Welcome to March! In a couple of weeks spring will be here, and the warmer periods will become longer than the cold stretches. There is plenty of good fishing out there now; the yellow perch runs will start soon and the trout program is stocking generous numbers of fish at a location near you.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is recruiting participants for the shad volunteer angler survey. This brief online survey is smartphone compatible and provides valuable information for the restoration of these prized fish. Anglers are invited to log their shad fishing trips, even if you don’t catch any shad.
Also, please join us on March 11 at noon for a Maryland Fishing Roundtable webinar on the Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative, known as MARI. Coordinator Mike Malpezzi will discuss Maryland’s artificial reef program and its importance for the angling community. Details for joining the webinar are on the department’s online calendar.
Forecast Summary: March 3 – 9:
As we approach the beginning of spring, expect sunny conditions with cool to moderate temperatures most of the week. There is a low chance of rain all week but expect strong wind gusts on Thursday and Friday. These typical March conditions will continue to warm Chesapeake Bay waters for gamefish such as yellow perch preparing to spawn in the next several weeks. Bay water temperatures are chilly and are hovering around 40 degrees, although smaller streams and downwind areas will warm faster on a sunny day and can hold temperatures in the upper 40s. Areas with these temperatures and low salinity will be prime locations for spawning yellow perch as they move up from their wintering areas in the downstream portion of rivers. Also, there are still slightly warmer bottom waters so anglers may want to scan these areas for other gamefish.
As a result of above-normal river flows, salinities in the bay are slightly lower than normal. Expect below average clarity for Maryland rivers. To see the latest water clarity conditions, check Eyes on the Bay Satellite Maps. There will be above average tidal currents on Wednesday and Thursday as a result of the Feb. 28 full moon.
For more detailed and up-to-date fishing conditions in your area of the bay, continue 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.
At the top of the Chesapeake Bay, some of the first yellow perch action is taking place in the lower Susquehanna River. Yellow perch are being found holding in about 40 feet of water below the railroad bridge. This type of fishing depends on calm weather and a bottom rig with several ounces of sinker and a dropper rig baited with minnows.
There has been very little flow through the Conowingo Dam, presenting safe fishing for flathead and blue catfish in the dam pool and the river below. Fresh cut bait continues to be the best option for this type of fishing. Clam snouts and chicken liver offer an alternative if fresh bait cannot be acquired. Further downriver, channel cats will also be a large part of the catfish mix.
Anglers in the upper bay tidal rivers may start to see the vanguard of the yellow perch spawning runs by the weekend, if the warming trend continues. The first yellow perch to reach the upper reaches of the tidal rivers will be males that will barely be legal-sized. Male yellow perch tend to top out at 9.5 inches at full size. Live minnows fished close to the bottom will be one of the best baits for yellow perch, which will be sluggish. The minnows can be fished on a simple bottom rig or lip-hooked on a small shad dart and worked slowly close to the bottom. Beetle spins and small jigs can also be effective. Scent is very important so a piece of minnow on a small jig or shad dart works well.
There are many yellow perch spawning areas in the upper bay. North East Community Park in Cecil County offers an accessible and safe place to fish from shore and dock. The upper Bush River near Route 40 and the Magothy River are traditional locations to find yellow perch. The upper Sassafras, Bohemia, and Chester rivers all have good yellow perch fishing. Typically the tidal tributaries on the western shore will warm up earlier than those on the eastern side of the bay.
Much of the fishing action will be focused around yellow perch in the upper reaches of the region’s tidal rivers for the next two weeks. The average water temperatures in the spawning reaches are about 40 degrees currently. Yellow perch can be expected to spawn at water temperatures ranging from 48 degrees to 54 degrees. At cooler water temperatures the perch tend to sit in the deeper pools waiting for a flood tide to move farther up the rivers and creeks.
The yellow perch spawn looks to be on schedule if normal weather patterns persist. Look for peak spawning to occur around March 10. Yellow perch population levels should be slightly down from the past couple years, but good news for anglers is that the strong 2011 year class is still in the population and should produce jumbo perch, 12 inches and bigger. The 2014 and 2015 year classes were also strong, so those fish would be in the 10-inch size range. Some anglers will find an overabundance of 8-inch yellow perch, from a decent and quick-growing 2018 year class. The 2016 and 2017 year classes were abysmal, and fish of that age should be supplementing the mid-range size classes. Among white perch, populations have held up well but may be down slightly from very high levels. The same strong year classes seen with yellow perch are evident in the white perch population — those from 2011, 2014 and 2015 — but the weaker year classes were just around average, not complete busts. The only particularly weak year class for white perch was 2012.
Minnows are one of the most popular yellow perch baits and for a good reason. They can be fished on a simple bottom rig with a dropper loop. They can also be fished lip-hooked with a small split shot placed about two feet above and worked slowly along the bottom. Lip-hooked minnows can also be fished on small shad darts with good success. Small lures such as jigs, beetle spins, and spinners also work well.
The upper Choptank River at Martinak State Park, Denton, Greensboro, and Red Bridges are traditional locations for yellow perch. The Hillsboro area on the Tuckahoe is also an excellent place to find yellow perch, the Severn also has some action. Fishing out of a small boat or kayak has many advantages but all of these locations can be effectively fished from shore.
Fishing for a mix of channel, white, and blue catfish can be a fun option in the middle bay’s tidal rivers. Channel and white catfish can be found in every tidal river, and blue catfish can be found in the Choptank River. Fresh cut bait often makes the best bait to use and white perch are becoming increasingly available in the tidal rivers.
Water temperatures in the middle bay are holding around 39 degrees and the weather has not exactly been inviting. Perhaps the only show in town for the middle bay would be the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant warm water discharge. Catch-and-release season is open for striped bass, and pre-spawn striped bass or any fish swimming past that discharge can’t help but bathe in the warm water. Drifting and jigging close to the bottom with soft plastic or butterfly jigs are the most popular way to fish. Crowds can be an issue, especially on the weekends.
Fishing for yellow perch and blue catfish will be the main focus of anglers in the region for the next couple of weeks. Yellow perch are staging in the deeper sections of the region’s tidal rivers and creeks. Photoperiod and water temperatures will determine when they move into the spawning reaches. A few of the traditional locations on the western shore include Allens Fresh at the headwaters of the Wicomico, Mattawoman Creek, and Nanjemoy Creek, all tributaries of the Potomac River. The headwaters of the Patuxent at the Route 4 Bridge, which is called Wayson’s Corner, is another traditional yellow perch location. On the eastern side of the lower bay, the Marshyhope branch of the Nanticoke and the headwaters of the Wicomico and Pocomoke rivers are good places to find yellow perch.
Fishing for blue catfish offers plenty of action and a chance to fill an ice chest full of these good eating catfish. The tidal Potomac, Patuxent, and Nanticoke rivers all offer excellent fishing for blue catfish. Fresh cut baits of gizzard shad or white perch are baits that are hard to beat. Anglers fishing in the Patuxent River should be aware the Department of Natural Resources is running an ongoing tagging study of blue catfish. If you catch one of these fish, please do not remove the tag — note the tag number, call the phone number on the tag, and release the fish back into the water.
There will be a charity catfish tournament on the Patuxent River March 13, with registration and weigh in of fish at the Benedict Firehouse. All information regarding registration and prizes can be found posted on the department’s Angler’s Log.
Anglers across the state are enjoying the generous rewards of the trout program’s pre-season stockings in put-and-take areas. There is great weather in the forecast so a wonderful opportunity to enjoy some time in the outdoors close to home is for the taking. Many of the areas being stocked are community ponds which make for easy fishing for our younger anglers, and some areas are set aside just for kids under the age of 16. Be sure to check out the trout stocking website and see what waters near you have been stocked.
There has been good ice fishing, or “hard water” fishing as it is often called, for the past month. Impoundments such as Deep Creek Lake, Piney Reservoir, Cunningham Reservoir, and Lake Habeeb are a few of the most popular locations. Anglers jigging through the ice with small panfish jigs have been catching a mix of bluegills, crappie, rainbow trout, and yellow perch. Largemouth bass, walleye, chain pickerel, northern pike, and yellow perch are being caught on minnows. The warm weather in next week’s forecast will most likely make it unsafe for ice fishing.
The upper Potomac River is running high due to recent rain and snow melt, so it is unfishable for the most part. Next week’s warming trend will most likely add to the volume of water so anyone wishing to fish the river for walleye may have to put that on the back burner.
Chain pickerel are the target of many freshwater anglers in both tidal and nontidal waters. Chain pickerel seem to enjoy cold water temperatures and are very active this time of the year. They are ambush predators and can often be found holding near sunken structure. Most any kind of lure will attract their attention. They tend to crash lures with total abandon so care should be exercised when using treble hooks.
There are plenty of largemouth bass to be caught this week by those fishing deep in the tidal rivers with soft plastic craws and similar jig type baits close to the bottom. Channel drop-offs and sunken structure are good places to try. Slow retrieves and subtle pickups will be best for bass anglers. Fishing with crankbaits can also be productive, especially in smaller ponds and lakes where the waters are not so deep and bass often move to sunnier shorelines seeking daylight warmth.
Fishing for crappie can be a fun and fruitful endeavor as the fish are holding to deep structure such as bridge piers, marina docks, and brush piles. Minnows and small marabou jigs under a slip bobber are a great way to target them.
Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays
There is not much going on in regard to fishing near Ocean City. A few charter boats are only occasionally going out to the offshore reef sites and catching tautog. Most boats are up on blocks this time of the year and captains and crews are performing touch-ups and maintenance. This is a good time to think ahead and apply for NOAA permits to recreationally fish for tuna, swordfish, sharks and marlin.
The reef program continues to gain momentum as they acquire more concrete to place on reef sites. This volunteer program has made a big difference over the years in regards to reef structure and improving fishing for sea bass and tautog.
“I never go to rivers to kill hecatombs of trout or actually any trout; I go to unkill parts of myself that otherwise might die.” — Nick Lyons
Click Before You Cast is written by Tidewater Ecosystem Assessment Director Tom Parham.
Yellow perch population dynamics were written by Fisheries Biologist Paul Piavis.
This report is now available on your Amazon Echo device — just ask Alexa to “open Maryland Fishing Report.”