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MARYLAND FISHING REPORT: The last license-free fishing day for the year July 4

Maryland Fishing Report – June 23

Keith Lockwood, 

Maryland Department of Natural Resources

 
Photo of boy holding a largemouth bass

Young Brayden Pielert got to go fishing with his dad at a nearby pond and the smile on his face says it all. Photo by Noah Pielert

Summer is in full swing and those who have been sequestered by pandemic, work, or school are flocking to the outdoors. Maryland State Parks are having another busy season, and just viewing the weekend traffic headed towards the beaches or western mountains makes it clear folks want to get out and do something.

Many Marylanders are also finding plenty of outdoor recreation close to home; fishing in small ponds and similar waters offers plenty of exciting fishing fun.

The last Maryland license-free fishing day for the year is on July 4, presenting a great opportunity to take someone on their first fishing adventure without needing to purchase a license. 

Anglers are reminded of the upcoming striped bass closure period in the Chesapeake Bay from July 16 through July 31, to lessen catch-and-release mortalities of undersized striped bass. Hot summer weather creates tough conditions for striped bass survival, which is also why DNR introduced its striped bass fishing advisory forecast for the warmest months each year, so anglers can better plan their fishing for striped bass to lessen mortalities.


Forecast Summary: June 23 – June 29:

Sunny, warm weather all week should continue to warm Maryland Bay water temperatures. Bay surface water temperatures and river and stream temperatures are in the middle to upper 70s, and will continue to rise this week. Early June monitoring data is showing main Bay bottom waters are slightly cooler than surface waters and beginning to show some poor oxygen conditions, so in some locations Bay gamefish will be higher in the water column to find adequate oxygen and their preferred water temperatures. In addition, the coolest oxygenated bottom waters can be found from the Kent Island area north to Tolchester. Cool water is also present on the Susquehanna River down through the Susquehanna Flats area in the late evening and early morning due to evening Conowingo Dam water release.  

Due to low bottom oxygen levels, avoid fishing below the following depths in these locations: Swan Point, 25 feet; Bay Bridge to Bloody Point, 25 feet to 35 feet; Choptank River to Point No Point, 35 feet to 45 feet. On the Potomac River from Colonial Beach to Piney Point, avoid fishing deeper than 15-20 feet. Along the western shore, avoid fishing deeper than 15 feet. Conditions can vary daily so be sure to check the depth-to-oxygen level online prior to your next fishing trip.

Maryland upper Bay waters south to the Bay Bridge are running saltier than normal, while the lower Bay from Tilghman Point down to Cove Point are running fresher than normal. Expect average flows for most Maryland rivers and streams. There will be above average tidal currents all week because of the full moon on June 25. 

Expect average clarity for Maryland portions of the Bay and rivers, but expect poorer water clarity due to algal blooms in the Bush, Back, and Patapsco rivers. 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, continue 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.


Upper Chesapeake Bay
Photo of boy on a boat holding a striped bass

Zachary Majchizak caught this nice striped bass near the mouth of the Patapsco River. Photo courtesy of Zachary Majchizak

Anglers are enjoying some exciting topwater action for striped bass around the edges of the Susquehanna Flats. Most anglers are casting poppers at dawn and report that the bite shuts down as soon as the sun clears the horizon, which is typical during the summer months. The evening bite is worth the effort but is reportedly not as good as the dawn. There are a fair percentage of fish that measure under the 19-inch minimum, but plenty of legal-sized fish. As the sun clears the horizon many are switching to white or pearl paddletails or darker colored soft plastic skirted jigs and working the channel edges in deeper waters. 

There are striped bass being caught in the Conowingo Dam pool at the crack of dawn on topwater lures, but like the Flats, the action tapers off quickly as the sun climbs in the sky. The dam is on a midday power generation schedule and flows are barely anything during the nighttime and morning hours. 

The bulk of striped bass in the upper Bay have moved to the area between Pooles Island and Tolchester. The area is scattered with lumps or shoals with names like the Gales, Pooles, Tolchester, and Coal lumps, with a large number of unnamed shoal fingers near Pooles Island. Most of these lumps and shoals are less than 15 feet deep. It is speculated that the search for cooler water temperatures is drawing striped bass there and once arrived, the fish cannot descend to deeper waters due to low oxygen levels at depths often greater than 15 feet — a bad situation that will get worse as water temperatures rise.

Live-lining spot is the most popular way to fish this week at the Tolchester Lumps area and anglers are reminded that they must use circle hooks when targeting striped bass with live or cut bait. 

Remember there is a striped bass closure period in the Chesapeake Bay from July 16 through July 31, to lessen catch-and-release mortalities of undersized striped bass during warm water and depleted oxygen conditions, and also check the DNR striped bass fishing advisory forecast when fishing in hot weather. 

There are plenty of blue and channel catfish to entertain anglers in the lower Susquehanna River, the channels leading away from the river, and most tidal rivers and areas within the upper Bay. Cut menhaden and gizzard shad are the most popular baits, but cut white perch, nightcrawlers, chicken liver, and clam snouts can also work well.

Fishing for white perch in the tidal rivers is good; most anglers are either fishing bottom rigs baited with grass shrimp or pieces of bloodworm, or casting small lures with light tackle. Beetle spins, spinners, and small plastic jigs are favorites. Spot can be found at the mouth of the Chester and Magothy rivers as well as Sandy Point and the shallower waters of the Bay Bridge area.


Middle Bay

Live-lining for striped bass has been slow at the Bay Bridge — there are some striped bass there but most are reported to be small. It only takes one larger fish to make a trip successful. Thomas Point, Hacketts, and various steep shipping channel edges are being explored, and anglers are sending spot down to where the marks on a depth finder indicate suspended striped bass. Rewards generally have been sparse whether one is live-lining spot, trolling, or jigging since a fair portion of striped bass may have moved to the upper Bay near Tolchester. The use of circle hooks is mandatory when targeting striped bass with live or cut bait.

The abundance of cownose rays make chumming a challenge, as they bear down on drags and spools to break them off. Catfish offer a little action when baits are allowed to drift to the bottom at the back of the chum slicks, but there is always hope that a lazy striped bass can also be lying there. Whether one is chumming, live-lining, jigging, or casting to shoreline structure, the best fishing success has been occurring early in the morning hours.

Photo of two men holding a striped bass

Brothers Art and Ken King had fun jigging near the Bay Bridge piers together. Photo courtesy of Art King

The striped bass shallow-water fishery is still a viable option for those who can be out on the water before sunrise. There are striped bass in the shallow waters of the Bay and the mouths of the region’s tidal rivers, but the fish quickly retreat to deeper waters once the sun climbs above the horizon. Casting topwater lures is always the most fun, but white and pearl colored paddletails are fish-catching machines. They can be rigged without any weight, with lightly weighted keel hooks, or on a jighead weighing from 3/16 to 5/8 of an ounce. They can be rigged with skirts and white tends to be a popular color; some soft plastics come scented. Or you can add your favorite scent. Jig heads with under spinners are quickly gaining favor. Anywhere there is shoreline structure present is a good place to cast. The rocks at Poplar Island, Eastern Bay, and the mouth of the Severn and Choptank are popular places to fish. Speckled trout are being caught now and then when casting in the shallower waters. 

Trolling can offer an alternative way to fish for striped bass — either trolling umbrella rigs deep along the shipping channel edges, or medium bucktails along shallower channels or near structure such as ballast stone piles or the edges of shoals. An old tried-and-true method of fishing oyster reefs is bottom bouncing with a heavy sinker and a bucktail dressed with a twistertail trailing six inches or so along hard-bottom areas.

Fishing for white perch is good in all of the tidal rivers and creeks within the middle Bay. They can be found near docks and piers with substantial depths or over oyster reefs. Fishing with a bottom rig baited with grass shrimp or pieces of bloodworm works well in this situation. In the morning and evening hours casting beetle spins, spinners, and small spinnerbaits near shoreline structure is a fun way to fish with light tackle. 

Spot can be found in many locations in the middle Bay. The shallower ends of the Bay Bridge, the backside of Hacketts, Tolly Bar, out in front of Chesapeake Beach, Eastern Bay, and the Choptank side of Black Walnut Point are all excellent places to find spot for live lining. It is pretty hard to beat bloodworms or Fishbites for bait. There is an imported bait called lug worms that some shops are selling to help with the bloodworm shortage. They’re large and need to be cut up. Early reports say they are able to be stripped off the hook easily by spot and not quite as enticing as bloodworms. They are imported from Asia so do not under any circumstance discard unused bait into the Bay.

Fishing for northern snakeheads is beginning to pick up in lower Dorchester County. The fish are still holding back in the shallower grassy areas and many are staying close to their fry, but those fry balls are showing signs of breaking up and dispersing. The adults will be at the head of the chow line after sitting out most of the month protecting their young. Northern snakeheads are showing up in just about every tidal river in the middle Bay and most are caught while fishing for largemouth bass. Casting chatterbaits tends to be one of the most productive ways to fish for them right now.

In the Choptank, blue catfish have moved upriver to the Denton and above sections of the river. They have also moved up the Tuckahoe as far as Coveys Landing. A variety of fresh-cut bait works well when fishing for them, with menhaden and gizzard shad topping the list. Nightcrawlers, chicken liver, and clam snouts also work well.


Lower Bay

Cobia season is now open until September 15 with a limit of one fish per person per day or two fish per boat, at a 40-inch minimum. A few cobia are being caught below the Target Ship and into Virginia waters. Sight fishing and casting live eels or large soft plastics is a favored tactic; some are chumming and others are trolling large hose lures. This fishery is expected to improve over time as good numbers of cobia are reported in the southern waters of the Bay.

Photo of man on a boat holding a red drum

Butch Chambers is all smiles with this large red drum before slipping it back in the bay. Photo courtesy of Butch Chambers

Large red drum are being caught and released in increasing numbers each day near the Target Ship and near the Middle Grounds. Most are finding the drum on their depth finders and looking for slicks can help pave the way. Whole or half soft crabs fastened to hooks with rubber bands with a weight to get down to the drum fast is the tactic with stout tackle. The latter is very important since these are powerful fish and need to be released in good condition; circle hooks ensure no deep hooking is involved.

Striped bass fishing in the Virginia waters of the Chesapeake Bay has been closed since June 16 and will reopen on October 4; only catch-and-release fishing of striped bass is allowed during this time. The main stem of the Potomac River will close to striped bass fishing and all targeting on July 7 and remain closed through July 20. Maryland’s Bay waters will be closed to all striped bass fishing from July 16 through July 31. 

Fishing for striped bass is good this week in the lower Potomac River all the way up to the Route 301 Bridge. Most are finding suspended striped bass along channel edges, shoals, and bars, and are live-lining spot with good success. Circle hooks are mandatory when targeting striped bass and the minimum size is 20 inches in the main stem of the river with a creel limit of two fish per day. Jigging over these same suspended fish with soft plastic jigs is working well, as is casting various soft plastics and paddletails near shoreline structure. Speckled trout can be in the mix at times. Trolling is another option and most are trolling weighted umbrella rigs along the steep channel edges with bucktails and swimshads as trailers.

The shallow-water fishery along the marsh banks on the eastern side of the Bay and the shorelines on the western side continues to provide plenty of fun fishing action. Most are casting a variety of paddletails and topwater lures in the early morning and late evening hours. There is a mix of striped bass above and below the 19-inch minimum, along with speckled trout. Scented paddletails in white, pearl and pink are popular, Zara Spooks are a favorite lure when fishing over grass and in stump fields. Paddletails can easily be rigged weedless and fished in the same areas. 

Spot can be found in good numbers in the lower Potomac, Patuxent, and Tangier Sound areas over hard bottom. There is also a mix of white perch and small croaker to be found, and the occasional kingfish. There are reports of flounder fishing improving in the Tangier and Pocomoke sounds. 

Fishing for blue catfish is very good in the tidal Potomac, Patuxent, and Nanticoke rivers. The blue catfish can be found in the Fort Washington area of the river as well as the Wicomico and St. Mary’s rivers. The Jug Bay area of the Patuxent River is a good place to fish as is the Sharptown and Woodland area on the Nanticoke River. 

Catches of blue crabs continue to improve this week as more crabs shed and become legal size. In the middle and lower Bay most of those crabbing with trotlines and collapsible crab traps are able to catch a half-bushel of more per outing. The crabs tend to be shallow, in less than 10 feet of water. Many are using chicken necks with good results but razor clams continue to be the bait of choice for those who can afford them.


Freshwater Fishing

Those fishing at Deep Creek Lake are enjoying a variety of opportunities. Bluegill sunfish are feisty and ready to attack earthworms and wax worms placed near shorelines, floating docks, and grass edges. Bluegills are the perfect fish for young and beginning anglers. Smallmouth bass and large yellow perch can be found along deep grass edges and drifting minnows is a good way to target them. Largemouth bass are holding in the coves and can be found under floating docks or the shade of thick grass when it’s sunny.  

Photo of a brown trout in the water

Yun Wang went fly fishing with his dad on the middle Patuxent River and they had fun catching and releasing brown trout. Photo by Yun Wang

Stream flows are healthy in most western and central region trout management waters; there are still trout to be found in the put and take as well as the delayed harvest areas. Casting spinners and small spoons are a good way to cover water when searching for trout that might pass up traditional baits. The fly-fishing-only and catch-and-release areas hold special opportunities for fun and exciting fishing.

The upper Potomac water level is up from recent rains but should settle down in the next couple of days. Fishing for smallmouth bass is good in the early morning hours. Casting topwater lures near the shallows or jigs and tubes in the deeper parts of the river near current breaks and submerged ledges works well. 

Largemouth bass can be found near all types of cover from shallow grass in the early morning hours to deeper cover during the day. Thick grass, lily pads, fallen treetops, sunken wood, and any kind of midday shade such as docks, bridge piers, and overhanging trees are good places to target. Chatterbaits, poppers, and similar lures are always fun in the earliest hours of the morning, while soft plastics, and stick worms are a good choice as the morning progresses. Once largemouth bass have retreated to cool shade, wacky-rigged or Ned-rigged stick worms are hard to beat for enticing loafing bass to strike an easy meal. 

The tidal Potomac is famous for thick milfoil grass beds that hold largemouth bass. The upper sections of most tidal rivers of the Chesapeake Bay, the Susquehanna flats, and most of the lakes, ponds, and reservoirs that dot Maryland hold largemouth bass. In the tidal rivers northern snakeheads can be encountered when fishing shallow grass; chatterbaits are the most popular lure to use at this time. In areas impacted by the cicada eruption, largemouth bass and a variety of larger fish species will be targeting cicadas including northern snakeheads.


Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays
Photo of a man on a boat holding a black sea bass

Photo by Monty Hawkins

Anglers fishing along the beaches and casting pieces of bloodworms or Fishbites are catching good numbers of kingfish. Calico crabs are reported to be pesky and chewing up baits in short order. Those fishing with cut spot are catching a few small bluefish, while squid is working well for the occasional flounder and blowfish.

At the inlet, catch-and-release fishing for striped bass measuring less than 28 inches has been providing some fun fishing for those casting soft plastic jigs and bucktails near the South Jetty and Route 50 Bridge. Flounder are also being caught in the inlet.

Flounder fishing in the back bay areas is very dependent on water clarity, and recent thunderstorms and wind did churn things up a bit, but conditions are improving quickly. The channels leading from the inlet and those in the bay areas are holding flounder. Traditional baits of squid strips and minnows are working well, but anglers are also using large Gulp soft plastics in white to entice larger flounder.

Fishing for black sea bass is very good and limit catches are common around the rails of the party boats of Ocean City. They are fishing the reef and wreck sites offshore, and flounder are often part of the catch.

The boats heading out to the canyons are finding small to medium yellowfin tuna and small bluefin tuna while trolling. A few gaffer dolphin are also being caught and at least one white marlin in recent days. Those deep-dropping near the canyons are bringing golden and blueline tilefish back to the docks.


“What was big was not the trout, but the chance. What was full was not my creel, but my memory.” — Aldo Leopold


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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