Maryland Weekly Fishing Report Overview | April 13, 2016



This Saturday "the games begin" at marinas, boat ramps and private docks up and down Maryland's portion of the Chesapeake Bay as the opening day of the spring trophy striped bass begins. Feverish activity at boat yards and tackle shops have been a harbinger of what is coming and the low growling rumble of idling diesel engines and higher pitched gasoline engines will provide background music in the pre-dawn darkness this coming Saturday morning. All of the traditional opening day acts will be played from the sound of an alarm clock to the roar and whine of engines heading out into the bay. The weatherman says the wind may give anglers a break out on the open bay and also mild temperatures. It will be crazy out there and the best spots will be crowded as boats perform the slow dance of trolling the steepest shipping channel edges with planer boards and long trailing lines.

The coming months are a wonderful time for families to introduce their children to the outdoors and one of the most fun things to share with young children is fishing. If fishing might be on your mind for some young child, think about letting them pick out their own themed fishing rod such as Spiderman or Barbie, it definitely will get their enthusiasm up. The Fisheries Service has ponds spread out throughout the state that are stocked with trout and set aside for our young anglers. The Fisheries Service also has a robust program of stocking bluegill and bluegill hybrid sunfish in community ponds for fishing derbies or rodeos. These are fun events with easy access to plentiful fish and of course there is an air of competition which kids seem to thrive on. The youth fishing rodeo website has all the information you'll need, in the text of the first page is a blue lettered link which will show all of the fishing rodeos that are being held around the state by service organizations. Gather up your own kids, and encourage your family, friends, and neighbors to bring their kids to one of these fun events soon. The fun, laughs and memories will be priceless.

Sunfish photo at Kid's Derby, Courtesy of Terri Belasco
Sunfish photo at Kid's Derby, Courtesy of Terri Belasco

The water flows are still running below normal at the Conowingo Dam and the lower Susquehanna River is running a cold 48° today. Water temperatures at the Susquehanna Flats area are slightly warmer, and are currently running at 50°. The hickory shad spawning run in the Deer Creek area has retreated to a hold back type of position until water temperatures reach the mid 50° mark. The promise of warmer weather may kick this much anticipated fishery into gear. At present the best show in town is the catch and release fishery for pre-spawning striped bass in the Susquehanna Flats area. The water is still a bit chilly but the large female striped bass are there and casting soft plastic jigs and spoons is a good way to fish for them. If at all possible try to stay away from treble hooks when using crankbaits or jerkbaits; replace those treble hooks with single hooks, preferably with the barbs mashed down.

This coming Saturday (April 16) is the opening day of the trophy striped bass season and it is a much anticipated event. There will be no holding back thousands of anglers on every imaginable type of boat from charter boats to private small boats. Due to lingering cold weather last week the prospects of catching a large post-spawn striped bass may be sparse. Most of the striped bass in the Choptank, Nanticoke, Patuxent and Potomac are still in the spawning reaches or staging areas, waiting for temperatures to rise back up to acceptable spawning temperatures. There was a spawn in the rivers during the 1st weekend of April, and if you are lucky you might encounter one of these large females leaving the rivers and heading south. However, at this time of year, fishermen are more likely to see pre-spawn striped bass heading towards the Susquehanna Flats area, and to a lesser extent, the four spawning rivers previously mentioned.

Water temperatures in the bay are about 50° on the surface this week and colder on the bottom. Migrating striped bass will be following the steep channel edges of the shipping channel and will tend to be close to the surface until engine noise drives them deeper. Planer boards will come into their own to get lures away from the boat and allow boats to spread out lures. The steep edges on the western side of the shipping channel from Cedar Point to the Chesapeake Beach area will be a very popular place to troll, and for good reason. On the eastern side of the bay the steep channel edges from the HS Buoy up to Bloody Point and the Brick House Bar will be good places to troll as will the False Channel. Above the Bay Bridge the steep edges at Sandy Point and the east side of the channel just above the bridge is worth covering.

Shore bound anglers will be trying their luck at the rip at Sandy Point State Park and the Matapeake Fishing Pier in the middle bay area often using surf fishing gear and bottom rigs baited with bloodworms or cut bait. The fishing pier at Point Lookout State Park and the causeway just north of the pier will also have surf casters trying their luck.

Striped Bass Biologist, Photo by Karin Dodge
Striped Bass Biologist, Photo by Karin Dodge

The Fisheries Service striped bass program is currently out in the field sampling the 2016 striped bass spawning population and gathering valuable data that helps biologists understand the structure and abundance of the striped bass spawning stock. This information is a very important part of the puzzle when it comes to understanding the striped bass populations in the Chesapeake.

There is plenty of white perch action to be found in most of the tidal rivers and creeks and fishing with small jigs or bottom rigs tipped with pieces of bloodworm tend to be to the liking of the white perch. Fishing from shore or in a boat in the middle regions of the tidal rivers can pay off with some fun and good eating. Channel catfish are in the same general areas of many of the bay's tidal rivers and blue catfish tend to dominate the tidal Potomac. Chicken livers, cut bait, worms work well for channel catfish and fresh cut bait reigns supreme when fishing for blue catfish.

Hickory shad fishing has been very good in the tidal Potomac near the Chain Bridge in D.C. and there has also been good action on some of the Eastern Shore Rivers. Hickory shad are being caught and released in the upper Choptank River above Greensboro and in the Tuckahoe near Hillsboro. Bob Leginus reported that late last week he caught and released approximately 25 to 30 hickory shad at Hillsboro.

Blue crabs may not be on most people's minds this time of the year but the results came out yesterday from the blue crab winter dredge survey and the news is too good not to share. The survey indicates a bay-wide crab population of 553 million, a 35-percent increase over last year. This is the fourth highest level in two decades, and builds on last year's 38-percent boost in abundance.

Blue Crab Photo, Courtesy of John McMullen
Blue Crab Photo, Courtesy of John McMullen

Most types of freshwater fishing took a hit recently due to the cold front that drove water temperatures down at a steep rate. The trout did not seem to care though since they do not mind cold water at all. Many of the trout management waters are receiving generous stockings of trout by the stocking crews and volunteers who work hard to spread the trout out over wide areas by float stocking and carrying buckets of trout down stream banks.

At Deep Creek Lake walleye and yellow perch are being found along deep grass edges this week. Working inline spinners, grubs, small crankbaits and good old minnows have been good choices. Smallmouth bass can be found on rocky points, largemouth bass along slightly deeper edges leading to coves around sunken wood and chain pickerel and northern pike are in the coves.

The upper Potomac River experienced a dramatic drop in water temperature last week and that change really put the skids to the smallmouth bass fishery. Predicted warmer weather will do much to improve this fishery. Tubes will be the most popular lure to use once things get in gear again.

The tidal Potomac largemouth bass fishery also took a step backwards as did most lakes, reservoirs and ponds around the state. The female largemouth bass tend to be holding slightly deeper near the mouths of tidal creeks or sunken wood near river channels. In lakes, reservoirs and ponds they are also holding in slightly deeper water near structure such as fallen tree tops, emerging grass or sunken wood. The male largemouth bass have been staking our territory in the shallower areas for nest sites. Soft plastics, grubs, spinnerbaits and small crankbaits are all good choices for working the bass holding in deeper water. Spinnerbaits, soft plastics and jerkbaits are good choices when fishing shallower waters. Northern snakeheads will be part of the mix when fishing the shallows and they will hit most anything if they see it, and noisy lures will catch their attention from afar. Peter Congedo and Kenny Ridings got to go fishing with their fathers at a central Maryland reservoir and caught these beautiful largemouth bass while casting crankbaits.

Largemouth Bass Photo, Courtesy of Peter Congedo
Largemouth Bass Photo, Courtesy of Peter Congedo

Crappie are always a popular spring fish to catch due to their nature of schooling up near deep structure. A slip bobber with a small jig or minnow under it is a favorite way to fish for them around fallen tree tops, sunken brush or around marina or bridge piers. The recent lingering cold front slowed down their activity but warmer weather has them active once more.

Water temperatures in the Ocean City area are rising slowly , ever so slowly, and are just below the 50° mark this week. In the surf spiny dogfish and skates abound and are enjoying the menhaden cut baits that are being used in the hopes of catching a striped bass or bluefish. Yes, bluefish, the vanguard of the spring migration of large bluefish, are making their first appearance in the Maryland area. These are what many call "racers" due to the fact that they are so skinny from their travels without running into hapless food sources such as squid and any type of fish that looks good to eat. These big blues will soon come upon schools of menhaden along the middle Atlantic and New England coasts and quickly put on weight. The bluefish will be showing up on inshore shoals area and places such as the Jackspot for the next couple of weeks.

The boats that have been going out to the wreck and reef sites in search of tautog are finding fish and catches range from limits to a fish or two. The tautog are also in residence at the inlet and inside along bulkheads, bridge piers and jetties. The bottom of the ebb tide tends to be the best time to fish for them when slightly warmer bay water spurs them into feeding. Pieces of crab or sand fleas have been the baits of choice.

"Catch and Release fishing is a lot like golf. You don't have to eat the golf ball to have a good time." - Author unknown

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.