Put-and-take trout anglers had a wonderful opening day, the weather cooperated, and there was plenty of room for anglers to spread out and enjoy a day of fishing with family and friends.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has issued the 2021 regulations for recreational striped bass fishing in the Chesapeake Bay, available on the DNR website. Striped bass regulation maps — showing the bay’s regions and their open and close dates — can also be found on the department website.
Forecast Summary: March 31 – April 6:
April arrives with more sunny days warming bay waters for gamefish such as yellow perch spawning or the shad run in Maryland’s lower salinity waters. Bay surface water temperatures have risen to the lower 50s, although smaller streams and downwind areas will warm faster on a sunny day and can hold temperatures in the mid to upper 50s. Little Falls on the Potomac River has water temperatures that have already reached 58 degrees, so hickory and American shad are there now.
Expect average flows for most Maryland rivers and streams. There will be above average tidal currents all week as a result of the recent full moon March 28-29.
Expect average clarity for Maryland portions of the bay and rivers. To see the latest water clarity conditions, check Eyes on the Bay Satellite Maps.
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.
Upper Chesapeake Bay
Fishing for blue catfish continues to be fun and productive in the lower Susquehanna River and around the mouth of the Elk River. The Chester River also has a large population of blue catfish above Chestertown to the Crumpton area. Fresh cut bait of white perch or gizzard shad on a bottom rig is the best way to catch them. Channel catfish can be found in every tidal river and will also provide plenty of action.
Perch fishing in the upper bay tributaries has switched from yellow perch to white perch. Casting shad darts tipped with grass shrimp, bloodworms, or a piece of minnow is the most popular way to fish for them. The Bush, Magothy, Chester, Sassafras, Bohemia, and North East rivers are all experiencing good fishing in their upper reaches. The Susquehanna River is a bit behind because of cooler water temperatures, which are about 46 degrees this week.
Anglers have been probing the waters of the lower Susquehanna River and Flats this week looking for some catch-and-release action with pre-spawn striped bass. The fishing has been slow; the best options have been casting topwater in the early morning and late evening hours along the edges of the Flats. Casting paddle tails along the same edges is also another good option. Others are jigging with soft plastics or slow trolling with diving crankbaits. Anglers are reminded that the catch and release fishery closes on April 1.
Anyone fishing in this area must be well aware of the boundary lines for closed striped bass spawning areas, particularly the northern boundary. The precise definition of the boundary lines is as follows. 76°07.67? W; then running in a northeasterly direction to a point at or near Twin Rocks, defined by Lat. 39°36.17? N and Long. 76°07.56? W; then running in a northeasterly direction to a point at or near Tomes Wharf in Port Deposit, a point at or near the Susquehanna State Park boat ramp in Lapidum, defined by Lat. 39°35.86? N and Long. defined by Lat. 39°36.23? N and Long. 76°06.99? W on the Lapidum side, the line starts essentially at the middle of the three lights in the parking lot.
Most of the fishing action in the middle bay is focused on white perch in the upper reaches of the region’s tidal rivers. Generally, fishing has been good — there have been a few setbacks due to last week’s rain causing the upper sections of the rivers to run over their banks with cloudy water. Most areas have calmed down now.
The upper Choptank River near Red Bridges down to Greensboro has been good, with occasional waves of extra-large white perch moving through. Further downriver most anglers report much smaller white perch. Casting shad darts tipped with grass shrimp or pieces of bloodworm and minnow are the most popular way to fish them. The upper Tuckahoe River from Hillsboro to the dam at Tuckahoe Lake is also a good area to fish.
Spawning striped bass have reached the upper Choptank River and anglers are reminded that catch-and-release fishing for striped bass in the Choptank River is not allowed. The striped bass will be actively spawning in the next couple of weeks.
Anyone fishing for catfish in the Choptank River must use non-offset circle hooks until May 1, unless they are using J-style hooks with a gap of less than ½ inch. When using circle hooks for catfish, it is best to use a fish finder rig or egg sinkers so the catfish can swim away with a picked-up bait. Anglers should bow to the catfish and feed line as the catfish swims away before tightening the line to engage the circle hook. Tips on circle hook use can be found on the department’s website.
Large female striped bass are moving through the region on their way to the upper bay spawning sites. A few boats with anglers aboard are trolling along the channel edges with large parachutes and bucktails trying to experience some catch-and-release action. Anglers are reminded that there is no catch-and-release fishing allowed from April 1 until May 1. Boats are limited to six lines or less when trolling and fish should be released in the water. If a picture is going to be taken, a rubber net should be used and the crew needs to be prepared before the fish is brought into the boat. Fish need to be held horizontally and supported. Catch-and-release tips for all fish can be found on the website.
Boats can be seen trolling along the channel edges as anglers hope to intercept pre-spawn striped bass headed for the Potomac, Patuxent, Nanticoke, Choptank, and the Susquehanna Flats. The main stem of the lower bay is open to catch-and-release fishing through March 31, and closes on April 1. All striped bass fishing and targeting will then remain closed until May 1. In many cases, most of the striped bass have already entered the spawning rivers. Most of the tidal rivers in the lower bay are closed to catch-and-release fishing until May 16, with spawning reaches closed to all targeting through May 31. All areas open to striped bass fishing on June 1. The main stem of the Potomac River is open to catch-and-release during April, but anglers need to take note that the Maryland tributaries to the Potomac are closed during that time.
Perhaps some of the most exciting news is the arrival of American and hickory shad in the upper section of the tidal Potomac within the boundaries of Washington D.C. A few were caught last week and recent warmer weather has encouraged more shad to move into the area. The area near Fletcher’s Boat House tends to be ground zero for this fishery and there is good parking and row boat rentals available there. Casting shad darts heavy enough to get down close to the bottom are in order, either from small boats and kayaks or from shore. Small flashy spoons and flies are also a good option. This is strictly a catch-and-release fishery and offers a lot of fun if done correctly.
Fishing for blue catfish is on the top of the list for many anglers on the tidal Potomac, Patuxent, and Nanticoke rivers this week. They offer plenty of action and make great table fare. Channel catfish are holding in all of the region’s tidal rivers and creeks and also offer fun fishing. Fresh cut bait of white perch or gizzard shad make excellent baits and nightcrawlers; clam snouts and chicken liver can work well for channel catfish.
Fishing for white perch remains good in the upper reaches of all of the tidal rivers and creeks within the lower bay region. Casting small shad darts tipped with grass shrimp or pieces of bloodworm or minnow work well. The traditional locations can be very popular on weekends, but often the white perch locations on the eastern side of the bay are less so.
Northern snakeheads are beginning to move about and feed, especially on those warm sunny afternoons. The creeks that flow into the tidal Potomac, as well as the Patuxent and Eastern Shore rivers, are all places to fish for snakeheads. Many are fishing large minnows under a bobber while also casting white paddle trails near shoreline structure.
Put-and-take trout anglers had their day last Saturday — no matter what your pursuits are, there is nothing like opening day. The stocking crews worked hard to get the trout out despite COVID-19 protocols restricting crew size and prohibiting use of volunteers. As a result of these restrictions, some of the smaller traditional areas could not be stocked — please be sure to check the trout stocking website to confirm your specific location. A number of relatively small waters in the central region could not be stocked before March 27, including Beaver Run, Piney Run, Gwynn Falls, Jones Falls, Gwynn Oak Pond, and Pine Lake.
The upper Potomac is expected to bump up this week due to rain runoff, but should settle down by the weekend. Anglers have been experiencing good fishing for smallmouth bass and walleye, and that success should continue. Soft plastic jigs, small crankbaits, and live minnows have been popular baits.
Largemouth bass are showing aggressive pre-spawn feeding behavior in areas between the shallows and deeper waters. Grass beds are beginning to show some growth but are still sparse, so any kind of cover is sure to hold fish. Fallen treetops and any kind of submerged wood is a good bet, as are creek mouths. Small crankbaits, soft plastics, grubs, jerkbaits, and spinnerbaits are all excellent choices. In many areas, northern snakeheads will pursue these same lures meant for largemouth bass.
Crappie are becoming more active and have moved into shallower areas, out of the deeper waters where they spent the winter. They can be found near fallen treetops, sunken brush, marina docks, and bridge piers. Small minnows or marabou jigs under a bobber is a good way to target them. Bluegill sunfish are also active and moving into shallow areas where they will be spawning soon.
Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays
There are reports of flounder catches south of Ocean City at the Wachapreague Inlet, so it might not be much longer before the first flounder arrive in the Ocean City area. Boatyard parking lots are busy as owners and crew work to paint bottoms and touch up topsides in preparation of the 2021 fishing season.
The boats that are in the water are heading out to the wreck and reef sites and the anglers aboard are enjoying good fishing for tautog. Limit catches are not uncommon and some large tautog are being caught.
New for 2021, anglers targeting striped bass and fishing with live bait, cut bait, or items such as soft crab or bloodworms must use circle hooks in the ocean and coastal Bays of Maryland. This regulation does not affect anglers fishing for flounder or any other fish, they will still be able to use J-style hooks. As a reminder, anglers may keep one striped bass per person per day from the Atlantic Ocean, its coastal bays, and their tributaries, year-round, with a slot limit of 28 inches to 35 inches. Coastal striped bass size and bag limits can be found on the department’s website.
“The line between catching fish and not catching them is often very thin.” — Ted Trueblood
Click Before You Cast is written by Tidewater Ecosystem Assessment Director Tom Parham.
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