Maryland Fishing: Richard Thompson Catches Huge 47-inch Flathead Catfish; Bird Dog Wheeler Nets Ribbonfish
Hot and dry weather continues across Maryland. These conditions put heat-related stress on the summer striped bass population, especially in the upper Chesapeake Bay. We ask anglers to focus their fishing on early morning hours, or target other species during the heat wave. Throughout Maryland’s warmest months, the department’s online striped bass fishing advisory forecast provides a seven-day outlook to help anglers reduce striped bass mortality during the summer fishing season.
On July 30 at noon the Maryland Department of Natural Resources is hosting our fourth Maryland Fishing Roundtable webinar on summer fishing. This week, the Maryland Fishing Report team — including Maryland recreational fisheries specialist Erik Zlokovitz, Tom Parham of DNR’s Eyes on the Bay, and biologist Steve Doctor — will give tips on fishing in the Ocean City area. You can join the discussion through a link on the department’s online calendar.
All anglers can feel free to send any pictures of your catches to email@example.com for possible inclusion in our fishing report or the daily Angler’s Log.
Expect another repeat of the last few weeks with warm, sunny skies, a chance of thunderstorms, and low winds most of the week. Main Chesapeake Bay surface water temperatures have risen to the mid 80s or higher. These warm waters and corresponding low oxygen areas are appearing from Swan Point down to the mouth of the Potomac.
These hot, calm conditions will continue to warm surface waters and limit oxygen being recharged to the deeper waters by wind mixing, increasing the chance of algal blooms. This will result in gamefish remaining at similar locations on cooler river mouths or main bay structure but moving to slightly shallower depths, just above the Don’t Fish Below this Depth mark and maximum suitable oxygen depth, in the coolest water available.
The coolest, oxygenated water is found in the deeper waters from Pooles Island down to the Virginia state line. The other way to find cooler water is to fish the shallows at first light when surface water temperatures can be several degrees cooler. As always, best fishing areas could be further refined by intersecting these cool, oxygenated areas with underwater points, hard bottom, drop-offs, and large schools of baitfish.
Expect reduced water clarity from algal blooms along the upper western shore rivers including the Bush, Back, and Gunpowder rivers. In addition, water clarity in the upper Patuxent and Wicomico rivers and Colonial Beach will also be reduced from algal blooms. 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, be sure 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.
Richard Thompson caught this huge 47-inch flathead catfish recently while fishing with his son. Photo courtesy of Richard Thompson
The Conowingo Dam remains on a late afternoon power generation water release, with low flow in the mornings due to abnormally dry conditions. The area below the dam is one of the best places in Maryland to target large flathead catfish; fish up to 55 pounds have been caught here in the past two years.
Fishing for blue catfish continues to be very good at the Conowingo Dam and in the lower Susquehanna River and other tidal rivers. Channel catfish are abundant in all of the region’s tidal rivers. Catfish can be caught on fresh cut baits, soft crab, chicken livers, clam snouts, and worms.
White perch should provide steady action in the upper bay into August and September. Many anglers are finding a lot of small perch in some areas but a few big fish can be found with time and effort. The usual small spinners, spinnerbaits, and 1/16 to 1/8-ounce lead heads with Mr. Twister grubs on light spinning tackle all catch fish. Pieces of bloodworm, grass shrimp, wild seafood shrimp, and small minnows are all good baits, especially when fishing around docks and pilings. Medium-sized minnows fished under a bobber around shoreline structure will often catch a large grade of perch.
The usual bottom fishing areas for saltwater panfish — spot, perch and croaker — should be productive during the next few weeks. Spot and white perch can be found on hard bottom areas, shell bottom, oyster bars, or shoals off Sandy Point State Park beach, the mouth of the Magothy, Bay Bridge pilings, and the Severn River. White perch can also be found at the Snake Reef, Belvidere Shoal, and the 7-foot and 9-foot knolls. We continue to see small croaker in the Severn River, South River, and other areas, but most are sub-legal. Hopefully these small croaker under 8 inches are a good sign for the future of the fishery.
We are asking anglers to avoid targeting striped bass during this heat wave. However, if you do target striped bass, remember that you must use non-offset circle hooks at all time when chumming or livelining. We also advise using lures with single, barbless hooks to make releasing fish easier, and care must be taken when handling fish. Never use a rag while unhooking a striped bass — this will rub off their protective slime layer, making them more vulnerable to the summer combination of heat stress and disease.
This cutlassfish (also known as ribbonfish) was caught by Bird Dog Wheeler in the Miles River. Photo by Karen Starkey
Bottom fishing action for both spot and perch can be found at Hacketts and Thomas points on shell bottom and bars, as well as around Eastern Bay, Poplar Island, and the Severn and Choptank rivers. Small bluefish and spanish mackerel should be moving into the area, with the combination of hot and dry weather and salinities being relatively high. Anglers are hoping for a repeat of last year’s action on Spanish mackerel, which extended all the way to the upper bay.
Speckled trout action continues from the Choptank River south along the Dorchester County shorelines, and down into the Crisfield area’s marsh shorelines and cuts. Grass beds in 3-5 feet of water and stump fields are excellent places to cast swim shads, paddle tails and other plastics on lead head jigs. Gulp plastics and soft plastics in pearl or white with sparkles are popular.
In addition to the presence of speckled trout and puppy drum in the shallows, other “oddball” species will show up in the middle bay during summers with moderate to high salinities.
Fishing for white perch in the shallower shoreline areas should be steady from now into September. Shoreline structure such as bulkheads, submerged rocks, fallen trees, and riprap are good areas to cast small spinners, spinnerbaits, and jigs. If you are fishing with kids, remember that white perch and spot can also be caught off of docks and piers in 5-10 feet of water with a simple one-hook or two-hook bottom rig baited with pieces of soft crab, bloodworm, or grass shrimp. Synthetic bloodworm-flavored fishbites also work well.
A mix of blue and channel catfish should continue to provide steady action for anglers fishing with cut bait, chicken livers, soft peeler crabs, and other baits in most of the tidal rivers within the region. Channel catfish can be found in every tidal river, and blue catfish are found mostly in the Choptank and Nanticoke rivers.
Cobia fishing is still a good bet at the Middle Grounds, the Target Ship, the Mud Leads, and Point Lookout. The traditional methods are chumming and fishing with cut bait or live eels. In past years, anglers have also caught large cobia with other live baits such as spot and small bluefish. Sight fishing with live eels or large soft plastics on a lead head jig is a trending new method that started in Virginia. This requires using an elevated platform to spot fish, and polarized sunglasses to cut through the glare on the water.
Trolling spoons and hoses (surgical tube lures) will produce both cobia and large red drum around the Target Ship, with bluefish in the mix. Large red drum are also being caught and released by anglers who are light-tackle jigging with soft plastics.
Small bluefish are moving into the region; they are running about 1 pound, which is fun for the kids and a perfect eating size, fresh or smoked. As a reminder, the daily limit is 3 bluefish per day for anglers fishing from private boats or shore, and 5 bluefish per day when fishing from a charter boat. Spanish mackerel should keep moving into the lower bay and are being caught by fast trolling — about 7 knots is the target speed — with small Drone or Clark spoons.
Spot and white perch should provide steady bottom fishing action in the hard bottom areas of the lower Patuxent River, Honga River, and off Hoopers Island. Pieces of bloodworm on a bottom rig is the best bait for spot.
The shallow-water fishing for speckled trout continues with soft paddletail baits near shallow grass beds along the Eastern Shore marshes. Soft plastics and paddletails work best over deeper grass, shoreline structure, rocks, riprap, wood, and stump fields. The best speckled trout fishing is occurring along the marshes of the Pocomoke and Tangier sounds up to Hoopers Island.
There is some action for bottom fish and small bluefish along the western shore and Point Lookout area and into the lower Potomac River. Also be ready with metal lures in case Spanish mackerel show up on the surface. Striped bass can often be part of the mix, however anglers need to be aware that the main stem of the Potomac River is closed to all striped bass fishing from July 7 to Aug. 20 by order of the Potomac River Fisheries Commission.
Recreational crabbing should improve as we move into early August, with more crabs growing to legal size. The middle and lower bay offers the best opportunity to catch a bushel of crabs per outing. Trotlining at dawn is the best method, and razor clams tend to be the most popular bait in recent seasons. Work the 12-foot to 15-foot edges to find the crabs.
Young angler Lachlan Ewing caught this nice common carp on a worm in Liberty Reservoir. Photo by James Ewing
We expect trout streams in western Maryland to continue running low and clear until the current drought conditions subside. As usual, this will require finesse fly-fishing techniques with long casts and light tippets. Small terrestrial fly patterns such as ants, beetles, and hoppers are good choices.
The upper Potomac River will continue running low and warm until weather patterns change. Target fast-moving and deeper waters for smallmouth bass, and cast grubs, small crankbaits, and tubes. There is also some topwater fishing along grass edges and shallows with buzzbaits and poppers at dawn and dusk. Department biologists have been supplementing natural reproduction of smallmouth bass in the freshwater Potomac to enhance the fishery.
Lewis Rawlings caught this bass and several others on a spinnerbait at the pond at Indian Creek Natural Resources Management Area. Photo by Eric Packard
Currently, there is a multi-state collaborative effort that is trying to determine the effects of angling for muskellunge during thermal stress. Anglers should use caution when targeting, catching, and handling muskies. As water temperatures in the river rise, the resident muskies will be stressed and will be resting in slightly cooler waters in feeder creeks. In these conditions, muskies cannot survive catch-and-release stress and should not be targeted.
Carp should provide steady summer fun in the upper Potomac, C&O Canal, and various ponds with the traditional baits of scented dough ball baits or corn. Fly casters can catch carp with purple flies that resemble mulberries in areas where the berries fall into the water from overhanging branches.
Farm ponds, reservoirs, rivers, and impoundments offer fun fishing for largemouth bass. Ponds and small lakes can be fished from shore with a variety of weedless soft plastics, including plastic worms, flukes, and lizards in grass, lily pads, or near sunken wood structure.
For anglers targeting northern snakeheads, lures such as buzzbaits and frogs are excellent baits to cast over thick grass. Chatterbaits and paddle tails will also attract snakeheads. The tributaries of the tidal Potomac, Patuxent, Patapsco, and other tidal rivers around the Chesapeake have expanding populations of northern snakeheads. For anglers targeting snakehead in central Maryland, try Little Seneca Lake at Blackhills Regional Park. On the Eastern Shore, the Dorchester County tidal backwaters — tributaries to the Nanticoke and Wicomico — are consistent hotspots.
Blue catfish are always a good bet for boat anglers using cut bait in the Fort Washington area of the Potomac. Good places for blue catfish in the Patuxent River are along steep channel edges above Jacksons Landing, Jug Bay, and the mouth of Western Branch.
The tidal Potomac River is an excellent place to fish for large blue catfish from shore. Fort Washington allows access to the Potomac and is a safe place to take kids fishing. National Colonial Farm has a pier that is easy to reach and there is more limited shoreline fishing at Marshall Hall. Smallwood State Park is a great place to fish from shore and it has the amenities that make fishing with kids a lot easier. Finally, Mallows Bay is open to shoreline fishing, but the middle of summer finds a good deal of submerged vegetation and algae. The Patuxent River has a growing number of blue catfish but is fairly limited in easy, kid-safe shoreline access. There’s plenty of shoreline owned by state and local governments, but much of the shore in the tidal portion is either cliff or marsh. Still, the Patuxent River park has several piers for fishing — Jacksons Landing and Selbys Landing are the farthest north and are good spots to try, although they can get crowded.
Flounder are biting in the usual spots around the inlet, but many are under the 16.5- inch size limit. More flounder are starting to mix in with sea bass on the ocean artificial reefs and shipwrecks. A mix of Spanish and king mackerel are being taken while trolling, generally inside the 20-fathom line or further inshore on lumps and other bottom structure. The chunk bite on yellowfin tuna at inshore lumps such as the Hot Dog, Hambone and the Rockpile seems to have slowed down a bit based on recent reports. White marlin, blue marlin, and dolphinfish are being caught at the canyons, such as Washington, Norfolk, and Poormans.
Effective Aug. 17, NOAA Fisheries requires private recreational tilefish vessels in the Mid-Atlantic to get permits and file catch reports. This action is being taken to better characterize and monitor the recreational fisheries for both blueline and golden tilefish. Get your federal private recreational tilefish vessel permit through the NOAA Fisheries website. Call 978-282-8438 for questions about the permitting process. Private recreational tilefish anglers must also fill out and submit an electronic vessel trip report within 24 hours of returning to port for trips where tilefish were targeted or retained.
Anglers fishing near shore or in the surf are reminded to use caution when handling sharks. Do not drag them high up on the sand. Dusky and sandbar sharks look similar, and both sharks are prohibited from harvest. If you cannot identify a shark, let it go in the water. State and federal regulations require shark anglers to use corrodible, non-stainless circle hooks except when fishing with artificial flies and lures, and any shark that is not being kept is to be released in the water. Anglers must have a device capable of quickly cutting either the leader or the hook.
Also, any harvested bluefin tuna, billfish, swordfish, or shark (except spiny dogfish) must be reported via the Catch Card Census before it is moved from a boat or point of landing, to be in compliance with state and federal regulations. Catch cards and tags are available at tackle shops, marinas, and kiosks around Ocean City, and online. Please use the kiosk at the Colonel Jack Taylor Boathouse located in west Ocean City when businesses are closed. Simply fill out the card found in the kiosk and tear off the receipt on the edge of the card, and leave the card in the kiosk. Identification and compliance information is available from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“Calling fishing a hobby is like calling brain surgery a job.” — Paul Schullery
Click Before You Cast is written by Tidewater Ecosystem Assessment Director Tom Parham.