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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.”
Even though it’s winter, periodic warm spells and days when there is little wind and plenty of sunshine afford fishermen a chance to wet a line. The pre-season trout stocking program is well underway and trout management waters are being stocked every week.
January through March is the time of the year when many attend outdoor shows to view or purchase new fishing tackle, or even book that fishing trip to a dream destination. The department’s Fishing and Boating Services will have staff present at the Great American Outdoor Show in Harrisburg from Feb. 1-9 at Maryland FishHunt booth 2521 in Fishing Hall. We hope you’ll come to see us!
Many anglers have questions about what is going to happen in regards to management decisions and new regulations concerning striped bass. The entire striped bass fishery of the East Coast is impacted by the need to meet conservation targets established by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. In Maryland, commercial quotas are being cut 1.8 percent and there are several proposals concerning the recreational fishery. You can follow the most recent regulation changes and proposals and find up-to-date questions and answers on the Department of Natural Resources website.
Forecast Summary: Winter 2020:
With water temperatures in the low 40s, bay fish are now in winter holding areas. With plenty of cool waters and oxygen from surface to bottom, look for concentrations of fish in some of the remaining warm water areas. In the main bay, warmer bottom waters — deeper than 50 feet — are located from the Bay Bridge south to near the Virginia state line, in areas with good structure and protection from strong currents such as underwater points, channel edges, and bridge pilings with nearby oyster bottom and reefs. The other warm water areas to consider are near the water discharges of power plants.
We will begin our weekly reports again in March. However, for those hearty cold water anglers, all water conditions maps, plots and satellite pics will be continuously updated and posted. So for detailed and up-to-date fishing conditions in your area of the bay, continue to check out Click Before You Cast.
To better understand the monthly movements and habitat preferences of your favorite fish, check out our new feature, Chesapeake Creature Conditions.
Upper Chesapeake Bay
The lower Susquehanna River has been offering some good fishing for blue catfish near the railroad bridge in about 40 feet of water. Most of the blue catfish being caught are in the 4-pound to 8-pound size range, which makes for good eating. Fresh cut baits of gizzard shad are the most popular bait choice. Channel catfish can also be found in the same areas.
Large flathead catfish may be encountered at the Conowingo Dam pool, using stout surfcasting outfits and casting into the turbine wash with chunks of gizzard shad on a large heavy jig head or a bottom rig. Snags are common and using a dropper line or lighter line from a three-way to your sinker can help save some rig-tying headaches.
Yellow perch are providing some good fishing and excellent eating this month. The deep hole out in front of Perryville Condominiums is a great place to fish for them. Most use a dropper rig with enough sinker to hold bottom — the droppers can be small plastic jigs or minnows, which tend to be the most successful offering.
The tidal rivers in the upper bay also offer good fishing for yellow perch. They can be found holding in the middle to upper sections of the rivers, in some of the deeper holes. Minnows or grass shrimp on a dropper rig is usually the best bet in deeper and more open waters. Casting out on a small jig head and working slowly along the bottom works best where waters are shallower and more confined. The Northeast, Bush, Magothy, and Chester are all good yellow perch rivers to explore. The yellow perch fishing location map on our website can help guide you to yellow perch fishing locations throughout Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake.
Those looking for some catch-and-release action with striped bass are finding some at the Bay Bridge this week. The striped bass is deep and holding close to the rock piles and concrete abutments. They can often be seen stacked like cordwood close to the bottom. Jigging is the best way to get to them and one will have to get up close and personal since they are not moving. It is not uncommon to foul-hook them even with a single-hook plastic jig.
Most of the fishing activity in the middle bay has focused on the yellow perch entering the middle to upper sections of the tidal rivers. The yellow perch are generally holding in the deeper sections of the rivers and can be caught on live minnows fished close to the bottom. Casting beetle spins and small Gulp jigs into the channel areas in the upper regions of the tidal rivers is also a great way to fish for yellow perch. The Choptank, Tuckahoe, and Severn rivers are good places to look for them.
Chain pickerel are very active and can provide a lot of fun in almost of the region’s tidal rivers. They will attack almost any kind of lure, often violently, and can inhale smaller lures with treble hooks which can lead to gill damage and mortality. Replacing treble hooks with single hooks and flattening barbs is always a good idea.
Channel and white catfish are active despite the cold water temperatures and can offer some fun fishing from a small boat or a riverbank. Most any kind of fresh cut bait works well as does chicken liver, hearts, and breast. Shoreline fishing can be especially relaxing at this time of the year. A sunny sheltered location and a good forked stick and seat go a long way to enjoying a peaceful winter’s day. It always pays to put out a lighter rod rigged with small minnows, since yellow perch can often be found in the same areas at the same time.
The lower bay had an amazing catch-and-release fishery for large striped bass during the second week of January that will be talked about for months to come. Those that enjoy giving that extra effort to be out on the water during these cold months, on days that are a little more forgiving to small boat anglers, can cash in big time.
Around mid-January, a large school of striped bass in the neighborhood or 40 inches or larger showed up and those that were there kicked off 2020 with some exciting fishing. Large soft plastic jigs on half-ounce to 1-ounce jig heads depending on current and drift conditions worked best. Images being replayed in angler’s memories will encourage them to keep scouting for further catch-and-release opportunities in the coming weeks — best of luck to you all.
Fishing for yellow perch and blue catfish offer many a chance to get out in a small boat or a sheltered shoreline this time of the year. The yellow perch are steadily moving up the tidal rivers and can be found in deep water anywhere from the middle regions of the tidal rivers to the upper sections. Those fishing the middle regions of the rivers are fishing deep with bait where the perch are holding. Small minnows or grass shrimp on a dropper rig is often a good bet. In the upper sections of the tidal rivers, the yellow perch will be held in some of the deeper holes and channels waiting for warmer water to move further. Small minnows or grass shrimp on a bottom rig is a good choice. Lip hooking a minnow with a split shot about two feet in front is a great way to search for yellow perch as it is slowly retrieved along the bottom. Crappie and chain pickerel may also have a second look at your minnow. The Nanticoke, Wicomico, Pocomoke, and various tributaries to the Potomac are excellent places to look for yellow perch.
Blue catfish offer plenty of fishing in the tidal Potomac, Nanticoke, and Patuxent rivers this time of the year. The Fort Washington area tends to be the center of it all in the tidal Potomac, and the marina there was a good boat ramp. The deep channels are the place to look for the catfish this time of the year. Stout tackle, plenty of fresh cut bait such as gizzard shad, and a large ice chest are the tools of the trade. The 3-pound to 8-pound catfish make for the best eating; the meat is mild tasting and they freeze well. You will also earn a gold star in the fisheries conservation club since they are an invasive species and population expansion is out of control. They now make up about 80% of the fish biomass in Virginia’s James River, which is where this all started.
The pre-season stocking of trout is well underway for 2020, as many trout management water are being stocked with generous amounts of fat and healthy fish. Hatchery staff has been working hard to provide the highest quality trout possible, and every stocking has a few trophy trout that can go 6 to 10 pounds each.
Trout fishing offers some excellent opportunities to get out of the house and enjoy time outdoors. Trout management waters are spread from the Eastern Shore to the far western regions. They range from convenient community ponds to spectacular mountain rivers. You can fish as simple as using a bobber and bait from a chair on a grassy bank of a community pond. Or you can go completely outfitted in waders and casting a nymph with a fly rod in the fast-moving waters of a special trout management river. One can check the trout stocking website to see the latest updates.
Those who dream of hard water conditions at Deep Creek Lake have not been fulfilled so far this year, but there is still February. In the meantime, there is excellent fishing for crappie near the bridge piers and steep drop-offs. Minnows or small marabou jigs under a slip bobber tend to be the most popular way to fish for them. Walleye are also active and can be caught near steep rocky drop-offs by drifting minnows. Soft plastic grubs are a good choice for largemouth and smallmouth bass in deep water at the base of drop-offs. They are holding close to the bottom and lure pickups will be subtle. Northern pike and chain pickerel are active and can be caught on a variety of lures. The pike tends to be stationed at the mouths of large coves and the pickerel near sunken structure along the shorelines.
Walleye and smallmouth bass can be found in the upper Potomac River in deep water near underwater ledges,; grubs and small crankbaits offer good options to catch them. Further down the river the Dickerson Power Plant warm water discharge has always been a favorite winter fishing spot for a variety of fish species. Our biologist Mark Toms reports that the plant is now on a power generation schedule, where it is only running when additional power is needed.
Largemouth bass is holding in relatively deep water wherever they can find it, whether they are in a small farm pond, reservoir, or tidal river. Soft plastic jigs such as grubs with as light a jig head as possible are a good tactic when worked close to the bottom of drop-offs. If you’re fishing from a boat, blade lures work very well this time of the year. If it is a sunny day, largemouth may move to exposed shallower waters where the sun has a chance to warm the waters slightly during the afternoon.
Northern snakeheads are rather inactive during the cold winter months but warm sunny days can spur them into activity. Large minnows under a bobber is perhaps the best way to fish for them during the cold months.
Chain pickerel love the cold and are very active in the many ponds, lakes, and tidal rivers spread across Maryland. Small to medium-sized chain pickerel can be found near sunken wood along shorelines; the lunkers tend to be in more open water near structure.
Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays
The Ocean City fishing community lost a dear friend. The passing of Larry Jock in early January hit everyone hard since it was so unexpected; Larry was too young to go and he will be dearly missed.
The best show in the Ocean City region this winter is the good tautog fishing at the offshore wreck and reef sites. Charter and party boats have to pick their weather this time of the year but when the wind lays down some great catches of tautog are occurring.
Department biologists have been studying the tautog populations off Ocean City for many years now, and one of the things they’ve focused on is how old the fish are at various lengths. Based on data from 2015 through 2018 it takes approximately 5 to 8 years for a tautog to reach 16 inches.
Some of the seasons and regulations have been made public for several species of interest.
2020 Summer Flounder:
- Jan. 1 thru Dec. 31, 16.5-inch minimum, 4 fish per day.
2020 Sea Bass:
- May 15 thru Dec. 31, 12.5-inch minimum, 15 fish per day.
- Jan. 7 thru May 15, 16-inch minimum, 4 fish per day.
- Closed May 16 thru June 30.
- July 1 thru Oct. 31, 2 fish per day.
- Nov. 1 thru Dec. 31, 4 fish per day.
- Effective Feb. 1:
- Private boat or fishing from shore, 3 fish per day.
- Charter boat, 5 fish per day.
2020 Shortfin Mako:
- Effective Jan. 27:
- Male 71-inch minimum fork length, female 83-inch minimum fork length.
“In every species of fish I’ve angled for, it is the ones that have got away that thrill me the most, the ones that keep fresh in my memory. So I say it is good to lose fish. If we didn’t, much of the thrill of angling would be gone.”– Ray Bergman.