooks baited with pieces of bloodworm is a great way to target them. White perch should provide fishing opportunities for those that can reach the Bay’s deepest waters and find them on depth finders.
The best-striped bass action in the middle bay region is occurring along the deeper edges of the shipping channel. On the east side of the Bay, the channel edge from Bloody Point Light south past Buoy 83, the False Channel, and down to RN2. The shipping channel in front of Chesapeake Beach is the most popular area on the west side.
The most effective way to troll is using umbrella rigs with bucktails dressed with a sassy shad as a trailer. Heavy inline weights and slow trolling speeds are needed to get the rigs down to where the fish are holding, close to the bottom in 40 feet of water or more.
Jigging is another viable option when concentrations of striped bass can be found on depth finders. Heavy jigs are needed to get down close to the bottom in these very deep waters. Soft plastic bodies 6 to 10 inches in length are being used in a variety of colors, with versions of pearl or chartreuse being the most popular. Metal jigs are also a popular choice in silver/green combinations. Braided line is a must.
As cold water temperatures prevail, fish will naturally look for warmer water — and nowhere is better than the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant warm water discharge. This location is no secret to anyone who fishes the middle Bay, and those jigging there have been finding some speckled trout that are feeling a bit chilly. During the winter months, this location is a popular spot to check for a little striped bass catch-and-release jigging during the closed season.
The exciting striped bass action continues this week and will most likely prevail until the season’s closing bell on Dec. 15. There is a lot of bait in the form of menhaden being seen around the mouth of the Potomac River to Smith Point, and north to the mouth of the Patuxent River. The striped bass is holding in about 40 feet to 60 feet of water along the main channel edges, feeding on the schools of menhaden. The area from R72 south to G65 has been a very popular location.
Jigging with large soft plastic jigs around 8 inches and metal jigs that are 1 ounce or heavier are needed to get down to the depths required. Trolling is also a good option when covering water along these deep channel edges, but requires heavy inline weights, often 12 ounces or more, with umbrella rigs and trolling speeds as low as 2 knots. Rigging the umbrella rigs with white or chartreuse sassy shads with a chartreuse bucktail and sassy shad has been effective. There is always hope that some large ocean run striped bass will come up the Bay this week, so more than a few anglers have been adding large parachutes and bucktails to their trolling spreads.
White perch are being found in some of the deepest holes near the mouth of the Patuxent River and Tangier Sound. They are nestled down close to the bottom in 40 feet of water or more. It will take a fair-sized sinker to hold bottom with a two-hook bottom rig baited with pieces of bloodworm, but the rewards are there.
Fishing for northern snakeheads will generally be limited to fishing with bobbers or popping corks trailing a large minnow. Sunny afternoons with little wind offer the best fishing opportunities. The tidal Potomac, Patuxent and Nanticoke rivers along with the Blackwater area in lower Dorchester County will be some of the better places to give it a try.
On the subject of snakeheads, a study at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in lower Dorchester County has yielded preliminary results. U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist Joshua Newhard and Department of Natural Resources biologist Dr. Joseph Love documented the relative abundance of 21 species of fish at the refuge in 2006 and 2007. After snakeheads arrived in the area in 2012, the scientists followed up with another study in 2017 and 2018.
The difference was stark. Of the 21 species that were captured and recorded in both pre-snakehead and post-snakehead periods, 17 species exhibited declines in average relative abundance — ranging from 30% to 97%. Popular sport fish such as black crappie, white perch, and bluegill all significantly declined in relative abundance, the study found.
Blue catfish are one species of fish in Maryland that are also eating large numbers of native fish. When they become large they will prey on adult species such as yellow perch, river herring, hickory shad, and many more species of fish.
Blue catfish provide good fishing through the winter months and the medium-sized ones are a welcomed addition to anyone’s freezer. They will tend to move towards the deeper waters of the channels of the tidal rivers as water temperatures become colder. The tidal Potomac River is loaded with them, and the middle region of the Patuxent River contains a large number of them, as does the Sharptown region of the Nanticoke River. The lower Susquehanna River is a good location for them in the upper Bay.
Fresh cut bait and clam snouts work well, and many are having good luck with chicken livers, breasts, or gizzards. Channel catfish can be found deep in most every tidal river feeding into the Bay. Flathead catfish can be found at the Conowingo Dam Pool and the lower Susquehanna River as well as the upper Potomac River.
The preseason trout stocking program is underway and trout management waters will be stocked through the coming months.
Trout fishing in the put-and-take management areas are always popular with those who wish to catch trout to eat, but there are some wonderful opportunities for anyone not so concerned with taking their limit home. The catch-and-release, delayed harvest, and gear-restricted trout management waters have been generously stocked and will continue to be during the winter months.
The fly-fishing-tackle only or catch-and-release areas offer some wonderful fly fishing opportunities for those wishing to enjoy quality trout fishing in a peaceful setting. Black Wooly Buggers, nymphs, or streamers are favorite choices when fishing for cold water trout. The trout will tend to be lying in some of the deeper pools, so a little added weight can be of great advantage.
Fishing for a mix of walleye and yellow perch is good along some of the steeper and rocky shorelines of Deep Creek Lake. Live minnows are one of the best baits to use whether under a slip bobber or drifting in a boat. Casting crankbaits from shore in the evening hours is a great way to catch walleyes. Come January, ice fishermen will be watching for prolonged periods of cold weather to form ice safe enough for fishing.
Water levels are low on the upper Potomac, so smallmouth bass and walleye will most likely hold in some of the deeper pools through the winter months. Working small grubs, jigs, and live minnows close to the bottom — slowly — is one of the better tactics to entice them to take a bait. The take will often be very subtle so watch your line carefully. The Dickerson Power Plant warm water discharge at the mouth of the Monocacy River is often a popular place to fish in the cold winter months.
Largemouth bass are looking for a quiet and perhaps warmer spot to last out the winter months, and deeper water often holds the key. In the tidal rivers look for them holding at the deeper areas of drop-offs and channel edges; if they can find any structure down there they will stick to it like glue. In ponds and reservoirs, deep water will also be the place to look. Working small crankbaits, grubs, and jigs slow and close to the bottom will often entice them to pick up a lure. The pickup will be slight so watch your line for the slightest movement.
Crappie will be holding deep near structure during the winter months. In the tidal rivers, marina docks are one of the best places to fish for them. Fallen treetops in deep water and bridge piers are also good places to look for them. Working small minnows or marabou jigs under a bobber are the two best ways to fish for them.
Yellow perch can provide some good fishing in the tidal rivers and creeks as they move into some of the deeper holes to stage for their spring spawning runs. Casting beetle spins or small lures or fishing minnows close to the bottom are the best ways to catch them.
Chain pickerel love cold water and can provide plenty of fun fishing through the winter months. They love to hang close to structure waiting to ambush prey. The small pickerel tend to hold along shoreline structure such as sunken wood. The larger trophy-sized pickerel can often be found in deeper water holding close to any kind of structure they can find. A variety of lures work well. If you are targeting chain pickerel it will be easier for you and the fish if you trade out treble hooks for single hooks when it comes to unhooking. Chain pickerel tend to engulf baits deep and often will suffer gill damage that can be fatal.
Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays
Anglers watching the surf have been anxiously waiting for the vanguard of the fall striped bass migration to enter Maryland’s waters. Large schools of menhaden have been spotted and large striped bass is being caught by those trolling the shoal areas close to shore. Large parachutes and bucktails dressed with sassy shads and Stretch diving lures have been popular. There are also reports of a few large striped bass being caught in the surf on cut menhaden. The next few weeks hold a lot of promise for those trolling and fishing from the beaches.
Tautog is the big draw at the inlet and Route 50 Bridge area and will continue through December. Most do not meet the 16-inch minimum but there are enough keeper-sized fish to bring home for dinner. Sand fleas and pieces of green crab are the most popular baits, and slack tide offers some of the best opportunities when fishing close to bulkheads and bridge piers.
Striped bass are being caught inside the inlet and the action will continue for local fish; they often do not meet the 28-inch minimum size, but there will most likely be some influence of southbound migrating striped bass nosing into the inlet.
Fishing for sea bass has been about as good as it gets, with boat limit catches being common. At times captains had to move to optional locations due to hordes of spiny dogfish, but generally, they have not been too much of a problem. Porgies or scup have been adding some extras to those fishing. The sea bass season ends Dec. 31 and tautog will be the target of most boats fishing the wreck and reef sites off Ocean City. Recently tautog fishing has been very good for those targeting them. The winter months traditionally offer the best offshore fishing for trophy-sized tautog.
This is a pretty tough time of the year to be heading to the offshore canyons, but when the seas are flat a few boats have been fishing for swordfish and bigeye tuna in the depths. There are always opportunities for deep-drop fishing for tilefish.
“As the angler looks back, he thinks less of individual captures and days than of scenes in which he fished.” — Lord Grey of Fallondon