Travis Long and Justin Beam quickly hold up a pair of huge red drum before slipping them back into the bay. Photo courtesy of Travis Long
As summer slips into history and we step into fall, there is a lot of exciting fishing in Maryland. Trout fishermen are getting ready for the fall stocking program that begins in October. The Chesapeake Bay is teeming with Spanish mackerel and behemoth red drum, providing some amazing catch-and-release fishing.
Forecast Summary: Sept. 25 – Oct. 1:
Due to the expected warm, calm and sunny conditions all week, expect generally stable conditions in the Chesapeake Bay. The recent absence of rain has helped bring salinities much closer to normal, allowing some of the more salt-loving fish to push further up the Bay. In general, gamefish will still hold at similar locations and depths as last week. During the day, while the smaller fish will be abundant in surface waters, anglers should focus on the deeper, cooler waters that still have adequate oxygen for larger Bay gamefish. As surface waters cool 3 to 4 degrees overnight, check nearby shoal areas at first light for larger striped bass that are hunting for breakfast. Later in the morning when surface waters rewarm, larger striped bass will move back towards nearby deeper waters.
Bay surface salinities are still slightly below normal for this time of year but continue to increase from last month. Current oxygen conditions as measured in our ”Don’t fish below this depth” lines are as follows: State line up to Point Lookout, 45 feet; Point No Point up to the Gooses, 25 feet; Little Choptank up to Choptank River, 25 feet; Bloody Point, 25 feet; Bay Bridge, 25 feet; Swan Point, 21 feet; Still Pond up to the Susquehanna Flats, adequate oxygen to the bottom. Most rivers and other waters have suitable oxygen to bottom except the Patapsco River, Ragged Point, Eastern Bay, and Little Choptank, 25 feet; Magothy River, 11 feet; and South River, 8 feet.
Expect reduced water clarity from algal blooms on the mainstem of the Bay from the Patapsco River across to the Chester River down to the Bay Bridge. Blooms are also present in the lower portion of Eastern Bay and also near Chesapeake Beach. On the Potomac River, an algal bloom is present near Colonial Beach. Check “Eyes on the Bay Satellite Maps” for the latest images from NOAA.
Water temperatures up and down the Bay have dropped down to 75 degrees. Water temperatures at Little Falls are stable at about 80 degrees. Expect normal flows from most of Maryland’s rivers and streams this week. There will be above average tidal currents all week as a result of the upcoming new moon Sept. 29.
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.
Fishing for striped bass in the lower Susquehanna River and Conowingo Dam pool is providing plenty of exciting action, although many fish are undersized. Casting topwater lures deep into the dam pool at first light in the morning or working soft plastic jigs along channel edges are the tickets to this show.
A little farther down the bay there is some concentrated fishing for striped bass at the lumps just east of Pooles Island, Hodges Bar, the Francis Scott Key Bridge, and the lower Patapsco River. Many are still live-lining spot and small white perch or eels, finding a fair percentage of undersized striped bass with enough larger fish to take some home. It pays to explore other shoals and knolls in the general area where suspended fish may be found.
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 most 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.
Trolling is a good option along channel and shoal edges, using a mix of small spoons, bucktails, and red or green hoses behind inline weights. Jigging is a great option when you spot suspended striped bass on a depth finder or encounter breaking fish. Most anglers are using soft plastic jigs, casting to channel edges or structure. The breaking fish are usually small striped bass but larger fish can sometimes be found close to the bottom. Striped bass can also be found holding tight to some of the Bay Bridge piers and rock piles, where jigging or live-lining can be productive.
Casting topwater lures along shoreline structure in the lower Patapsco River during early morning and evening hours is offering some fun fishing. The lower Chester River is also providing similar action.
There are plenty of hard-fighting catfish — a mix of flathead, blue and channel catfish are ready and willing to take fresh cut bait, clam snouts or other popular baits. It is not uncommon for them to also chase down a swimshad or soft plastic jig. White perch are beginning to move down the tidal creeks towards the region’s tidal rivers. They still are being caught along shoreline structure on light tackle or with bait in deeper waters with bottom rigs.
Spanish mackerel continue to be one of the most exciting fishing opportunities. More and larger Spanish mackerel have moved into the region and are slashing through schools of bay anchovies. Most of the action is occurring along the steeper edges of the shipping channel, where the bay anchovies are being swept along in strong currents. Small striped bass and bluefish are a big part of the surface action with the Spanish mackerel zipping through. Casting heavy metal jigs into the action and speed reeling after allowing the jig to sink has been a fun way to enjoy these hard-fighting fish.
High-speed trolling at 5-7 knots is another effective technique for Spanish mackerel. Pulling small spoons behind inline weights and small planers has been the most popular tactic to catch them. The mackerel are being found along the eastern edge of the shipping channel from Bloody Point south past Buoys 83 and 84 to the little Choptank. Another good location is the western side of the shipping channel from the mouth of the Severn River south past Thomas Point and down to Cove Point. Many anglers are also pulling one or two large spoons in their trolling spread to entice any large red drum in the area. There is considerable catch-and-release fishing for large red drum whether one is trolling or jigging with large spoons or soft plastic jigs.
Striped bass action is still centered near Thomas Point for those live-lining spot. Perhaps the best news right now is the revival of the shallow-water fishery for striped bass. The Eastern Bay area and the tidal rivers are all providing topwater action in the early morning and evening hours.
Fishing for white perch is very good this week in the tidal rivers; cooler waters in the shallower areas is making the casting of small lures near shoreline structure very productive. White perch can also be caught in deeper waters with pieces of bloodworms on bottom rigs. Bill Burton Fishing Pier State Park and Kent Narrows are two excellent places to fish deep for white perch.
Justin Beam takes special care releasing this red drum after taking one memorable last look. Photo by Travis Long
Spanish mackerel and large red drum are the most exciting fishing opportunities right now. The Spanish mackerel have increased in numbers and size and are busting through schools of bay anchovies all along the edges of the shipping channel. Many anglers are trolling a mix of small spoons behind inline weights and planers, but others are enjoying the fun light-tackle action of casting heavy metal jigs into the breaking fish, and catching Spanish mackerel that way. Allow your jig to sink for about 5 seconds and then speed-reel to keep lures away from the small striped bass and bluefish that are in the mix.
There are plenty of bluefish in the region and trolling with small spoons and green or red hoses at slower speeds is the way to catch them. Casting into breaking fish and retrieving lures at a slower pace is another good tactic. If you really want to catch a mess of bluefish, chumming at the mouth of the Potomac or Patuxent rivers is a sure way to fill a cooler.
Jim Livingston, his son Bryan and friend Shawn Wilson teamed up for a limit catch of two bushels. Photo by Jim Livingston
Catch-and-release fishing for the large red drum in the area near Point Lookout and the Target Ship has taken center stage for those seeking some hardcore action. The red drum may be found under breaking fish — sometimes churned up water or slicks can be spotted, and if you confirm the fish on a depth finder, jigging with large spoons or soft plastic jigs is a popular way to catch them. Others are catching them by trolling with large spoons of hoses behind inline weights.
Cobia continue to be caught here and there from the Middle Grounds up to the Target Ship,; a fair percentage are under the minimum 40 inches, but they do offer some fun whether one is sight fishing or trolling. The last day to catch cobia in Maryland is Sept. 30.
Striped bass are entertaining those casting a mix of topwater lures or soft plastics along shoreline structure in the early morning and evening hours. The grade of striped bass tends to be a little larger than those chasing bait out in the bay.
Speckled trout are a popular target on the eastern side of the bay this week and the fishing has been good. Casting Gulp mullet baits in pink or white has been a good choice, either under a popping cork or by themselves. Others are having good luck in the early morning or evening hours casting Zara Spooks over grass or stump fields.
Some flounder are being caught along the hard bottom channel edges of Pocomoke and Tangier sounds. Large Gulp baits are catching the largest, while drifting live spot is another good choice. Smaller baits tend to catch the attention of the small flounder in the area. There are plenty of white perch to be caught in the tidal rivers and creeks of the Eastern Shore by fishing with bait or casting small lures.
Most of the spot being found on both sides of the bay tend to be too small for the frying pan, but enough are being caught to keep it interesting. The white perch fishing has been excellent in the tidal rivers and creeks this week. There are plenty of blue catfish in the region’s tidal rivers to satisfy anyone’s endeavors to stock up some fine eating fish fillets.
Recreational crabbers are enjoying some of the finest success of the season right now with large crabs that are full and heavy. There are plenty of crabs in the shallower waters, and most crabbers can put together a full bushel of good crabs per outing in the middle and lower bay regions. The shallower waters are also holding a lot of sooks and small crabs so baits are being chewed up fairly quickly. Chicken necks have been doing well as bait. Those probing waters 15 feet or deeper are finding fewer crabs but report extra-large Jimmie crabs that fill up a bushel basket quickly.
Trout hatchery staff are busy preparing for the fall trout stocking program that begins next month. The stockings will be posted on the trout stocking website after they occur and are subject to changes due to flow conditions in rivers, streams or creeks. Staff report that the rainbow trout to be stocked are going to be larger than usual and they expect to stock approximately 26,000 trout for you to enjoy. Get your gear together, check those waders and boots for leaks and get ready for some exciting fishing fun in a trout management water near you. Check our online map to help you explore places to fish by county.
Those who enjoy fishing for smallmouth bass in the upper Potomac River will be interested in our juvenile seining survey, which was completed with 12 locations sampled from Seneca upstream to Spring Gap. The overall seining score for the river was 0.63 juvenile smallmouth bass per seine haul. This is below the long-term median score of 0.95 fish per seine haul. Smallmouth bass juvenile recruitment varied greatly between locations. Some upstream areas had good numbers of juveniles while several downstream sites had no smallmouth bass juveniles present. With recent high flow conditions, aquatic vegetation was almost completely absent in much of the river. For 2019, it appears that smallmouth bass were able to successfully spawn in some sections of the river, but overall recruitment was below average. The upper Potomac is not the only place to find smallmouth bass in Maryland — the lower Susquehanna River and the creeks that feed into it have healthy smallmouth populations.
This week presents some beautiful fishing weather — although it still feels like summer, temperatures are mild and pleasant. Largemouth bass are holding in slightly deeper waters along drop-offs in the tidal rivers, often near sunken wood. Casting crankbaits along those edges has been a productive way to fish. The tidal largemouth bass are also moving up the creeks to shallower areas near lily pads, spatterdock fields and grass. Topwater lures are a good choice in these areas. Northern snakeheads will be part of the mix in these shallower areas and will attack buzzbaits and frogs. The same pattern tends to hold in the freshwater areas and as grass begins to decline due to shorter daylight hours, largemouth bass will be more prone to hold near sunken wood and drop-offs.
Crappie are schooling up near deeper structure — marina docks, fallen treetops and bridge piers are all good places to find them. Fishing with minnows or small jigs under a slip bobber is a great way to catch them. Bluegills and other sunfish species are very active and can be caught along lily pad and grass edges on a variety of small lures or bait.
Surf conditions have calmed down and those looking for some surf-casting fun are catching kingfish on pieces of bloodworms. A few spot are also part of the mix when fishing with bloodworms. Those using cut spot or mullet for bait are catching some small bluefish; those using sand fleas are finding a few pompano and small black drum.
At the inlet and Route 50 Bridge area, bluefish are moving in and out with the tides providing fun fishing for those casting metal or Got-Cha lures or drifting cut bait. Striped bass are also being caught in the general area, and near the Route 90 Bridge, providing some catch-and-release fun as most are short of the 28-inch minimum length.
Flounder are the focus of many this week in the channels leading to the inlet area. As bay water slowly begins to cool, the fish will start to move from the deeper reaches of the bay towards the inlet. Some of the largest flounder are being caught on live spot, mullet and Gulp baits.
Outside the inlet, king and Spanish mackerel seem to have moved on from the shoal areas, but bluefish are still present. Sea bass fishing has taken an upturn in success for anglers since the seas have calmed down. Limit catches are fairly common on most of the party boats. A few flounder are also part of the mix.
Farther offshore, calmer seas have encouraged boats to explore the canyons, and they are being rewarded with some impressive catches. Most boats are coming back to the docks with limit catches of chicken dolphin and others are also catching some gaffer-sized dolphin. White marlin releases have been common along with a few blue marlin in the mix. Larger yellowfin tuna are being caught and tilefish are providing some deep drop action.
“… There is great pleasure in being on the sea, in the unknown wild suddenness of a great fish; in his life and death which he lives for you in an hour while your strength is harnessed to his; and there is satisfaction in conquering this thing, which rules the sea, it lives in.” — Ernest Hemingway, “On The Blue Water,” 1935
Click Before You Cast is written by Tidewater Ecosystem Assessment Director Tom Parham.
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