Maryland Weekly Fishing Report Overview | March 23, 2016



This coming Saturday, March 26th marks the traditional opening of Maryland’s trout season. Young and old will be out in force this Saturday morning; the young will be making memories that may last a lifetime and older fishermen will be reviving old ones. Every fisherman holds onto memories of fishing in their youth and their favorite “hot spots”. I could take you to the very spot that I caught my first trout, a stocked brook trout over 55 years ago; it was that big of a deal for me. I grew up in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, which is an area not noted for trout due to the low pH waters there. A friend’s dad offered to take his son and me trout fishing a little farther north on opening day, and although the river was at the top of the Pine Barrens and called the Metedeconk River; I could have been fishing on the fabled Battenkill or Ausable as far as I was concerned. In subsequent years my friends and I would bargain for someone’s mom to drive us to a put and take trout river called the Manasquan that was even farther north which was stocked with brown and rainbow trout. Wet sneakers, muddy blue jeans, squashed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were all part of it.

I’m sure there will be more than a few young fishermen begging for a ride to the nearest trout waters and hopefully they will have an adult mentor to accompany them and show them the ropes. Mom’s flower beds fare better these days from being dug up now that Powerbait has replaced garden worms. (There might be less motivation for trying to dig up worms in the flower bed and garden, as more folks use synthetic dough or paste baits). Many things do continue to stay the same though; the excitement of young anglers, muddy sneakers and hopefully the helping hand of an adult to help show them the way to a lifetime of fishing adventure and excitement. The Fisheries Service stocking crews have been working overtime this week stocking generous amounts of trout into the closure areas that will open on Saturday. May your Friday night dreams of trout swimming in your favorite trout pool become a reality Saturday morning.

Trout pool
Photo courtesy of Joe Evans

Although water temperatures are just touching the 50° mark this week there are a few striped bass being caught and released in the Susquehanna Flats Catch and Release area. Most of the striped bass are males but some can reach impressive sizes and make for good fun. At present there is not much water coming through the Conowingo Dam so it is hoped that water clarity will improve soon. Crankbaits and soft plastic jigs tend to be the favorite lures of choice lately and don’t be surprised if a largemouth bass or a big smallmouth bass happen to hit those baits.

The yellow perch are still milling around in the lower parts of the Northeast River and white perch are moving into the lower Susquehanna River. If river water temperatures come up this week with the warmer weather, fishermen could see some good white perch action this weekend.

Most of the tributary rivers draining into the Chesapeake have good spawning runs of white perch, and for the most part the spawning in the upper reaches of those rivers and creeks is about over as water temperatures reach the low 50’s. The post-spawn white perch are moving back down the rivers and can easily be intercepted in areas below the spawning reaches. Look for some of the deeper holes at low tide and work your favorite baits in those areas. It is pretty hard to beat a small shad dart or jig tipped with grass shrimp a small minnow or a slice of minnow under a bobber or worked slowly on the bottom. Jim Thompson and Harold Harbold were fishing on the upper Nanticoke River recently for white perch and got into some nice size ones.


Jim Thompson and Harold Harbold were fishing on the upper Nanticoke River recently for white perch and got into some nice size ones.
Photo courtesy of Jim Thompson

Alewife herring are presently spawning in the upper reaches of many of the bay’s tidal rivers and creeks and they will be seen splashing and milling around shorelines and shallows. In a few weeks the blueback herring and hickory shad will also be spawning when water temperatures become warmer. All of these species are strictly catch and release. The alewife herring can provide some fun light tackle catch and release action on very small shall darts, bluebacks on small gold hooks and hickory shad will strike small flashy spoons, shad darts and brightly colored wet flies.

The spawning adult striped bass are moving into the major spawning rivers this week. The Potomac, Patuxent, Nanticoke and Choptank tend to receive the first contingent of spawning fish. Water temperatures are still in the low 50’s in most rivers and it will be a while before the spawning actually begins to occur. The action will start to happen when water temperatures hit around the high 50’s with 64° being optimum. Male striped bass are already in the spawning reaches and the larger females are usually the first to arrive since they’ve done this before. If we get a string of really warm days in the next 1-2 weeks, and water temperatures shoot up, we could see spawning begin as early as next week or the first week of April. We all hope that water temperatures will moderate slowly like they did last year and not rise rapidly. A spawn that is gradual and occurs over a month’s time is best. If there is a massive spawn it is often difficult for there to be enough zooplankton in the water to feed all of the striped bass larvae. In 2015 and 2011, we had a gradual spawn and plenty of food in the water for the baby striped bass and many survived giving us very strong year classes. Fishermen are reminded that catch and release fishing is illegal in the designated spawning reaches and violators face license suspensions and very stiff fines. All responsible fishermen should be familiar with the striped bass regulations on pages 38 and 39 of the Maryland Fishing Guide. Also see the striped bass map site, which helps in understanding boundaries.

Catch and release fishing for striped bass is allowed in the main stem of the Chesapeake and more than a few fishermen have been light tackle jigging at the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant warm water discharge recently. Some are also shaking the cobwebs out of fishing tackle and giving boats a test run by trolling along the shipping channel edges in the middle and lower bay areas. Due to chilly water temperatures (46°) most fish will be found in the upper part of the water column, so planer boards or far distant flat lines tend to offer the best success. Remember barbless hooks are required when trolling, no stinger hooks and boats are limited to 6 rods per boat. The best release is at the water’s edge and if you have to take a picture, be prepared to be speedy, have everything ready beforehand; use a rubber landing net and be sure to hold the fish horizontal to avoid internal injury to the fish.

This coming weekend is a big one for many freshwater fishermen as the traditional opening day of trout season happens this Saturday March 26th. All of the 1 and 2 closure areas which open Saturday are being stocked this week with large numbers of trout. At every stocking there will also be trophy sized trout released which will make the catch of a lifetime for some lucky fishermen. Stocking dates, locations, numbers, maps of stocking locations and notifications can all be found at the trout stocking website.

There are certainly a lot of other freshwater fishing opportunities this coming weekend besides trout and the upper Potomac River is a very exciting one.

Fisheries biologist John Mullican managed to get out on the river this past weekend and sent us this short report and a picture of a beautiful smallmouth bass. In spite of the recent cold front and reduced water temperatures, I found good smallmouth action on the upper Potomac. The wind finally relented enough to present lightweight jigs slowly on the bottom, which seemed to work best under the post frontal conditions. Now is a great time to catch and release large smallmouth.


Smallmouth bass, photo by John Mullican
Photo by John Mullican

The ice is now entirely gone at Deep Creek Lake and the open water is inviting small boat fishing for a wide variety of fish. Northern pike are perhaps one of the more exciting trophy fish to catch and this time of the year is one of the most productive times to fish for them. They are often found shallow this time of the year at the mouths of coves and along shorelines. They are a great fish to catch and release and some of them exceed 40” in length now within the lake. Yellow perch are another favorite target and can be caught with minnows under a slip bobber. Smallmouth bass can be found on some of the rocky points and walleye may also be encountered there or along deep grass lines.

Largemouth bass are moving into shallow regions of tidal rivers, lakes and ponds and often the late afternoon is a great time to find them in sunny shallows. Transition zones along channels, sunken wood and fallen tree tops are also good place to look for them. A variety of soft plastics, small crankbaits, spinnerbaits and jerkbaits are all good choices to use.

Crappie are active and tend to be holding near structure in slightly deep water. Fallen tree tops, rocks, marina piers and docks, bridge piers and sunken wood all provide the cover they seek this time of the year. A minnow or small plastic tube or grub under a bobber and slowly retrieved is a great way to catch them. Angelina Watts took advantage of some time off from classes to fish with her dad at Wye Mills on the Eastern Shore and holds up a fine catch of spring crappie destined for a fish fry.


Angelina Watts and her catch of spring crappie.
Photo courtesy of Angelina Watts

Channel catfish and blue catfish fishing opportunities should not be over looked this time of the year. There are lots of channel catfish in most of the bay’s tidal rivers and the tidal Potomac River is loaded with blue catfish. This is perhaps one of the simplest and most relaxing kinds of fishing, especially when fishing from a river bank. Some fresh cut bait such as white perch, nightcrawlers or chicken liver makes good baits and a simple bottom rig completes the package. A sunny spot, lawn chair, snacks, a forked stick and good company help round out a pleasant fishing opportunity whether you decide to keep the catfish or release them. Blue catfish are thick as fleas on an old mutt in the tidal Potomac and fishing from a small boat is one of the better ways to fill up an ice chest with these mild tasting catfish. They freeze well and are excellent table fare.

Ocean City area fishing is still in the grips of old man winter despite the fact that air temperatures represent spring. Water temperatures are about 40° in the ocean and 45° at best in the back bay areas. There are a few striped bass being caught at the inlet at night but most are falling a little short of the 28” minimum. There have been a few local rumors of a flounder or two being caught at the inlet recently. Spiny dogfish are being caught in the surf on cut bait. Outside of the inlet, the boats heading out to the wreck and reef sites are finding spotty success on tautog due to cold water temperatures.

"Perhaps the greatest satisfaction on the first day of the season is the knowledge in the evening that the whole of the rest of the season is to come.." - Arthur Ransome

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Keith Lockwood has been writing the Fishing Report since 2003 and has had a long career as a fisheries research biologist since 1973. Over the course of his career he has studied estuarine fishery populations, ocean species, and over a decade long study of bioaccumulation of chemicals in aquatic species in New Jersey. Upon moving to Oxford on the eastern shore of Maryland; research endeavors focused on a variety of catch and release studies as well as other fisheries related research at the Cooperative Oxford Laboratory. Education and outreach to the fishing public has always been an important component to the mission of these studies. Keith is an avid outdoorsman enjoying hunting, fishing, bird dogs, family and life on the eastern shore of Maryland.