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.
August seems to have arrived in the blink of an eye, and families are doing their best to fit in some outdoor summer recreation time. Be sure to stay safe and follow the latest COVID-19 guidelines for outdoor recreation.
On Aug. 6 at noon the Maryland Department of Natural Resources hosts another Maryland Fishing Roundtable webinar on summer fishing. This week, DNR biologist Mary Groves discusses blue catfish populations in Maryland, and you can learn how to fish for this invasive species from our recreational fishing experts. You can join the discussion through a link on the department’s online calendar.
Remember that all Maryland areas of the bay and tidal rivers will be closed to striped bass fishing from Aug. 16 through Aug. 31.
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: Aug. 5 – Aug. 11:
This week will be cooler with partly cloudy skies and milder temperatures and possible thunderstorms Thursday, Friday, Monday, and Tuesday. Chesapeake Bay surface water temperatures have temporarily dropped to the low 80s as a result of Tropical Storm Isaias.
The heavy rains and prolonged high winds from the tropical storm cooled surface waters and helped recharge oxygen to the deeper waters via wind mixing. Gamefish will be at similar locations on cooler river mouths or main bay structure, but are temporarily able to move to slightly deeper water, just above the Don’t Fish Below this Depth line and maximum suitable oxygen depth, in the coolest water available. In addition, gamefish can temporarily move shallower to the rain-fed, cooler surface waters. Recent DNR water monitoring indicates that the coolest, oxygenated water is still found in the deeper waters from Pooles Island down to the Virginia state line.
For information on oxygen conditions, see Maryland’s latest hypoxia report. 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 above-normal flows all week from most of Maryland’s rivers and streams as a result of the recent tropical storm, along with reduced regional water clarity. In addition, expect increased localized flows as a result of potential thunderstorms all week. There will be above average tidal currents all week as a result of the Aug. 3 full moon.
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 summer heat has had an effect on a wide range of fishing in the upper bay. Striped bass fishing is now a dawn affair and the fishing success usually drops off as the sun breaks the horizon. There is some topwater striped bass action at the Conowingo Dam pool, but down towards the mouth of the river and the Susquehanna Flats area fishing has been slow.
Most anglers are targeting a mix of catfish species at the dam pool and lower Susquehanna and Elk rivers. Flatheads are being caught at the dam pool with blue and channel catfish spread throughout the lower Susquehanna, the uppermost portions of the bay, and nearby tidal rivers.
There continues to be some live-lining activity for striped bass near the mouth of the Patapsco River and Pooles Island. Anglers are being asked to forgo fishing for striped bass due to the high incidence of release mortalities due to high water and air temperatures and the lack of oxygen in deeper and cooler waters. Anglers are asked to self regulate and pursue other species such as catfish, northern snakeheads, and white perch. However, if you do target striped bass, remember that you must use non-offset circle hooks at all times when chumming or live-lining. We also advise using lures with single, barbless hooks to make releasing fish easier, and care must be taken when handling fish. Never use a rag while unhooking a striped bass — this will rub off their protective slime layer, making them more vulnerable to the summer combination of heat stress and disease. All Maryland areas of the bay and tidal rivers will be closed to striped bass fishing of any manner from Aug. 16 through Aug. 31.
There is some live-lining action for striped bass at the Bay Bridge piers, but most anglers are enjoying the excellent fishing for white perch at many of the bridge piers. Using bottom rigs with pieces of bloodworms always works well, but many are using small jigs and enjoying some fun light-tackle action. Small soft plastic jigs fished in the shallower areas work well, and a dropper rig with enough sinker is the ticket for deeper areas with stronger currents.
Many new fishing opportunities have developed to replace the relatively poor fishing for striped bass and the related catch-and-release stress on the fish due to warm water conditions. If you do live-line or chum for striped bass, you must use non-offset circle hooks at all times and care must be taken when handling fish to not disturb the fish’s protective slime layer.
Small bluefish have entered the middle bay and can be found in a variety of ways. At times they can be found chasing schools of bay anchovies. Casting a variety of metal lures with light tackle is a fun way to catch them. Trolling small spoons behind inline weights is another good option. Anglers are reminded that for the 2020 season the daily creel limit for bluefish when fishing from a private boat or from shore is 3 bluefish per day.
There are wonderful numbers of speckled trout being found in the shallower waters along the bay shore and the lower sections of the tidal rivers. The early morning and late evening hours usually provide the best action along shoreline structure. Prominent points, grass beds, and stump fields are prime areas to cast topwater lures such as Zara Spooks. In these same areas, soft plastic paddle tails that have little or no weight are also effective. Pink, white and pearl sparkle combinations have been very popular.
The lower Choptank south to the Little Choptank and Hoopers Island have been offering some of the best speckled trout fishing opportunities. Striped bass can also be part of the mix in the early morning or late evening hours. Some of the tidal rivers and western bay shoreline hold opportunities also, but they may be diminished after the heavy rainfall from the tropical storm. Expect tides to be extremely high for the next couple of days.
Medium-sized black drum have been showing up at various points in the middle bay. Most are being caught incidentally but if you make strides to target them you may find some excellent fishing. They also make for some good eating since they usually do not carry the intermuscular worms that the larger and older black drum do. Some of the artificial reefs are good places to check, as are the flats around James Island and Sharps Island Light. Pieces of soft crab is the most preferred bait, either on a jig or bottom rig. Black drum can often be spotted on depth finders by their heavy echo signature, which is due to their large air bladder.
White perch always provide plenty of fun summer fishing, and areas such as Hacketts and Tolly bars are great places to fish in the bay. Most are fishing with bloodworms on bottom rigs in these deeper areas. In the tidal rivers and creeks bottom rigs baited with pieces of bloodworm or grass shrimp work well around docks and piers. Casting small spinners and soft plastic jigs near shoreline structure in the early morning or late evening hours is always a productive and fun way to fish with light tackle.
Spanish mackerel are starting to show up in increasing numbers in the middle bay, and it is hoped they will not be hindered by the recent influx of freshwater from the tropical storm. They can be found mixing it up with small bluefish and striped bass chasing bay anchovies. Speed reeling small metal jigs can be a good way to catch them. Trolling at a fast clip with small Clark or Drone spoons behind inline weights and planers is perhaps the most popular way to catch them.
Anglers are catching a few striped bass in the lower bay but most are fishing for other abundant species. The Potomac River mainstem remains closed to all targeting of striped bass until Aug. 20, and all Maryland waters will close to the targeting of striped bass from Aug. 16 through Aug. 31.
Cobia are being found at the Middle Grounds, the Target Ship, and the Mud Leads this week. They might not be as plentiful as they are in Virginia waters but there is enough action to make fishing for them a worthwhile endeavor. Slow trolling live eels, green hose lures or sight casting with live eels has been the most productive way to fish for cobia. Chumming is reported to not be very productive as small bluefish and cownose rays tend to dominate chum slicks.
Speckled trout fishing has been a wonderful boost to the fishing opportunities in the lower bay this week. Despite the recent rains, the eastern side of the bay should still have good water clarity so anglers can expect good to excellent fishing in the shallower areas of Tangier Sound, and to some extent in the Point Lookout area. Soft plastic paddle tails and similar soft plastics in pink, white, or pearl sparkle combinations are among the most popular lures to use. When fishing over shallow grass, the jig heads being used are very light. Zara Spooks are also a good choice over shallow grass or stump fields. The early morning and evening hours usually offer the best fishing opportunities.
Small puppy drum are becoming a more common part of the shallow water mix when casting soft plastics. Most are falling short of the slot size but offer a fun addition to the light-tackle action. Large red drum which unfortunately are over the slot size are being caught and released by those jigging with large soft plastics, or by trolling with large spoons behind inline weights. Anglers are reporting that the large red drum are coming up underneath the surface breaking fish, which is made up of small bluefish and Spanish mackerel chasing bait. Jigging underneath the surface action can result in some exciting catch-and-release action.
The Spanish mackerel are often caught by casting into breaking fish with soft plastics or metal and then speed reeling. Other times it is just the luck of the draw whether a bluefish or Spanish mackerel gets to the lure first. Trolling for Spanish mackerel is the most common way to fish with small Clark or Drone spoons behind inline weights and planers.
Fishing for white perch is great on the tidal rivers and creeks. White perch are holding over oyster bars and near shallower structure in the tidal creeks. Docks, piers, fallen trees, and bridge piers are all good places to find plenty of white perch. Small croakers can also be part of the mix in the deeper waters, along with some eating-sized spot.
Recreational crabbing is improving, as the crabs have been moving up the tidal rivers. In the lower parts of the tidal rivers some of the largest crabs are coming from oyster bar edges in about 15 feet of water. Catching a full bushel per outing with a trotline or collapsible crab traps is certainly achievable right now. Razor clams remain the most favored bait but chicken necks are working just fine. Doublers will be a more common site this week during the full moon.
Most western and central region streams and rivers are in good shape. Recent rains have bolstered flows but are in acceptable ranges, and fishing should be good in most all of the trout management waters. Those fly fishing are doing well with a variety of terrestrials, ants, hoppers, and inch worm imitations. Streamers are another good bet and those using spinning tackle will find small spinners, gold spoons, and ultra-small jerkbaits to be good choices to cover plenty of water in search of holdover trout.
Deep Creek Lake is in the height of vacation season, so boat traffic is up and finding a quiet place to fish can be challenging. Coves often provide a good place to avoid boaters. A mix of large yellow perch, walleye, and smallmouth bass can be found along deep grass edges by drifting minnows. Largemouth bass are holding near or under floating docks and moored boats. The grassy coves are also a good place to look for largemouth bass in the early morning hours, while chain pickerel will also be in the mix. There are plenty of bluegills holding near docks to provide plenty of action for the younger anglers.
This can be a tough time of the year to fish the upper Potomac for smallmouth bass, but if you are out on the water at the crack of dawn the odds are in your favor. Casting poppers or buzz baits near shoreline grass and sunken wood is a good bet. Working grubs and soft plastics near large boulders, bridge piers and deep current breaks is another good option. There are plenty of channel catfish in the upper Potomac to entertain anglers. Muskies should not be targeted this time of the year due to extremely warm water temperatures, as they will not be able to survive the stress of catch and release.
Largemouth bass are feeding mostly at night due to warm water temperatures. Fishing the shallower grassy areas at morning’s first light or at dusk will often provide the best results. Top water lures such as frogs and buzzbaits work well, as do weightless stick worms and soft plastics. As the mornings wear on, bass will seek cool shade in the form of deeper waters and structure such as sunken wood and bridge piers. They will also hold under thick grass or under docks. Wacky rigged stick worms or soft plastics offer a good way to entice them to pick up a bait. Feeder creeks should not be overlooked, as largemouth bass will move into the mouths of these creeks seeking cooler water.
Fishing for northern snakeheads is best in the morning and evening hours. They will be holding near grass wherever they can find it. Frogs and buzzbaits are good choices to fish in the grass. White paddle tails and similar baits work well along grass edges and sunken wood. The creeks feeding into the tidal Potomac River, the Nanticoke River, and the backwaters of lower Dorchester County are popular places to fish for them. As populations of northern snakeheads expand throughout the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, anglers are finding new areas to find good fishing success. The upper Chester and Patapsco rivers are just two places where anglers are now finding good northern snakehead action.
Blue catfish are also rapidly expanding their range in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and are now spread from the tidal Potomac to the Susquehanna River. The Elk, Chester, Choptank, Nanticoke, and Patuxent rivers all hold increasing populations of blue catfish. Fresh cut bait is one of the best ways to catch them.
Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays
Now that the ocean has settled down, surf anglers are catching excellent numbers of kingfish on pieces of bloodworm. They are also catching a few croakers and blowfish. Those using finger mullet or cut bait are catching small bluefish. Flounder can be caught on squid strip baits.
Flounder fishing in the coastal bays will improve this week as water clarity improves. The channels leading towards the inlet and in Sinepuxent Bay will be popular places to fish. Minnow and squid combos tend to be popular baits but white or pink Gulp baits often catch the largest flounder. Be wary of boat traffic, especially with the White Marlin Open in progress.
The boats headed out to the offshore wreck and reef sites continue to experience fantastic fishing for sea bass. Limit catches of chunky sea bass are common. Flounder are also being caught near the wreck and reef sites, often by those who switch to flounder baits after limiting out on sea bass.
After a slow start due to stormy weather and treacherous seas, boats competing in the White Marlin Open will be pouring out the inlet this week in search of offshore species. A few boats brought in some tuna and one white marlin that did not meet the minimum weight. More is certainly due to follow in the next few days.
“Boyhood improves with age, and the more remote it is the nicer boyhood seems to become.” — Havilah Babcock