Fishing opportunities are being found throughout Maryland during these warm days of August. From the smallest freshwater ponds to the Atlantic Ocean, all promise adventure and fun for those who take the time to seek them out.
On Aug. 13 at noon the Maryland Department of Natural Resources hosts another Maryland Fishing Roundtable webinar on summer fishing. This week, DNR biologist Josh Henesy discusses Upper Potomac River fishing opportunities in Maryland. You can join the discussion through a link on the department’s online calendar.
Remember that all 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. 12 – Aug. 18:
This week will be cooler than the last few weeks with mostly partly cloudy skies, milder temperatures, and possible thunderstorms all week. As reported from the NOAA buoys, main bay surface water temperatures have risen back to the mid 80s since the cooling effects of Tropical Storm Isaias.
The positive effects of the cooling rains and prolonged winds from Tropical Storm Isaias, which recharged oxygen to the deeper waters, have diminished as weather stabilizes and bay water temperatures increase. This will result in bay gamefish remaining at similar locations on cooler river mouths or main bay structure but moving to slightly deeper depths, just above the Don’t Fish Below this Depth line and maximum suitable oxygen depth, in the coolest water available. Recent DNR water monitoring indicates that the coolest, oxygenated water can be found in the deeper waters from the Bay Bridge 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 normal flows all week from most of Maryland’s rivers and streams. However, expect above average flows and reduced regional water quality for the Choptank and Potomac River as a result of the recent rainfall. In addition, expect increased localized flows and decreased clarity as a result of potential thunderstorms all week. There will be above average tidal currents conditions Saturday through Tuesday as a result of the upcoming new moon on Wednesday, Aug. 19. To see the latest water clarity conditions on satellite maps, check Eyes on the Bay Satellite Maps.
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
Anglers are enjoying some striped bass topwater action at the Conowingo Dam pool in the early morning hours; however, keep in mind that striped bass fishing will be closed in all areas starting on Aug. 16. This fishery tends to wind down as soon as the sun breaks the horizon but casting crankbaits and soft plastics will extend the fishing time a little longer. Given the imminent closure, we encourage anglers to switch over to targeting catfish and other species. The dam is currently under a hefty power generation release schedule in the afternoon hours, which makes any kind of fishing difficult.
At the dam pool and throughout the lower Susquehanna River, a mix of flathead, blue, and channel catfish are providing most of the fishing opportunities in the area. Fresh-cut bait of gizzard shad or white perch is the most popular bait being used but bluegills work fine if they are available. All of the tidal rivers in the upper bay region have good populations of channel catfish. Blue catfish can be found in the Chester River.
Last week’s storm stirred up the upper bay, causing the striped bass that were stuck at the Tolchester Lumps and Pooles Island area to spread out to other nearby knolls, reefs, and lumps. Anglers report action at a variety of sites so many are hovering over likely looking areas with depth finders probing for suspended fish before live-lining. The bridge piers at the Francis Scott Key Bridge and Bay Bridge should not be overlooked.
A new visitor to our waters, bluefish are being seen by those live-lining spot or trolling. The minimum size for bluefish is 8 inches with a creel limit of three per day for recreational boats. Most are small and often called snapper bluefish and have a habit of nipping off precious spot or soft plastics.
When fishing for 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 as 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.
Trolling is an effective way to fish for a mix of striped bass and bluefish this week. Small Drone spoons in a combination of gold and chartreuse, green hose lures, and diving crankbaits have all been good choices to troll. Bottom bouncing with bucktails dressed with twistertails has been working for others on the knolls and reef areas. Jigging with skirted soft plastics near the bridge piers at the Francis Scott Key Bridge and Bay Bridge piers has been productive in the earlier morning hours on a moving tide.
White perch are providing excellent fishing opportunities at a variety of locations in the bay and tidal rivers. They can be found on reef and knoll sites in the bay or at the shallower ends of the Francis Scott Key Bridge and Bay Bridge piers. Shoreline structure and oyster reefs are good places to look for white perch in the tidal rivers. Most are fishing bottom rigs baited with pieces of bloodworm or dropper rigs in the deeper waters. In the shallower areas, casting spinners or similar lures in the morning and evening hours along shoreline structure is productive. Spot are being caught in many of the same bay area locations as well as the mouth of the Magothy River and off the Sandy Point State Park Beach.
There are a limited number of striped bass fishing opportunities this week in the middle bay region. Live-lining spot has been the most popular way to fish at channel edges at Hacketts, Thomas Point, and Bloody Point. The use of non-offset circle hooks is a must at all times when chumming or live-lining. Squashing the hook barbs flat on lures helps make releasing fish easier, and care must be taken when handling fish. Disturbing their protective slime layer makes them more vulnerable to bacterial infections during the warm water conditions of the summer. 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.
Anglers are patrolling channel edges with depth finders looking for suspended striped bass to either live line spot or jig. The edges near Bloody Point, Tilghman Point, and Thomas Point are examples of good places to look. Skirted soft plastic jigs are often a favorite lure to jig with but small bluefish are nipping at the tail end of the soft plastics.
Trolling is another option for fishing for striped bass with hopes of a few larger bluefish. Small Drone spoons, bucktails, and hose lures are being pulled behind inline weights or planers. Most shipping channel edges are being explored on both sides of the bay. Some anglers are picking up the trolling speed in hopes of catching Spanish mackerel. Most of those targeting Spanish mackerel are reporting decent catches of Spanish mackerel and ¾ pound bluefish per trip.
During the summer months, tidal creeks and white perch are a natural fit within the middle bay region. One can enjoy some good light tackle fishing along shoreline structure areas by casting small spinners. Or bring the younger anglers out to a pier and dunk some grass shrimp or pieces of bloodworm on a simple one-hook bottom rig. White perch offer easy, accessible, and fun fishing and wonderful table fare. Pan-fried perch fillets are hard to beat for a summer dinner!
Fishing for speckled trout has taken center stage for those who love to fish the shallower areas along shorelines from the lower Choptank down past the Hoopers Island cuts and shorelines. Casting 4 to 5 inch soft plastics in a variety of shapes with a light jighead is working well for most. Pearl sparkle-flash combinations are one of the hottest lures to use, followed by pink and white. Prominent points, grass beds, and stump fields are great places to fish. When fishing the cuts at Hoopers Island, “walking the dog”-style jigging in a sweeping motion in the tidal current is a real trout killer.
All of the region’s tidal rivers hold excellent populations of channel catfish. The Nanticoke and Choptank rivers also have expanding populations of blue catfish. In the Nanticoke River, the areas upriver of Sharpstown and the Marshyhope offer some of the best summer fishing for blue catfish. In the Choptank River, the waters north of the Dover Bridge to Denton are the best areas to find blue catfish.
Once the storm passed through the region last week and the floodwaters began to dissipate, fishing in the lower bay region began to come back in a big way. Perhaps one of the most exciting reports is the surge of Spanish mackerel that entered the region over the weekend. Trolling a mix of various spoons behind planers and heavy inline weights has been the ticket for good catches of Spanish mackerel and ¾ pound bluefish. The eastern side of the shipping channel from the general area of Buoy 72B past 72A and south to Buoy 70 has been a real hot spot in the past few days.
A mix of Spanish mackerel, bluefish, and small striped bass are chasing schools of bay anchovies in the same general region near the Middle Grounds. Casting into the surface action has been accounting for some fun fishing for the bluefish and Spanish mackerel. Lying beneath, large red drum have been the real prize. They far exceed the upper end of the legal slot size but offer exciting catch-and-release action for those jigging deep with large plastics or metal spoons.
Fishing for striped bass in the lower Potomac River continues to be closed until Aug. 20 in the mainstem of the river. The Maryland tributaries are open at this time but will close on Aug. 16 until Aug. 31, as will Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake.
Striped bass are being caught in the lower bay this week, mostly around the shipping channel edges and at times they are being caught early in the morning in the shallower areas mixed in with speckled trout.
Cobia are being caught around the Target Ship and Mud Leads and below the Middle Grounds. Sight casting on calm days remains one of the most productive ways to catch them when pitching live eels or large soft plastics to them. Chumming is another option but cow-nosed rays and bluefish are being attracted to chum slicks so drifting a live eel back in a chum slick is courting disaster. Most are settling for chunk baits of menhaden and having a live eel ready in case a cobia comes up behind the boat.
At the mouth of the Patuxent, it seems the river bottom must be paved with spot and white perch at times. Most of the spot tend to be small but can be fried with the head and guts removed; one just has to take their time picking through them. With patience and a small flexible fillet knife, some can be filleted along with the white perch. Small croakers, most undersized, have also been part of the mix when bottom fishing. Tangier and Pocomoke sounds are also stacked with spot, white perch, and small croakers. Pieces of bloodworm, peeler crab, or wild shrimp all make good baits.
Increasing numbers of flounder are also being caught in the Tangier and Pocomoke sounds this week. The edges of channels and drop offs along flats are good places to drift baits. Strip baits from the spot make a good bait on a bucktail, jighead, or bottom rig. It is hard to beat a white or pink Gulp bait for the largest flounder.
Recreational crabbing is hitting new heights for crabbers this week. Catches are still a bit sparse in the upper bay but catches of a full bushel of good crabs in the middle and lower bay regions are common. Some of the largest crabs are coming from oyster bars in 12 to 15 feet of water. The shallower areas also hold good crabs but tend to harbor a lot of small crabs that are chewing up baits.
As the hottest month of the summer presses upon the Maryland landscape, many freshwater fish species are adjusting their behaviors and feeding activities accordingly. In general the early morning and late evening hours offer the best time to catch fish feeding since many are feeding during the cooler night hours.
At Deep Creek Lake, largemouth and smallmouth bass can be found feeding in the shallower areas during the early morning and late evening hours near grass and shoreline structure. A variety of topwater and soft plastic lures work well in these areas. As the sun rises higher in the morning sky, bass will either move under the shade of floating docks and moored boats or go deep to the cooler water and shade of the deeper grass beds. Crankbaits, grubs, and jigs work well in the deeper water and whacky rigged worms flipped under docks can get a lazy bass to pick up a bait. Bluegill can be found hanging around docks, with yellow perch, walleye, and bass deep along grass edges. Crickets and worms work well for bluegills. Drifting live minnows is a good bet for working the deep grass edges.
When it comes to fishing for largemouth bass, the same morning and evening feeding patterns are often at play in tidal and nontidal waters across the state. They will be found feeding near thick, shallow, grassy areas and will retreat to deeper waters for cool shade around thick grass mats or structure like sunken wood, bridge piers, or docks. Some of the best opportunities in tidal waters occur on a low tide along the edges of grass beds or spatterdock fields. Feeder creeks should not be overlooked. Topwater lures and soft plastics work well in the shallow grass, while crankbaits, jigs, grubs, and slow-rolled spinnerbaits close to the bottom work well in deep water. Whacky rigged stick worms or soft plastics flipped under the shade of overhanging bushes and under docks or dropped down through thick grass can entice bass. In most cases of working on lounging bass, the pickup will be subtle and the strike should be delayed a few seconds.
Northern snakehead will be part of the shallow grass fishing scene in all of the tidal waters throughout Maryland. They will go after a variety of topwater lures in the shallower grassy areas, and paddletails and similar lures work well in patches of open water between lily pads or grass.
Bluegills offer plenty of fishing fun during these summer months. It can be as simple as taking your youngest aspiring anglers down to a nearby pond and setting them up with a bobber and worm. Bluegills are often the first fish caught by budding anglers, more than any other fish I can think of. Prowling around lily pads fields with a kayak or small boat and casting small lures with an ultra-light spinning rod or casting ants and small poppers with a fly rod will entertain the most seasoned angler.
Many areas in the southern region of Maryland are still showing signs of severe flooding so overflowing banks at some impoundments may be encountered. Fisheries biologist Branson Williams sent in a report that Gilbert Run Park in Charles County is closed due to flooding.
Blue catfish offer plenty of fishing action in many of the tidal rivers. The tidal Potomac still holds the greatest numbers but the Patuxent, Nanticoke, Choptank, Chester, and Susquehanna rivers are quickly catching up. The smaller eating-size blue cats can be found along the shallower edges of the main channels. Fresh-cut bait of gizzard shad, white perch, or bluegills make excellent baits. Other good choices include clam snouts or fresh menhaden.
Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays
Boat traffic will certainly be down a bit this week at the inlet and channels leading towards the inlet as the 2020 White Marlin Open is now history. This tournament gets larger every year and this year there were three winners who brought in more than a million dollars for their catches, two for white marlin, and one for a tuna.
Along the beaches, kingfish are being caught in the surf on pieces of bloodworms. As the summer heat bears its weight on the region some of the best kingfish catches are being made in the early morning hours. Bluefish are being caught on finger mullet and cut mullet, and a mix of croaker, blowfish, and flounder are also being caught.
At the inlet, there are some flounder to be found and a few nice sheepshead are being caught along the jetties and the bridge piers of the Route 50 bridge. Sand fleas are the most popular bait for sheepshead fishing. Flounder fishing has been good in the back bay channels, with traditional squid and minnow baits catching their fair share. The largest flounder are being caught on the small live spot or white and pink Gulp baits.
The boats heading out to the offshore wreck and reef sites are finding some of the best fishing for sea bass seen in years. Limit catches of seabass are generally an unusual occurrence this time of the year, yet they are occurring every day. Rail huggers on the party boat fleet are also catching some huge flounder and recently have had the added bonus of small dolphin.
Charter boats will now get back to work after the White Marlin Open and begin to search for offshore species for their clients. White marlin are being found out at the canyons, along with a mix of tuna species. Dolphin have recently moved into the canyon areas and boats are loading up on limit catches of small or what many refer to as “chicken” dolphin. They offer a lot of fun light tackle fishing when a boat pulls up to floating debris or lobster buoys. Large “gaffer” sized dolphin are being caught while trolling. On Saturday, during the White Marlin Open. a large bull dolphin weighing 73.5 pounds was caught, only 1 pound shy of the state record set last year.
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” — Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken,” 1916
Click Before You Cast is written by Tidewater Ecosystem Assessment Director Tom Parham.
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