One of the most spectacular times of the year is upon us, but it will not last long — daylight hours become shorter as leaves burst in color before falling to the ground. All kinds of fishing awaits those that take the time to pursue it — the fall trout stocking program is in full swing, and other species of freshwater and saltwater fish await.
Please join us for a Maryland Fishing Roundtable webinar Oct. 15 at noon. We will discuss the ongoing fall trout stocking season with Coldwater Program Manager Marshall Brown. Details for joining the webinar are on the department’s online calendar.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources announced results of the most recent juvenile striped bass survey, which showed a below-average spawning rate in the bay this year. Striped bass is known for highly variable annual reproduction that is often influenced by environmental factors. Maryland has implemented sound conservation measures to enhance the striped bass population in recent years, and it’s up to all of us to protect this important and iconic resource.
Forecast Summary: Oct. 14 – 20:
A beautiful week of fall weather is ahead, with stable and sunny to partly cloudy days and cool nights, with a chance of rain on Friday. Chesapeake Bay surface water temperatures are holding in the mid-60s and will continue to cool this week. The bay’s waters have adequate oxygen for fish at all depths. This will result in cool-water preferring fish being able to move throughout the water column. As surface waters continue to cool, deeper waters will remain slightly warmer. As a result of the below-normal flows from the Susquehanna, the main bay salinities are slightly higher than normal. As always, best fishing areas could be further refined by intersecting them with underwater points, hard bottom, drop-offs, and large schools of baitfish.
Expect average flows for most Maryland rivers and streams, except for the lower Potomac and lower Eastern Shore rivers. In addition, the Susquehanna flows remain below normal.
Expect temporarily reduced clarity from algal blooms on the Northeast, Sassafras, Bush, Back, and lower Potomac rivers, and in portions of the bay south of the Patuxent river mouth. There will be above average tidal currents as a result of the new moon Oct. 16-17.
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
Cooler water temperatures are making catfish more active, and flathead catfish are being caught in the Conowingo Dam pool on fresh cut bait. Blue catfish are being caught in the lower Susquehanna River and are showing up in nearby waters. Channel catfish tend to be everywhere and most anglers have no problem catching all they want. Fresh cut bait, clam snouts, nightcrawlers, and chicken livers make good baits.
Striped bass have moved into the Susquehanna Flats area in greater numbers. The topwater action is mostly in the morning and evening hours, but jigging along the channel edges leading to the Susquehanna and Elk rivers is lasting through the day. Jigging with soft plastic jigs or working Rat-L-Taps and blade lures has been productive. Breaking striped bass are being spotted in the area that are mostly small 2-year old fish that measure less than 19 inches, but there are plenty of larger striped bass in the area.
Two effective methods of fishing for striped bass emerge during October –trolling and the other is jigging. Those trolling are working the channel edges with umbrella rigs, tandem rigged bucktails, spoons, diving crankbaits, and hoses. The umbrella rigs are towed behind inline weights and many are using hookless spoons on the umbrella arms as attractors and spoons for a trailer. Depths of about 25 feet seem to be the sweet spot along most channel edges.
Those that are light-tackle jigging are using skirted soft plastic and metal jigs in the ½-ounce to ¾-ounce range depending on wind and current drift. Finding fish suspended along channel edges tends to be the key to success, but jigging under smaller breaking striped bass as they chase bay anchovies is often a worthwhile tactic.
The mouth of the Patapsco and Magothy rivers are producing excellent fishing. The Swan Point area, Love Point Rocks, and the mouth of the Chester River are also productive places to fish. The Bay Bridge piers seem to always hold striped bass and they are being caught by those flipping jigs near the bridge piers. The shallower waters of the tidal rivers also hold some fun topwater action in the morning and evening hours.
White perch are now mostly being caught in the deeper waters of the region’s tidal rivers. Bottom rigs baited with pieces of bloodworms are working well as are dropper rigs with small jigs. Some anglers are still having good luck in the tidal creeks working beetle spins and spinners close to the bottom. Yellow perch are also being caught when fishing in this manner. Large white perch usually take up residence at the rock piles at the Bay Bridge this time of the year. They are deep and it usually takes some weight to get to them in the swift current.
All of the tidal rivers in the upper bay region are offering excellent fishing for channel catfish this week. They are very active this time of the year and will readily take baits. Fresh cut bait is always a favorite but clam snouts, nightcrawlers, and chicken livers also work well. The Chester River holds expanding populations of blue catfish in the middle to upper portions of the river.
There is plenty of striped bass action in the middle bay. Bait in the form of bay anchovies and juvenile menhaden are exiting the tidal rivers and striped bass are feeding heavily on them building up body stores. The schools of bait are often being swept along in the swift currents that occur along the steeper channel edges in the lower sections of the tidal rivers and out in the bay.
Breaking fish and diving seagulls can be seen throughout the region at various times of the day, often tied to ebbing tides. Casting into the breaking fish and allowing your jig to sink a bit before retrieving will usually bring a strike. Many of the striped bass will fall a little short of the 19-inch minimum, so be sure to return them to the water with care.
A good depth finder is worth its price this time of the year and is indispensable for spotting striped bass in the depths below. At times, slicks can lead the way to fish below the surface. The mornings and evenings tend to offer some of the best jigging opportunities with soft plastic or metal jigs.
Trolling is a good striped bass fishing option. Most are pulling umbrella rigs behind inline weights to get them down to where the fish are holding. Bucktails are a common trailer as are spoons and swim shads. There are still a few bluefish in the region so soft plastics can get nipped at times. Tandem rigged bucktails work well as do spoons and hoses when rigged behind inline weights. The mouth of the Severn, West, and Choptank rivers are very active areas to fish this week as is Eastern Bay for jigging and trolling. Other good places include the shipping channel edges at Hacketts. Thomas Point, and in front of Chesapeake Beach.
The shallow water fishery for striped bass remains strong this week in the lower sections of the tidal rivers. Casting topwater lures over existing grass is a good bet. Working paddle tails and jerkbaits is also a great way to fish near prominent points and structure. Old rock breakwaters that are now offshore are great places to target.
White perch have mostly moved into the lower sections of the tidal rivers and tend to be holding over hard oyster bottom. The Bill Burton Fishing Pier on the Choptank River offers excellent fishing opportunities for shorebound anglers. Pieces of bloodworm on a bottom rig is the most popular way to fish for them. A few are still being caught in the tidal rivers and creeks in shallower waters on beetle spins and small jigs. Fishing for channel catfish in the region’s tidal rivers is also very good. The catfish are very active and easily caught. Blue catfish are also present in the upper Choptank River below Denton.
There are still chunky bluefish in the region near the Target Ship, the Middle Grounds, and along the shipping channel edges. There are even a few Spanish mackerel stragglers being caught this week. Striped bass is spread throughout the region in the lower sections of the tidal rivers and out in the bay along channel edges.
A mix of bluefish of about 2 pounds or so are mixing it up with 2- and 3-year old striped bass. The 3-year-olds usually are measuring from 20 inches to 26 inches. Jigging along channel edges in the lower regions of the Patuxent and Potomac rivers and the Tangier Sound area has been very good. The channel edges of the shipping channel also offer great jigging action when fish can be found suspended under breaking fish or bottom structure. Soft plastic and metal jigs are both working well.
Trolling along channel edges and wherever breaking fish can be spotted is an excellent way to fish. Trolling umbrella rigs behind inline weights or trolling tandem rigged bucktails or single-rigged spoons are very popular. Placing a hose or large spoon in a trolling spread can also be a good idea in case you come across a large red drum for some catch and release action. Great places to troll include both sides of the shipping channel and the lower Potomac between St. George’s Island and Piney Point.
In the Tangier Sound area, fishing for speckled trout remains good. Grassy shallows, prominent points, stump fields, and creek mouths are great places to fish. Paddletails are a popular bait while drifting soft crab baits on a falling tide in the creeks is also a great option and slot size red drum can be part of the mix.
Most areas with hard bottom in the lower Patuxent, Potomac, and Tangier Sound are holding concentrations of spot. Many are pan-sized and white perch and speckled trout can be part of the mix. Pieces of bloodworm are the most popular bait but pieces of soft crab will work well on white perch and speckled trout.
Recreational crabbing is slowing down as water temperatures become chillier and crabs migrate to deeper waters. Trotlining has been tough as the crabs are often found in about 20 feet of water. Sooks are ever-present and baits are getting chewed up fairly quickly. Those crabbing with collapsible crab traps tend to have it a bit easier in the deeper waters. Just make sure you have plenty of line and a substantial buoy so you don’t lose track of your traps due to current drag on long lines.
These are happy times for trout anglers, whether they are put-and-take anglers or those who enjoy catch-and-release action in the special trout management areas. October is a wonderful time to be outdoors next to flowing waters and the changing of colors in the surrounding trees. Be sure to check for regular updates on our trout stocking website.
Hurricane Delta did not provide as much precipitation to the mid-Atlantic as forecast and the rain, though welcome, did little to increase flows in rivers and streams in the Potomac watershed. Fisheries biologist John Mullican reports that the Upper Potomac remains low and very clear, requiring a finesse presentation and long casts. Smallmouth bass will generally hold tight to cover the clearer water aids in identifying likely targets. Downsized, lightweight jigs are productive, but topwater baits can also draw strikes late into the fall. With cooler weather, smallmouth bass fishing has improved and the fish are in excellent condition.
Anglers at Deep Creek Lake are enjoying some peaceful and productive fishing. Cooling water temperatures have several species of fish active. Northern pike can be found at the mouths of many of the coves in the lake. Smallmouth bass is being caught near rocky points, largemouth bass near a structure, and yellow perch and walleye along deep grass lines. Spinnerbaits and spoons are popular baits for northern pike; tubes, jigs, and small crankbaits for smallmouth bass; and crankbaits and soft plastic craw baits for largemouth bass. Both smallmouth and largemouth bass are feeding heavily on crayfish and will often have a reddened snout this time of the year from nailing crayfish on the rocky bottom. Drifting live minnows is working well for catching yellow perch and walleye.
Cooling water temperatures and diminishing grass beds in non-tidal and tidal waters are causing a major shift in largemouth bass behavior. As grass cover begins to die off due to shorter daylight hours, bait is moving to deeper cover in the form of sunken wood and anything they can find to hide inside. The most common form of bait seeking deeper cover is crayfish, and largemouth bass is holding outside the shallower grass bed areas to intercept them. These transition areas lie between the drop-offs into deeper waters and the deteriorating grass beds. Casting small crankbaits and jigs that resemble crayfish is a winning tactic.
In tidal areas working spinnerbaits around the edges of spatterdock fields and the mouths of feeder creeks is also a good tactic, especially on a falling tide. Baitfish are often pushed out of cover by a falling tide and will move into feeder creeks. Northern snakeheads are also losing the grass cover they usually hold in and will now be found near sunken brush near some of the deeper shorelines. Live minnows or white paddle tails are good baits to target them. The tidal Potomac, Patuxent, and lower Eastern Shore rivers have large numbers of northern snakeheads and they have expanded their range in tidal rivers up to the Susquehanna River.
Cooler water temperatures are causing catfish to be more active, and the blue catfish offer plenty of action and good eating. The tidal Potomac River is thick with them — the medium-sized ones make superb eating and they freeze well, so they are a good item to put up in your freezer for the winter months. The middle to upper regions of the Patuxent, Nanticoke, and Choptank rivers also hold good numbers of blue catfish. Fresh cut bait or clam snouts make good baits.
Crappie have always been noted for their excellent table fare and this is a great time of the year to fish for them. They are schooled up in deeper waters near bridge piers, sunken brush, fallen treetops, and marina docks and piers. Live minnows or small marabou jigs under a slip bobber are good ways to catch them.
Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays
Surf anglers are catching good numbers of kingfish and spot using pieces of bloodworms on bottom rigs. Small bluefish are being caught on cut spot or mullet, and flounder are being caught on squid. Anglers soaking larger cut baits are enjoying some exciting catch-and-release fishing for large red drum.
At the inlet a mix of striped bass, bluefish and flounder are being caught. Sheepshead are also being caught near the jetty rocks on sand fleas or pieces of green crab. Drifting live spot or mullet is the best way to catch the largest striped bass and flounder. A giant doormat summer flounder weighing 13.2 pounds was caught in the inlet last week by an angler drifting a live spot at the Route 50 Bridge.
In the coastal bays, the channels leading towards the inlet is the place to be fishing. Flounder are exiting the bays and heading through the inlet on their way to the offshore wintering areas. Traditional squid and minnow baits are working well but if you wish to draw the attention of the largest flounder use larger baits. Gulp baits or live spot and mullet make excellent baits for this task.
Fishing for sea bass at the offshore wreck and reef sites continues to be excellent this week with limit catches of sea bass being common. Those fishing for flounder are catching some large ones this week as these fish pause at the wreck and reef sites on their way offshore. Gray triggerfish are also part of the mix when fishing these sites.
Out at the canyons, excellent catches of dolphin are still occurring, while swordfish are being caught in the depths. Deep dropping for blueline and golden tilefish is popular this week with several excellent catches returning to the Ocean City docks. Another notable catch while deep-dropping was a 19.44-pound cusk caught by Lucas Franzetti. Department biologists believe this is the southernmost catch of a cusk and the largest one ever caught off Maryland. The angler will receive a notable catch certificate for this rare species. For more info on this notable catch, see the Maryland Angler’s Log.
“It has always been my belief that one of the things that make hunting and fishing so special is that on any given day things can happen to you that you will remember for the rest of your days. Very few things in everyday life are like that.” — Lamar Underwood