Maryland Fishing Report is written and compiled by Keith Lockwood, Maryland Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist.
Click Before You Cast is written by Tidewater Ecosystem Assessment Director Tom Parham.
Taking kids fishing during the summer is a rewarding pastime — whether helping them fish for bluegills with a worm and a bobber at a local pond, or as they become more skilled, watching them cast their own lures and land their own fish.
Don’t forget that throughout Maryland’s warmest months, the department’s online striped bass fishing advisory forecast provides a seven-day outlook to help anglers reduce striped bass mortality during the summer fishing season.
Forecast Summary: July 15-21:
Expect warm, sunny skies, a chance of thunderstorms and except for Thursday and Friday, low winds most of the week. Main Chesapeake Bay surface water temperatures have risen to the mid 80s. Long-term Maryland Department of Natural Resources water monitoring shows that peak water temperatures occur during this part of July. These warm waters and corresponding low oxygen areas are appearing from Swan Point down to the mouth of the Potomac River. For information on Maryland’s mainbay oxygen conditions, see Maryland’s latest hypoxia report.
These hot, calm conditions are warming surface waters and limiting oxygen being recharged to the deeper waters from wind mixing, increasing the chance of algal blooms. This will result in fish remaining at similar locations on cooler river mouths or main bay structure but moving to slightly shallower depths, just above the Don’t Fish Below this Depth line in the coolest water available.
Recent DNR water monitoring indicates that the coolest, oxygenated water in the bay is found in the deeper waters from Pooles Island down to the Virginia state line. The other way to find cooler water is to fish the shallows at first light when surface water temperatures can be several degrees cooler. As always, best fishing areas could be further refined by intersecting these cool, oxygenated areas with underwater points, hard bottom, drop-offs, and large schools of baitfish.
Expect reduced water clarity from algal blooms along the upper shore including the Susquehanna Flats and Northeast, Elk, Sassafras, Bush, Middle, and Patapsco rivers. Other areas where this may occur include the lower Chester River down to the Bay Bridge as well as the middle Patuxent and Colonial Beach area of the Potomac River.
To see the latest water clarity conditions, check Eyes on the Bay Satellite Maps. There will be above average tidal currents from Thursday through Tuesday as a result of the upcoming new moon July 21.
For more detailed and up-to-date fishing conditions in your area of the bay, be sure to check out 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 Conowingo Dam remains on a late afternoon power generation water release. Anglers who arrive at the dam pool at dawn are enjoying fun topwater action for striped bass. The action starts in the pre-dawn hours and winds down as the sun rises above the horizon. Casting swim shads can extend the action a bit. Many of the striped bass are undersized but there are plenty over the 19-inch mark. The same situation is occurring in the Susquehanna Flats area along the edges of the channel. Largemouth bass and northern snakeheads can often be part of the topwater mix on the edges of the flats.
Fishing for blue catfish continues to be very good in the lower Susquehanna River and other tidal rivers in the region. The Chester River has a very large population and offers great fishing opportunities. Channel catfish are abundant in all of the region’s tidal rivers, and they can be caught on fresh cut baits, clam snouts, and a variety of other baits.
The major focus of striped bass fishing in the upper bay continues to be live lining or chumming near the Tolchester Lumps. A portion of the fish holding there seem to have moved to nearby locations, such as the Pooles Island area.
Trolling for striped bass along channel edges at Swan, Love, and Podickory points has been fair this week — most describe the fishing as a slow pick. Umbrella rigs pulled behind inline weights tend to be the most popular rig with a bucktail fitted with a twister tail or a swim shad in white. The Bay Bridge piers are holding some striped bass — boats have been anchoring up and either live-lining spot and white perch or jigging with soft plastic jigs.
An important note about striped bass fishing: Oxygen levels are showing signs of further declines and water temperatures are increasing. This combination of factors along with poor catch-and-release practices are causing high mortality numbers that could negatively impact sustainable striped bass recruitment in future years. Care must be taken when handling fish, and anglers using live bait or cut bait are reminded that they must use non-offset circle hooks at all times.
At this time the best solution is for anglers to self-regulate their actions and choose not to pursue striped bass until environmental conditions are more favorable for catch-and-release survival. Previous years’ catch-and-release mortalities were a factor in the current creel limit and continued problems may impact future creel limits and seasons.
Anglers are urged to target species other than striped bass. White perch are providing excellent fishing opportunities during these summer months. They are spread throughout the entire Chesapeake Bay, populations are abundant, and many are of a large size. They can be caught in the tidal rivers and creeks by casting small spinners and similar lures with light tackle or by using bait on a bottom rig in deeper waters of the tidal rivers and the bay. Pieces of bloodworm, grass shrimp, wild seafood shrimp, and small minnows are all good baits.
Spot and white perch can be found on hard bottom areas or shoals off Sandy Point State Park, the mouth of the Magothy, and the shallow ends of the Bay Bridge. White perch can also be found at times at the Snake Reef, Belvidere Shoal, and the 7-foot and 9-foot knolls.
Striped bass are being found suspended along channel edges at Hacketts and Thomas points as well as similar channel edges along the shipping channel and the mouth of Eastern Bay, and the Severn and Choptank rivers. Most anglers are trolling umbrella rigs behind inline weights to get down to the 25-foot depth along channel edges where striped bass are suspended.
There is some live lining of spot and chumming going on at Hacketts Bar and Thomas Point. Care must be taken when handling fish and anglers using live bait or cut bait are reminded that they must use non-offset circle hooks at all times.
Adventurous anglers are also finding enough suspended striped bass to set up on at Bloody Point, the Buoy 83 area, and the Clay Banks off Tilghman Island. These areas are also a good place to jig when fish can be spotted on a depth finder.
The shallow-water striped bass fishery continues to offer fun topwater fishing action at dawn and to some degree late in the evening. Water temperatures are high enough now in the shallower areas of the tidal rivers and bay shore that striped bass are exiting the shallows once the sun breaks the horizon. Speckled trout have been a wonderful addition to the action from the Choptank River south along the Dorchester County shorelines. Grass beds in 3-5 feet of water and stump fields are excellent places to cast topwater lures and swim shads. Zara Spooks, Gulp plastics, and soft plastics in pearl or white with sparkles in them are popular.
Fishing for white perch in the shallower shoreline areas offers a fun light-tackle experience in the early morning and evening hours. Shoreline structure such as bulkheads, submerged rocks, fallen trees, and prominent points all offer good areas to cast small spinners, spinnerbaits, and jigs. White perch can also be caught off of docks and piers in 5-foot or deeper water with a simple one-hook bottom rig baited with pieces of bloodworm or grass shrimp in light tackle.
A mix of blue and channel catfish are ready to provide plenty of entertainment for anglers fishing with cut bait, clam snouts, and other favorite baits in most of the tidal rivers within the region. Channel catfish can be found in every tidal river, and blue catfish are found mostly in the Choptank and Nanticoke rivers.
Cobia fishing has kicked off to an excellent start at several locations. The Middle Grounds, the Target Ship, the Mud Leads, and Point Lookout are just a few locations where cobia are being found. Many anglers are chumming and fishing with cut bait. Some have tried to use live eels in their chum slicks, but find the recent influx of bluefish is destroying baits. Cownose rays have been a bit of a pesky visitor to chum slicks and have caused more than a few cobia false alarms. Sight fishing with live eels or large soft plastics is popular, as long as one can get high enough and use polarized sunglasses to find surface-cruising fish.
Bluefish are moving into the region, coming in the three-quarter pound to 1-pound size class — a perfect eating size. Anglers need to remember the daily limit for 2020 is 3 bluefish per day for anglers fishing from private boats or shore, and 5 bluefish per day when fishing from a charter boat. Spanish mackerel are showing signs of moving into the lower bay and a few are being caught by those trolling for them with small Drone or Clark spoons.
Spot are providing plenty of fun bottom fishing action in some of the hard bottom areas in the lower Patuxent River, Honga River, and off Hoopers Island. Pieces of bloodworm on a bottom rig is the ticket to this show, and many of these spot are now large enough for table fare. White perch and the occasional speckled trout will also be part of the mix.
The shallow-water fishing for speckled trout is exciting and fun for those casting topwater and soft baits near shallow grass beds along the Eastern Shore marshes. Zara Spooks tend to be a favorite when casting over grass beds and in stump fields. Soft plastics work well over deeper grass, shoreline structure, and stump fields. The best speckled trout fishing is occurring along the marshes of the Pocomoke and Tangier sounds up to Hoopers Island.
There is some success along the western shore and Point Lookout area. Striped bass can often be part of the mix, and the best times for fishing are very early in the morning and late evening hours. Anglers need to be aware that the main stem of the Potomac River is closed to all striped bass fishing from July 7 to July 20 by order of the Potomac River Fisheries Commission.
Recreational crabbing is steadily improving as more crabs grow to legal size. The middle and lower bay offers the best opportunity to catch a bushel of crabs per outing. Razor clams tend to be the most popular bait with chicken necks a close second. Many anglers report the best crabbing occurring in 12-foot to 15-foot edges, but there are a lot of small crabs chewing up baits.
Most trout streams are running low and clear this week requiring a stealth approach, long casts, and light tippets when fly fishing. Terrestrials such as ants, beetles, and hoppers are good choices since most hatches have slowed down. The Gunpowder is running very low since water releases from Prettyboy Reservoir have greatly diminished. These conditions can cause stressful situations for trout.
Fishing at Deep Creek Lake has settled into a summertime swing where largemouth and smallmouth bass can be found holding under thick grass or along the edges and under floating docks and moored boats. Feisty bluegills always offer plenty of fun to vacationers and a mix of yellow perch and walleye can be found along deep grass edges while drifting minnows.
The upper Potomac River is also running low and warm. Smallmouth bass can be found in fast moving and deeper waters. Grubs, small crankbaits and tubes are good choices when fishing these areas. Anglers who can get out at dawn are enjoying good topwater fishing along grass edges and shallower areas with buzzbaits and poppers. As water temperatures in the river rise the resident muskies are having a difficult time with warm water temperatures and can be found at times resting in slightly cooler waters in feeder creeks. In these conditions muskies cannot survive catch-and-release stress and should not be targeted.
Carp are common in the upper Potomac and can offer some fun fishing with scented dough ball baits or corn. If one can find an overhanging mulberry tree along the river or the C&O Canal, carp will congregate under the tree enjoying the tasty berries as they fall into the water. Experienced fly casters will tie purple flies that resemble mulberries and enjoy some rough and tough action.
Largemouth bass fishing in the tidal Potomac is good if one adjusts to the summertime behavior of the fish. The early morning and evening hours usually offer the best fishing near shallow structure. Grass beds, sunken wood, and spatterdock fields all offer good shallow-water areas to cast topwater lures. Frogs, buzzbaits, and floating soft plastics are all good choices when working these areas or any Maryland tidal river.
Farm ponds, reservoirs, and all sorts of impoundments offer fun fishing for largemouth bass. Many can be fished from shore at one’s leisure with a variety of soft plastics rigged weedless in grass, lily pads, or near sunken wood structure. Kayaks are a popular way to fish many of these areas and offer great ways to tuck into out-of-the-way coves.
In tidal waters, kayaks offer one of the best ways to target northern snakeheads. Casting buzzbaits and frogs are excellent baits to cast over thick grass. The tributaries of the tidal Potomac and other tidal rivers around the Chesapeake have expanding populations of northern snakeheads. The Dorchester County tidal backwaters, tributaries to the Nanticoke and Wicomico, and even tidal rivers in the upper bay are now reporting catches of northern snakeheads. The upper Patapsco River is one example where populations of northern snakeheads are being regularly found.
Summertime fishing for catfish under the shade of a riverbank tree is one of the finer things in life, and there are plenty of places in Maryland to enjoy it. Channel catfish can be found in every Maryland tidal river and several reservoirs, including Piney Run and Loch Raven. Blue catfish are quickly expanding to most tidal rivers and they will only become larger and more numerous in the coming years. They are now the dominant species in the tidal Potomac and the Patuxent, and the Nanticoke, Choptank, and Susquehanna rivers are not far behind. Blue catfish will move farther upriver during the summer months.
Fisheries biologist Mary Groves says right now the best places for blue catfish in the Patuxent River are above Jacksons Landing, anywhere there is a steep drop off or a lot of structure. There are some old pilings across from the Jug Bay pier and a steep ledge across from the mouth of Western Branch that are excellent for finding blue catfish.
Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays
Kingfish are entertaining anglers in the surf at Ocean City and Assateague Island, for those fishing with pieces of bloodworm or small strip baits. Small bluefish are being caught on finger mullet rigs, while flounder and blowfish are caught on squid strips. In the evenings, some are pursuing catch-and-release fishing for a variety of federally protected inshore sharks. Care should be used when releasing these sharks and they should not be hauled up on shore for pictures. They need to be supported in the water to prevent damage to internal organs.
At the inlet, small bluefish have been moving in and out on the tides. They are being caught on a variety of jigs and metal or by drifting cut bait. Striped bass are part of the mix, with most being less than the 28-inch minimum. Flounder are also being caught at the inlet and Atlantic spadefish may show up soon.
Outside the inlet, fishing for black sea bass continues to be exceptionally good with some limit catches on most boats being common. Those fishing with large Gulp baits around the wrecks are catching some impressive flounder. Large bluefish can be found at some of the 20-fathom and 30-fathom lumps this week. Most are being caught by trolling.
Out at the canyons there has been a surge of white marlin hook-ups with some boats reporting double-digit releases. Yellowfin tuna are being caught and a few large bluefin tuna were also caught recently.
“All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the children of the earth.” — Chief Seattle