Maryland Fishing Report is written and compiled by Keith Lockwood, Maryland Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist.
What strange and difficult times the past two months have been for all — if it has been inconvenient for some, remember that it has been devastating to others. With the allowance of additional outdoor recreation under the governor’s stay at home order, we can enjoy fishing as long as we follow social distancing guidelines and stay safe. Answers to some frequently asked questions about outdoor activities are on the Maryland Department of Natural Resources website.
Starting on May 16, the size and bag limit for striped bass in the bay and tributaries (excluding the Susquehanna Flats) will be one fish per person, per day, with a minimum size of 19 inches. On the Susquehanna Flats, the limit will be one fish between 19-26 inches.
Charter boats participating in a pilot program of the E-reporting with FACTS system will be allowed to keep 2 striped bass per guest per trip. Only one of those two fish may be greater than 28 inches.
Also, remember that all conservation efforts implemented by the department last year, including the required use of circle hooks, remain in effect. More information on how to properly catch and release can be found on our website.
The department has posted a new map with color-coding which shows areas open to fishing (green), catch-and-release only (yellow), and closed areas (red).
Forecast Summary: May 13-19:
While we have had a cool spring so far, warming temperatures are just around the corner. The abundance of blooming flowers, trees, and bushes are indicators that bay water temperatures are on the rise, and are cues for gamefish such as white perch to wrap up spawning and begin moving towards summer locations. Bay surface water temperatures have risen to the upper 50s and will continue to rise through the next week. Due to recent rainfall, many of the streams and rivers are running in the low to mid 50s, cooler than the main bay waters. 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 have mostly wrapped up spawning in the lower salinity waters (0-4 ppt). The fish are moving out to tidal rivers and creek mouths on mud, sand, or clay bottoms near structure or main bay hard bottoms in less than 20 feet of water. In addition, shad will continue to hold in their spawning areas in many of the larger bay tributaries.
The Maryland portion of the bay continues to have suitable oxygen conditions from surface to bottom. Expect reduced water clarity in the upper bay from the Susquehanna Flats area down to near Back River, and on the Potomac River downstream to near Colonial Beach. In addition, expect poorer-than-normal water clarity due to an algae bloom on the western shore from the Bay Bridge down to below Chesapeake Beach. Expect higher than normal flows starting early next week from most of Maryland’s rivers and streams. There will be above average tidal currents conditions next Tuesday as a result of the new moon May 22.
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
Water temperatures dropped in the past week and are holding just above 54 degrees in the lower Susquehanna River. In some ways this is good news for those who figured they had missed the hickory shad runs at Deer Creek and Octoraro Creek. Anglers found fair to good catch-and-release fishing at the mouths of both creeks and that action is continuing. White perch are moving into the lower river, which is also full of blue, flathead, and channel catfish.
The Conowingo Dam had been releasing quite a bit of water in the past week, creating stained waters in the region and parts of the upper bay. Flows from the dam are becoming more stable this week. Fisherman’s Park near the base of the dam will reopen on May 15.
Most of the fishing action is focused on white perch and a mix of catfish species in the tributary rivers. White perch are steadily moving into their summer haunts and can be caught by casting beetle spins and small spinnerbaits. Fresh cut bait is preferable when fishing for catfish.
There has been a little bit of trolling and chumming action at the steep channel edge at Podickory Point this week, action is reported to be light. Umbrella rigs with inline weights and tandem rigged bucktails and parachutes are the most popular items to troll with.
Trolling action picked up for large trophy-sized striped bass as that season closes May 15. Boats have been working the steepest edges of the shipping channel on both sides of the bay. A few of the most productive locations have been out in front of Chesapeake Beach and Breezy Point. A classic mix of large bucktails and parachutes dressed with equally large sassy shads pulled behind planer boards in tandem are popular, as are umbrella rigs with large inline weights. White has been a very popular color.
Other steep channel edges worth checking out if you are nearby are Bloody Point, Thomas Point. Buoy 83, the CP Buoy, and the False Channel. Most of the steeper shipping channel edges on both sides of the bay are worth a try, and early morning or late evenings can be a productive time for lures fished 10 feet to 15 feet near the surface.
A few boats have been anchoring up on the 35-foot channel edge in front of Hacketts Bar and Thomas Point, and chumming or chunking for striped bass. Success has been limited on fish over 35 inches, but it is a more relaxing way to fish than trolling. Others have been jigging, but marks on a depth finder have been hard to locate because the fish are so spread out. The warm water discharge at the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant always gets a few lookers. Most of the action there is reported to be striped bass less than 35 inches in length.
There have been reports that bottlenose dolphins in the middle bay near Taylors Island have been pushing schools of large menhaden. This kind of activity can quickly alter fishing conditions by pushing bait out of the region and as most know, large striped bass are going where the food is after strenuous spawning activity.
White perch are moving into the lower sections of the tidal rivers and offering plenty of fun light-tackle action. Casting beetle spins, small spinnerbaits and spinners, or fishing a simple small jig or bottom rig with grass shrimp, are wonderful ways to catch them near shoreline structure and piers. Channel and blue catfish are found in all of the tributary rivers and can be caught on fresh cut bait.
Most of the striped bass trolling action has been occurring along the channel edges in front of Cove Point and Point Lookout, and to a lesser degree along the channel edge in front of St. George’s Island in the lower Potomac River. The way to catch them has been classic trolling spreads of large bucktails and parachutes in white or chartreuse and dressed with large sassy shads pulled in tandem, and perhaps an umbrella rig or two with inline weights.
The best time to troll along the channel edges is right at dawn or in the evening when fish tend to be close to the surface and boat traffic has not driven them down. Water temperatures took a dive last week and as chilly as they are, the surface water temperatures are noticeably warmer than deeper waters.
Northern snakeheads are approaching their spawning season so they are beginning to move closer to shallower grass beds. Water temperatures are still a bit chilly in the tidal rivers and creeks, making the shallower waters even more inviting. Casting large minnows under a bobber is still a proven tactic, but casting swim shads and topwater lures are becoming more popular.
The tidal creeks and rivers of the lower Eastern Shore are offering fun and worthwhile fishing; lower Dorchester County is very popular and can be accessed in small boats, canoes, and kayaks. These small craft also allow anglers to get in tight to shoreline cover. There are also shore-based fishing opportunities but one must be mindful of social distancing near bridges and boat ramps.
The tidal Potomac offers a lot of fishing options for those in small boats that can get into the backwaters, where northern snakeheads are holding close to shallow grass and sunken wood. In many of these areas, the topwater lure choices offer a mix of largemouth bass and northern snakeheads. The upper Patuxent River is a nearby tidal river that should not be overlooked.
A lot of anglers continue to discover the fun and fruitful fishing for blue catfish in the upper Nanticoke, Patuxent, and tidal Potomac rivers. Blue catfish are plentiful, not difficult to catch and make fine eating.
The highest concentration of blue catfish is in the tidal Potomac River from the Wilson Bridge down to the Bushwood area on the Wicomico River. Fresh cut bait of gizzard shad or white perch make excellent baits, but others report good results with chicken liver, fresh wild shrimp from a seafood market, and nightcrawlers. The edges of the channels usually hold large numbers of medium-sized blue catfish, which offer the best eating.
Fishing for channel and blue catfish in the Choptank and Nanticoke rivers is a worthwhile endeavor. There are plenty to be caught near the Dover Bridge on the Choptank River and the Sharptown area on the Nanticoke River. Fresh gizzard shad or white perch make good cut-bait to catch them. The gizzard shad can be caught with a cast net and white perch can be caught on bloodworms. Channel catfish can be found throughout both rivers over a wide area. Bill Burton Fishing Pier State Park is open from 7 a.m. until dusk. The pier, maintained and managed by the Maryland Park Service, offers plenty of room to easily maintain proper social distancing.
White perch are moving into their summertime habitat at the lower sections of the tidal rivers near docks, piers, and shoreline structure. Casting small jigs, beetle spins, small spinnerbaits, and spinners is a fun way to fish for them. If you have access to a dock or pier, dropping a #4 or #2 hook tied in above a half-ounce sinker is a great way to fish with grass shrimp or pieces of bloodworm straight down near the dock pilings. This is an especially wonderful way for children to fish.
The put-and-take trout management waters have been open for some time, and now the catch-and-release trout management waters are open, provided everyone adheres to social distancing. Anglers have some additional options to breathe some fresh air while trout fishing. The state trout hatcheries were faced with dire overcrowding in the raceways, but were able to stock more than 212,000 adult trout to make room for the next generation at the hatcheries.
Fishing for smallmouth bass in the upper Potomac is good this week. Casting small crankbaits, tubes. and grubs near deep boulders and underwater ledges is a good tactic, and a few walleye might also be part of the mix. In the early morning and late evening hours, topwater lures cast near grass beds and rocky flats can roust a strike from smallmouth bass.
In the upper Potomac there is good fishing for flathead catfish, and anglers should try to target them as much as possible when trying to bring fish home to eat. There is no size or creel limit on them since they are invasive and do damage to the sport fish in the river. Deep pools and near the bases of dams are a good place to fish for them. There are also plenty of channel catfish in the river.
Largemouth bass in most areas are now in post-spawn and the females are hungry and aggressively feeding. They can be found near shallow grass in the morning and evening hours. Topwater lures are one of the most fun ways to fish for them, and northern snakeheads will be part of the mix when fishing tidal waters. Casting shallow running stickbaits, spinnerbaits, and crankbaits along the outside edges of grass beds and spatterdock fields is a good tactic especially during a falling tide in the tidal areas. These lures also work targeting the feeder creeks. Soft plastics and rattle traps are a good bet when targeting deeper structure.
Crappie provide a lot of fishing fun and make wonderful eating when filleted — usually battered and pan-fried. Kids especially seem to be bottomless pits when it comes to eating fried crappie or perch. Crappie can be found schooling up in about 5 feet or 6 feet of water near any kind of structure they can find. In ponds and lakes, fallen treetops and sunken wood are good places to find them. In tidal waters, shoreline sunken wood, fallen treetops, marina docks, and bridge piers are excellent locations for crappie. Using small jigs or minnows under a bobber is one of the better tactics to catch them.
Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays
The beaches open to surf fishing and those with eternal hope will be soaking large cut menhaden baits in hopes of intercepting a large striped bass headed up the coast from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. It will most likely be another week or so for the vanguard of the northward migration to arrive. There are some bluefish being caught in the surf and those fishing with clams or sand fleas may find a willing medium-sized black drum.
At the inlet, tautog are beginning to show up for the bridge, bulkhead, and jetty anglers, but fishing for them closes May 16. Flounder are being found in the back bay channels with an ebbing tide, one of the better tides to fish for them. Striped bass are being caught near the Route 90 Bridge; most are undersized but offer some fun catch-and-release action. A few bluefish are being caught now and then near the inlet.
Charter and party boats are now allowed to take anglers out to fish the last of the tautog season and the much anticipated opening of the sea bass season on May 15. The party boats are limiting the number of anglers significantly so if you have a notion to go, you will need to book early.
“An undisturbed river is as perfect as we will ever know, every refractive slide of cold water a glimpse of eternity.“–Thomas McGuane, 1990