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Click Before You Cast is written by Tidewater Ecosystem Assessment Director Tom Parham.
A lot of people find themselves with extra time on their hands. We encourage anglers to take advantage of the incredible fishing opportunities Maryland has to offer, provided everyone practices social distancing, avoids crowded areas, and minimizes social interaction. This is an especially good time to safely take youngsters out of the house to enjoy some fishing together, again being careful and thinking everything through when planning your trip.
Department biologists have instituted several volunteer angler surveys to help them understand and better manage some of the important fish species to anglers as well as blue crabs and horseshoe crabs. This information is very important to the biologists who manage the species listed in the surveys, which are available on our website.
Anglers are reminded that all catch and release of striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay ends March 31 and will not open to striped bass fishing of any kind until May 1. A review of catch-and release-tips can be viewed on our website.
In order to protect public health and safety and to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus, all Licensing and Registration Centers are now closed. Governor Hogan has issued an executive order related to licenses, permits, registrations, and other authorizations that may be expiring or up for renewal during the state of emergency. The executive order immediately grants a grace period of 30 days after the date of termination of the state of emergency — this includes fishing and boating licenses.
Our online COMPASS portal provides 24/7 self-service access to our entire product catalog of recreational licenses, permits, and stamps plus many other Maryland Department of Natural Resources programs.
Forecast Summary: March 25-31:
These typical March conditions with lots of blooming flowers, trees, and bushes are indicators that Chesapeake Bay water temperatures are on the rise, and are cues for gamefish such as white perch preparing to spawn. Main bay surface water temperatures have risen to about 50s and will continue rising through the next week. However, smaller streams and downwind areas on a sunny day will warm faster and will often hold water temperatures in the mid to upper 50s. White perch will spawn in the lower salinity waters — up to 4 ppt — when water temperatures are between 50 degrees and 60 degrees. In addition, shad will continue to make their way up the bay towards their spawning areas in many of the larger rivers.
The Maryland portion of the bay continues to have suitable oxygen conditions from the surface to the bottom. Bay surface salinities are normal for this time of year. Expect reduced water clarity in the upper bay from the Aberdeen and Sassafras rivers to Swan Point and on the Potomac River downstream to near the Route 301 Bridge. Expect normal flows to the rivers and streams entering Maryland’s portion of the Bay. There will be above average tidal currents conditions through Monday as a result of the March 24 new moon.
For more detailed and up-to-date fishing conditions in your area of the bay, be sure to check out Eyes on the Bay’s Click Before You Cast. Get regular updates on Maryland’s waters sent to your inbox with our Eyes on the Bay newsletter. Sign up online.
Upper Chesapeake Bay
The yellow perch fishery in the lower Susquehanna and Northeast rivers is still active as water temperatures hold to just above 50 degrees. In the deeper parts of the Susquehanna River in the Perryville area, dropper rigs with live minnows are catching the bulk of the yellow perch. In the Northeast River, the lighter tackle is being used in the form of bottom rigs and small lures such as beetle spins. It will be a couple more weeks before the white perch begin to show in the region.
Blue catfish and channel catfish offer plenty of action in the Susquehanna, Elk, and Northeast rivers, and the channels leading to the tidal rivers. Fresh cut bait is the bait of choice, but nightcrawlers and chicken liver can also work well. Flathead, channel and blue catfish are being caught in the Conowingo Dam pool on cut bait. Anglers are reminded that they must use circle hooks when fishing with cut bait in the region for catfish. They also may not practice catch-and-release for striped bass above the boundary line from the boat ramp at Lapidum to Twin Rocks and onward to Tomes Wharf in Port Deposit.
There are still some post-spawn yellow perch to be caught in the upper Bush, Magothy, Sassafras, Bohemia, and Chester rivers this week. Fishing with live minnows and a variety of small lures has been popular. White perch are quickly filling in and offering plenty of excellent fishing opportunities. Fishing with small shad darts tipped with grass shrimp or a piece of cut minnow works well, as does a slip bobber fished with grass shrimp at the proper depth.
There is exciting news as white perch are actively charging up the Choptank and Tuckahoe rivers and can now be found in the upper sections of the rivers. They have made it as far as Red Bridges on the Choptank and past Hillsboro on the Tuckahoe. This is some fun fishing with light spinning tackle and casting small shad darts tipped with grass shrimp or a piece of cut minnow. Casting slip bobbers with a hook baited with grass shrimp is a sure way to get in on the action.
Catch-and-release fishing for hickory shad and blueback herring is also occurring in the same regions and offers some fun action when fishing with small shad darts. The best place to get in on the hickory shad action in the Choptank River is the Red Bridges area between Greensboro and Goldsboro, which is a right-hand turn on Red Bridges Road.
When fishing for white perch, it is hard to beat grass shrimp for bait whether you are fishing the spring spawning runs or fishing around docks and piers during the summer months. It is not hard to catch your own grass shrimp with a little exploring and the right equipment. Areas in the tidal rivers with fair salinities offer the best chance of finding grass shrimp. A flat fronted net is very helpful, but any net will work if it has a 3/16-inch mesh. You will need a 5-gallon bucket, and a pair of knee boots will help when working shallow grass beds. This time of the year there is not much grass yet so places where spartina grass is overhanging and lying in the water, areas of algae growth and bulkheads that have a lot of growth on them can hold grass shrimp. You will often have a lot of slop in the net with your grass shrimp so you’ll have to sort things out a bit.
Fishing for northern snakeheads in the tidal creeks and rivers of lower Dorchester County is shifting into high gear as sunny and warm days raise water temperatures and cause them to be very active. Sunny afternoons can offer some of the best opportunities. Casting chatterbaits and light-colored swimshads works well, and large minnows under a popping cork or bobber are like candy to northern snakeheads. Please keep in mind you must immediately kill any you catch, by any means you choose; you may not have live northern snakeheads in your possession.
Blue catfish and channel catfish are providing plenty of fishing action in the Nanticoke and Choptank rivers. The best fishing the Nanticoke River is for blue catfish from Sharptown Bridge down to the mouth of Marshyhope Creek. Channel catfish can be found throughout a much wider area of the river. Fresh cut baits of gizzard shad or white perch have been popular. On the Choptank River, most of the blue catfish action tends to be in the Dover Bridge region, and channel catfish can be found as far up as Denton and south to Cambridge.
A few boats can be seen out on the bay practicing some catch-and-release with striped bass this week. Those trolling are reminded that no more than six lines can be deployed, barbless hooks must be used, and no stinger hooks. There is some light-tackle jigging occurring at the Calvert Cliffs Power Plant warm water discharge; most anglers are drifting in the current and jigging close to the bottom for striped bass of mixed sizes.
Until catch-and-release of striped bass ends March 31 everyone should follow outlined procedures to ensure the best survival of released fish. It is especially important with large striped bass to have a plan in place, so everyone knows who is taking the picture and who will net the fish and help the angler support the fish horizontally for the picture. Make it quick and get that fish back in the water. Sometimes it helps to hold the fish by the jaw while the boat is slowly moving to get that initial water over the gills. A review of tips can be viewed on our website.
Pre-spawn striped bass is entering the spawning rivers and some have made it to the spawning reaches. Anglers need to be aware that no catch and release of striped bass is permitted in the tidal rivers. The Choptank and Nanticoke rivers are the two major spawning rivers in the middle bay. The fish are under a lot of stress. The penalties for violating these protective regulations are high, usually resulting in fines and license suspensions. The striped bass boundary regulations can be viewed online.
There is some exciting news on the tidal Potomac River, as hickory and American shad have arrived at the area known as Fletchers Landing just across the District of Columbia line. To legally fish there you’ll need to obtain a D.C. fishing license but the action is certainly worth it. This is a great place to have some fun catch-and-release fishing with spinning tackle on a fly rod with a sinking line. Small shad darts and brightly colored small spoons or sinking flies are very popular.
White perch are also moving into the area known as Fletchers and the tidal creeks feeding into the tidal Potomac. Small shad darts tipped with grass shrimp or bottom rigs and slip bobber setups are also good ways to catch them. The white perch spawning runs should last for at least another week or so.
Blue catfish reign supreme on the tidal Potomac and are taking over as the most abundant species there. They can also be found in the Patuxent River. They are relatively easy to catch, you can keep all you want, and the small to medium-sized ones make excellent eating. Using cut bait of gizzard shad or white perch are the most popular baits to use. There will be some channel catfish mixed in at times. The main stem of the Potomac from the Wilson Bridge down past the Route 301 Bridge offers good fishing, as do most of the lower regions of the tidal creeks flowing into the tidal Potomac.
The Potomac River Fisheries Commission has posted the 2020 tidal regulations concerning sizes, restrictions and creel limits for a variety of species. The regulations can be found on the commission’s website.
The 2020 recreational cobia regulations have been set and the season in the Chesapeake Bay will run June 1 through September 30. The minimum size will be 40 inches, with one cobia allowed per angler per day. There is a maximum of three cobia per vessel if three or more anglers are aboard.
Fishing for white perch is very good in several of the Eastern Shore tidal rivers and creeks. The upper Wicomico and Pocomoke rivers offer excellent fishing opportunities for white perch whether casting small shad darts or fishing with grass shrimp or pieces of bloodworm on bottom rigs or a slip bobber.
Following Gov. Larry Hogan’s executive orders to limit the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, state employees last week were required to suspend all field activities, including regularly scheduled trout stocking. While that order stands, department crews have been allowed to conduct limited trout stocking this week in an effort to alleviate overcrowding at state fish hatcheries, and also provide an opportunity for recreational anglers ahead of the traditional start of trout season.
By state regulation, the Closure 1 and 2 trout management areas will be closed till 5:30 a.m. on March 28, regardless of whether they are stocked or not. The fishing public is asked to be patient during these trying times and to check the trout stocking website periodically for any updates.
The special trout management waters that cater to fly-fishing-only and catch-and-release can offer plenty of fun and exciting trout fishing to the angler who is not concerned with bringing trout home. One will also find plenty of elbow room at these locations, the esthetics of a mountain stream with no other anglers insight is a wonderful way to fish. Many of these special trout management waters can be found in the Maryland Fishing Guide and the trout fishing map site under trout fishing links on the trout stocking website.
The upper Potomac River is running very low, as are most nontidal rivers and creeks throughout Maryland, due to the lack of rainfall. Some reservoirs are also experiencing low water levels that can make launching a boat at the ramps difficult. Water clarity in the upper Potomac is extremely clear, and light lines, fluorocarbon leaders, and long casts help to fool spooky fish. Walleyes can be found deep and can be caught on a variety of jigs, tubes, small crankbaits, and live minnows. These lures also work well for smallmouth bass.
Largemouth bass fishing is excellent in a variety of locations. They can be found in tidal rivers and creeks, small farm ponds, and larger reservoirs, often in transition areas between the shallower locations and deep drop-offs. Any kind of structure such as sunken wood is a magnet for them. Grubs, small crankbaits, and soft plastics are good choices when working the deeper areas. As the afternoon sun warms the shallower waters, the bass will move into these locations looking for food. Slow-rolled spinnerbaits, jerkbaits, and lipless crankbaits are good lures to cover water in these shallower waters.
Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays
The tautog fishery off the coast of Ocean City remains a premier event. The weather is a key factor in being able to get out somewhat comfortably, and the last piece of the puzzle is cooperative tautog. Sometimes boats have to move from site to site to find fish willing to bite.
There is a report of one or two flounder being caught inside the Ocean City Inlet recently. The time is coming close when we start to hear of anglers fishing for the first flounder in the Eastern Shore of Virginia inlets, so the vanguard of the inshore flounder migration will be showing up here and there.
“Fishing is not an escape from life, but often a deeper immersion into it.“–Harry Middleton