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Maryland Fishing Report: Chesapeake Bay, Providing Healthy, Heavy Crabs for Crab Picking

Photo of people with bushels of crabs

The recent cooler weather has been a welcomed relief for all, and the hot summer months are beginning to fade into memory. Fishing has been good and recreational crabbers, in particular, are enjoying the bounty of the Chesapeake Bay, providing healthy and heavy crabs for crab picking with family and friends.

 

If you’re going to the Maryland State Fair, check out the Maryland Department of Natural Resources area in the Miller-Mosner Building. We’re also running a scavenger hunt event. Department staff will be there 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. every day until the last day of the fair, Sept. 2.

On Sept. 5, there will be an Eastern Shore Fall Anglers’ Preview night from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Jimmy and Sook’s restaurant in Cambridge. The event is sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and will feature speakers from the Coastal Conservation Association and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Topics covered will include bay dead zones, recent high water temperatures, the status of the striped bass stocks, catch-and-release tips, and how to use water data to your fishing advantage. If you have any questions, contact Erik.Zlokovitz@maryland.gov. Please register on the Chesapeake Bay Foundation website

Forecast Summary: Aug. 28- Sept. 3

Last weekend’s breezy, cool temperatures gave bay anglers and fish an early gift by cooling surface waters and mixing oxygen down deeper in the water. This will provide a slightly wider range of depths for gamefish to hunt for food and increase the likelihood of a shallow-water bite.

This week we will move into a more stable weather pattern with sunny, low winds and daily air temperatures in the mid 80s, which unfortunately mean conditions for algal blooms to persist and reduce water clarity in several areas.

Bay surface salinities are still below normal for this time of year but improving slightly. South of Bloody Point, and including the Potomac River, anglers will find adequate oxygen for gamefish from the surface to the bottom, or deeper than 30 feet. North of Bloody Point, in the deep channel waters up to Swan Point, anglers should avoid fishing deeper than 20 feet. To see oxygen levels by depth, check from recent monitoring in our “Don’t fish below this depth” map. Expect decreasing water clarity from algal blooms from the Patapsco River down to Bloody Point and then hugging the western shore down to the mouth of the Potomac River. Blooms are also present at Colonial Beach as well as on the Choptank, Miles, Sassafras, and Northeast rivers.

Bay water temperatures have dropped about 7 degrees. For the mid, upper, and lower bay, Choptank River, and lower Potomac River, water temperatures are in the upper 70s. Water temperatures at Little Falls have dropped to the low 80s. Check online for our “Water temperature by depth” map. There will be above average tidal currents all week as a result of the upcoming new moon Aug. 30.

For the full weekly fishing conditions summary and more detailed and up-to-date fishing conditions in your area of the bay, be sure to check out Click Before You Cast. You can now get regular updates on Maryland’s waters and the creatures that call them home sent to your inbox with our new Eyes on the Bay newsletter. Sign up online.


Striped Bass Summer Fishing Advisory Forecast:

Red: Air temperatures are forecast at 95 degrees or higher. Anglers are encouraged not to fish for striped bass after 10 a.m. and should target other species of fish.

Yellow: Air temperatures are forecast at 90-94 degrees. Anglers should use extreme care when fishing for striped bass; fish should be kept in the water when caught and released on these days.

Green: Fishing conditions are normal. Proper catch-and-release practices are encouraged.

More information about this awareness campaign can be found on the Striped Bass Fishing Advisory Forecast webpage.


Upper Chesapeake Bay

Anglers fishing topwater lures at dawn are reporting a bit of an uptick in the striped bass action along the edges of the Susquehanna Flats and the lower Susquehanna River up to the Conowingo Dam pool. There is a high percentage of sub-legal fish, and the action often shuts down when the sun gets above the horizon. Casting 6-inch soft plastic jigs in half ounce can extend the action a bit longer.

Anglers are reminded that they must use circle hooks when live-lining. Check our website and video for more information on circle hooks and careful release. Also remember that water temperatures are still above 75 degrees, so sub-legal fish need to be released as quickly as possible with minimal handling stress to the fish. Do not hold the fish with a rag or towel, as this will rub off the protective slime layer of the striped bass.

There are plenty of catfish in the upper parts of the bay, and they offer a great way to extend your fishing time. There are lots of channel catfish, and more and more blue catfish are being caught. Fresh cut bait, clam snouts, and chicken liver or breast do well on a bottom rig.

Live lining spot and small white perch is still taking center stage. The method stays the same but recently the striped bass seem to be moving about. The Love Point rocks, the Swan Point area, and the Bay Bridge piers on the east side still are drawing a lot of attention from live-liners, but striped bass have been frequenting others areas as well. Some of the knolls and shoal areas out in the bay, the Key Bridge, and up into Baltimore Harbor have been offering good fishing. The striped bass in all locations are holding in less than 20 feet of water.

Spot can be found on shallow hard bottom near the mouth of the Magothy River, northern Kent Island, and the west side of the Bay Bridge. Most often white perch can be found in the same areas and also on some of the knolls in the upper bay. Channel and blue catfish can also be found in most of the same areas.

Middle Bay
Photo of man holding striped bass

Herb Floyd holds up a nice striped bass he caught in the Choptank River. Photo by Rhonda Floyd

Spanish mackerel are perhaps the most exciting fishery right now. They can be found along main channel edges from the Bay Bridge south. Most anglers are trolling a mix of small Drone and Clark spoons behind inline weights and No. 1 planers. Long fluorocarbon, mono or wire leaders are being used. Gold spoons and silver spoons with a stripe of chartreuse on them have been popular. Most are trolling at about 8 knots to avoid the small striped bass that are frequenting the region. Casting small heavy metal lures into breaking fish, allowing it to sink to about a five count and then reeling as fast as you can seems to do the trick for Spanish mackerel and avoiding the small striped bass.

Striped bass action has been a slim affair in the middle Bay. The live-lining crowd continues to hit Thomas Point Light for all it is worth, and for the most part sub-legal striped bass is what you’re going to find. Jigging at this site will also produce a few fish, but again most are sub-legal. Cooling water temperatures will hopefully change striped bass behavior soon. 

Small spot seem to be everywhere in the shallows of the Bay and lower sections of tidal rivers, so catching up a mess of them for bait is no problem. A dozen bloodworms cut up into small pieces is usually more than enough to catch enough spot for a day of live-lining for striped bass. Salinity values are steadily rising in the region and sea nettles are moving into the region.

There are schools of 8-inch to 12-inch striped bass chasing bay anchovies from the Bay Bridge past the mouth of the Choptank River. There do not seem to be any larger fish underneath them, but Spanish mackerel will come zipping through the melee at times. There have been a few scattered reports of large red drum in area and they have been known to lurk underneath surface action.

There are plenty of white perch to entertain any angler in the tidal rivers and creeks. Casting small jigs, spinnerbaits, or beetle spins with light spinning tackle near rock jetties, fallen treetops, docks, and old piers is great fun. Using bottom rigs baited with grass shrimp or pieces of bloodworm near deeper structure is also an enjoyable way to catch them. There are plenty of channel catfish in most tidal rivers, as higher salinity values have caused them to move up river a bit. Blue catfish are becoming a more common sight in many of the region’s tidal rivers and will no doubt increase over time.

Lower Bay
Photo of Spanish mackerel

Photo by Eric Packard

There are some wonderful fishing opportunities this week for the Spanish mackerel that have spread in large numbers, and reports are that the size of the fish has improved greatly. Troll for them along the edges of the shipping channel, the Middle Grounds, Cove Point, Smith Point, and the Point Lookout area. Trolling gold and silver spoons or ones with colors has been popular behind #1 planers and inline weights with long leaders. Trolling speeds need to be brisk to avoid the small striped bass in the area.

Breaking fish are usually a mix of small striped bass, bluefish, and Spanish mackerel chasing bay anchovies. The most proven method to target the Spanish mackerel in this situation is to cast small heavy metal lures into the melee, give it about a five count to sink, and then reel in as fast as possible. If your depth finder shows large dark blips close to the bottom under breaking fish, they most likely are large red drum. Targeting them with 6-inch to 10-inch soft plastic jigs can be a good option, as is jigging with large silver spoons.

Photo of man with bushel of blue crabs

Jim Livingston shows off a nice bushel from the Rhode River. Photo by Jim Livingston

There are some cobia in the region, mostly around the Middle Grounds and Target Ship. A large portion of the cobia are sub-legal, but a few above the 40-inch minimum are being caught. Most anglers are sight fishing and casting live eels. Others are chumming, but bluefish attracted by the chum will make short work of eels. Waiting for a cobia to follow the chum slick close to the boat and then tossing an eel to them tends to be the best option.

There is an improving early morning striped bass fishery for those casting topwater lures or swimshads and crankbaits along shorelines and structure areas. Water temperatures are dropping and thus striped bass are feeling more comfortable in the shallower areas. The best live-lining area for those hoping to catch legal-sized striped bass continues to be the steep channel edge in the lower Potomac River from Piney Point and St. Georges Island.

Bottom fishing for a mix of spot and croaker is very good in areas like the lower Patuxent River, but unfortunately both species are on the small side. Some flounder are being caught in the Pocomoke and Tangier sounds along channel edges. White Gulp baits on a jig head or traditional squid strips and/or minnows have been the chosen baits. Fishing for speckled trout along the marsh edges of the lower Eastern Shore can pay some dividends for those giving it some time. Drifting soft crab baits on a falling tide in the guts and creeks or casting Gulp baits has been the best way to target them.

As water temperatures drop to more reasonable levels, recreational crabbing has kicked into high gear in many areas. The lower and middle bay regions continue to provide the best opportunity but rising salinity levels are causing crabs to move into the upper bay. The shallower areas tend to be holding a lot of small crabs and the larger and heavier crabs tend to be coming from waters 10 feet to 15 feet deep.

Freshwater Fishing

Recent rain and cooling air temperatures are having a profound effect on many of the trout management waters in the western region and a few in the central region. Water flows in the upper Gunpowder River are up due to releases from Prettyboy Reservoir, and water temperatures are in the mid-50s. Using terrestrial patterns such as beetles, ants, hoppers, and inchworms tend to be favorites. Streamers also work well on aggressive brown trout.

The upper Potomac River is in good shape with higher flows and cooler water and as a result smallmouth bass fishing has improved. There is some topwater action at daybreak along grass and flooded shoreline for those using buzzbaits and plastics. Plastic grubs, tubes, small spinnerbaits and crankbaits work well in deeper waters.

Although water temperatures have dropped a bit in most areas, largemouth bass are still holding to a typical summer pattern of behavior. They are mostly feeding at night in the shallower areas where there is grass or some kind of cover for bait fish or other prey such as crayfish. Targeting these areas is an early morning or late evening affair with topwater or shallow running lures. Buzzbaits, plastic frogs, lipless crankbaits, and soft plastics can be good choices. As the day wears on, target deeper waters with sunken wood or thick grass mats with weighted stick worms or soft plastics. Flipping soft plastics near fallen treetops and bridge piers or under docks can entice a loafing largemouth bass to strike.

Northern snakeheads will be found in the same tidal rivers in the same grassy areas as largemouth bass, often farther back in the grass. Noisy topwater lures such as buzzbaits and chatterbaits will usually attract their attention. Casting to fry balls can often result in a crashing strike from a guarding northern snakehead.

Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays
Man holding kingfish on beach

Steve MacDonald holds up a nice kingfish from the surf. Photo courtesy of Steve MacDonald

Kingfish are being caught in the surf on bottom rigs baited with pieces of bloodworm or Fishbites. Spot and small croaker can also be part of the mix when fishing with bloodworms. Using squid can attract the attention of flounder and blowfish, while sand fleas may entice a bit from a pompano or small black drum. Finger mullet or cut spot are the best baits to use when targeting bluefish in the surf.

Bluefish are moving in and out of the inlet on a daily basis. Casting bucktails, metal lures and Got-Cha type lures has been the most popular way to catch them. Others are having good luck drifting cut bait off the Route 50 Bridge. Flounder fishing tends to be a staple at the inlet area and the largest flounder are being caught on small live spot or menhaden and white Gulp baits on a jig head. A few striped bass are also being caught near the South Jetty and the Route 50 Bridge.

Flounder fishing in the back bay areas and channels is good as clear water prevails. There continues to be a high percentage of throwbacks for those using traditional baits of squid and minnows. Using larger baits such as live spot or white Gulp baits will often result in larger flounder.

Outside the inlet and relatively close to shore, there is some exciting fishing at some of the shoal areas for a mix of Spanish mackerel and king mackerel. Trolling a mix of spoons at a good clip behind inline weights and No. 1 planers has been the most popular way to target them. Slower speeds will produce bluefish. There are cobia in the same shoal areas and sight fishing with live eels has been popular. A few years ago the state record cobia was caught by trolling a rigged ballyhoo — something to consider.

The summer sea bass fishery continues to have its ups and downs at the wreck sites. So much fluctuation may be water temperature dependent. Currents can bring cold water or warm water at various times. Flounder and triggerfish have been a part of the mix at the wreck and reef sites.

The canyons are giving up some nice yellowfin tuna lately, often more than 60 pounds, which makes for a good tussle and some fine eating. White marlin are being caught and released on a regular basis, with a blue marlin crashing trolling spreads now and then. Bigeye tuna, wahoo, and plenty of gaffer dolphin tend to round out things. Chicken dolphin are plentiful near lobster buoys or any link of floating debris, and mako sharks are crashing trolling baits now and then as well.


“Memory is a man’s real possession – in nothing else is he rich, in nothing else is he poor.” — Alexander Smith


Maryland Fishing Report is written and compiled by Keith Lockwood, Maryland Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist. 

Click Before You Cast is written by Tidewater Ecosystem Assessment Director Tom Parham.

This report is now available on your Amazon Echo device — just ask Alexa to “open Maryland Fishing Report.” 


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