MARYLAND FISHING REPORT
by Keith Lockwood,
It’s the Fourth of July weekend, a time of family and friends getting together to enjoy each other’s company and the great outdoors. People naturally gravitate to water this time of the year, and our younger anglers are enjoying fishing for anything that will bite.
The last Maryland license-free fishing dayfor 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 30 – July 6:
Sunny, very warm weather all this week should continue to warm Bay water temperatures toward their typical peak in July. Bay surface water temperatures and river and stream temperatures are in the lower 80s, and will continue to rise this week. 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. Bay surface temperatures cool by about 2 degrees to 3 degrees at night.
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 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 Monday and Tuesday because of the new moon on Saturday, July 10.
Expect average clarity for Maryland portions of the Bay and rivers, but expect poorer water clarity due to algal blooms in the Back River. 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.
Striped bass fishing has been good at the mouth of the Susquehanna River and the edges of the Susquehanna Flats. The best fishing opportunities are occurring at dawn for those casting topwater lures along the edges of the grassy flats. As the morning sun climbs in the sky, switching to soft plastic jigs along the channel edges will keep you in the game until the midday heat shuts down the action. This early morning topwater action is also occurring in the Conowingo Dam pool and the lower sections of the upper Bay tidal rivers.
Striped bass are now concentrated at the various lumps between Pooles Island and Tolchester. It is speculated that the cool freshwater emanating from groundwater springs is attracting them to the lumps. There is a large fleet of boats stationed there every day, live-lining spot. The use of circle hooks is mandatory and anglers should make every effort to release undersized striped bass in the water, and not bring them in the boat. Anyone planning to fish for striped bass this week should check the striped bass fishing advisory forecast and avoid red flag days. Remember there will be 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 caused by heat stress and low oxygen conditions.
Those wishing to dodge the crowded conditions at the Tolchester Lumps are exploring other locations near Pooles Island, Love Point Rocks. and the mouths of the upper Bay tidal rivers on the east side of the bay, and the mouth of the Patapsco River near the Key Bridge on the western shore. When suspended fish can be spotted, live-lining spot is popular, but jigging can be effective also. In all cases a good running tide is very important.
The Bay Bridge piers usually provide a good place to fish for striped bass but a lot of the fish are moving further north. There are some opportunities in the early morning hours for those casting soft plastics and bucktails near many of the bridge piers. Live-lining is also a good option with some rewards, but many of the striped bass are reported to be undersized at this time. There is good fishing for white perch and spot on the shallower ends of the bridge, and the Sandy Point side tends to offer the best success. White perch are starting to show up on some of the hard-bottom shoal areas in the upper Bay, and fishing for white perch in the tidal rivers remains very good.
The lower Susquehanna and upper Chester River are two of the best places to fish for blue catfish, as both areas hold a lot of them right now. They are also spread throughout the entire upper Bay system and can show up most anywhere, especially when one is chumming. Every tidal river within the region holds channel catfish.
Many anglers are of the opinion that their striped bass fortunes have moved north of the Bay Bridge to the Tolchester area, and many are making the trip from the middle Bay, or in the case of charter boats have secured dockage closer to the fishing grounds. There are striped bass in the middle Bay, it just might take a little more effort.
The early morning shallow water bite is perhaps one of the more successful ways to fish for striped bass. The bite is at the gray of dawn and ends fairly abruptly once the sun clears the horizon. It is a fun way to fish for striped bass, casting topwater lures along shorelines where there are bottom contours or structure to interest the fish. Now and then speckled trout are also part of the mix. Casting paddletails is also popular and can extend fishing time for another hour or so. A few of the more popular places to enjoy this early morning or late evening fishing is along the shores of Eastern Bay, the Poplar Island rocks, Thomas Point, and the shorelines of Dorchester and Talbot counties near the mouth of the Choptank River. A high flood tide often produces some of the best fishing opportunities.
Trolling small to medium sized bucktails with twister tails is an option that can produce success when trolling near structure such as ballast stone piles, channel edges, and the shallower oyster reefs. There are plenty of spot in the region so if one can locate some suspended striped bass along a channel edge, send a live spot down and see what happens. Jigging with soft plastics in the 4-inch to 5-inch size range can also offer some opportunities if fish can be spotted on a depth finder.
White perch are picking up some of the slack in the middle Bay fishing scene — there are plenty of them and many are 10 inches or larger. Casting small spinnerbaits, spinners or beetle spins along shoreline structure is a productive way to target them in the morning and evening hours. Fishing off piers and docks that stand over waters that are at least 6 feet or deeper with grass shrimp is a great way to target white perch as long as a good tide is running.
Blue catfish are available in the upper Choptank River near Denton and the upper Tuckahoe Creek above the Route 328 Bridge. Fresh-cut menhaden or gizzard shad make great baits, as does chicken liver and nightcrawlers. Channel catfish can be found in all of the region’s tidal rivers. Many northern snakeheads are still hovering near their broods this week but riling them up by dragging a chatterbait nearby will often get them to strike.
The arrival of cobia in the lower Bay region is sparking a lot of enthusiasm, as more and more anglers are having success. Reports are that sight fishing has been difficult because of persistent southerly winds, so many have been chumming and trolling. Those chumming are dealing with cownose rays that are mooching the treats being tossed over the side. Trolling eliminates most of that problem unless one snags a ray, then all bets are off. Red and green hose lures tend to be the most popular offering when trolling for cobia. A worthwhile experiment might be slow trolling with live eels fixed with an egg sinker in front to keep the eel below the surface, and a double-hook rig. If anyone tries it, we’d love to hear how you did by emailing us at Keith.Lockwood@maryland.gov. The mud leads above the Target Ship, the area around the ship itself, and the Middle Grounds are popular places to explore for cobia. There is a 40-inch minimum total length and a creel limit of one fish per person per day, and no more than two cobia per boat.
Large red drum are becoming increasingly more common on the eastern side of the lower Bay, and they are providing some exciting catch-and-release fishing. Slowly cruising over likely areas or looking for churned up water or slicks are good ways to locate schools of red drum. Dropping a soft crab bait down is a very common way to fish for them, but jigging with large soft plastic jigs also works well. Trolling with large silver spoons as part of the spread is a good option as well.
There are some striped bass to be found in the lower Bay right now. The lower Potomac River in the general area of the Route 301 Bridge and Cobb Island has been a popular place to find them. Anglers are live-lining spot along the steeper channel edges with good success. Trolling is another option with umbrella rigs and tandem-rigged medium-sized bucktails with twistertails. Jigging soft plastics in the 4-inch to 5-inch size range is working well for others.
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.
Anglers that are out casting topwater lures and paddletails in the early morning hours are finding a mix of striped bass and speckled trout in the shallower waters around the edges of the Bay and lower sections of the region’s tidal rivers. Shoreline structure on the western side of the Bay and the eastern marsh edges and grass beds offer good places to cast topwater lures and paddletails. The action is reported to slow down once the sun climbs above the horizon, and although not as productive, late evenings can offer the same action. A high flood tide and the first part of a high ebb tide tend to be the best time to fish.
In the Tangier and Pocomoke sounds, fishing for spot, white perch, and small bluefish is very good. Flounder fishing along the hard-bottom channel edges has improved. A few pompano, kingfish, and sheepshead have also surprised a few anglers in the past week. Fishing for spot and white perch is very good in the lower Patuxent River. There are plenty of blue catfish in the tidal Potomac, Patuxent, and Nanticoke rivers ready to jump on fresh-cut bait of menhaden or gizzard shad.
This is a big week for a traditional Maryland blue crab feast; prudent advice would be to also have other food items on hand. There are crabs to be caught but it has been a tough game for both recreational and commercial crabbers the past couple of weeks. The best crabbing has been in the waters of the middle and upper Bay, where recreational crabbers should be able to put together close to a half bushel per outing. Finding good crabbing in the lower bay waters has been tough lately. The best depths are in the neighborhood of 10 feet. The best advice heard from commercial trotliners was to explore hard bottom areas at varying depths from 8 feet to 15 feet.
Water flows in the streams and rivers in the western region and the few tailwater trout fisheries in the central region are offering good catch-and-release fishing. The fly-fishing-only and catch-and-release areas offer a healthy population of trout ready to check out fly presentations. These shaded cool-water trout streams also offer relief from the heat for anglers as well as fish.
Anglers at Deep Creek Lake will be experiencing full summer vacation mode, so watch out for boat and jet ski traffic. The best fishing opportunities will be in the early morning hours and to a lesser extent late in the evening for a mix of species. Drifting along deep grass edges with live minnows is a good tactic for a mix of smallmouth bass, large yellow perch, and largemouth bass. Trout can be found deep along the dam face by slow trolling nightcrawlers on worm rigs. Largemouth bass can be found along shorelines in the shallows during the morning hours and holding under shade during the day. A wacky rigged stick worm or soft plastic flipped under a floating dock or moored boat is a good tactic to entice a loafing bass to pick up a bait.
The upper Potomac River is reported to be running a bit low and very clear this week, with water temperatures close to 80 degrees. Light lines and long casts are recommended near submerged ledges and large boulders. The early morning and late evening hours offer the best fishing opportunities for smallmouth bass, and tubes, small crankbaits, and spinnerbaits are good choices for lures. The low water conditions open opportunities for shore-bound anglers to wade — just be very careful.
Largemouth bass will be feeding mostly at night now that the summer heat is upon us. Those who can be out on the water at dawn or late in the evening can enjoy good shallow water fishing with frogs, poppers, and chatterbaits in the grassy shallows. In tidal waters — and unfortunately in an increasing number of lakes and reservoirs — northern snakeheads will also be found. As the sun climbs higher in the sky, bass will retreat to deeper and cooler waters looking for shade. Fallen treetops, sunken wood, docks, and thick grass can offer this cool shade. Wacky rigged stick worms and various soft plastic dropped near or under such structure is a good way to get them to pick up a bait.
Anglers fishing in the surf along the beaches of Ocean City and Assateague Island are finding the typical mix of summer species. Kingfish are at the top of the list followed by spot, small bluefish, northern blowfish, and flounder. Pieces of bloodworm or Fishbites work well for the spot and kingfish; strips of spot will catch bluefish and flounder.
At the Ocean City Inlet there are plenty of undersized striped bass being caught near the South Jetty and the Route 50 Bridge on a variety of bucktails and soft plastics. Flounder are certainly present. A few are drifting live eels and spot at night and occasionally catching a legal-striped bass measuring over 28 inches. The use of circle hooks are mandatory when targeting striped bass.
Fishing for flounder in the back bay channels is so dependent on water clarity and with persistent Southerly winds that has been a problem. Flounder are ambush predators so they must have a clear line of sight to a bait. Boat traffic is going to be heavy over the holiday so be careful out there. Jigging along the bottom with large soft plastic such as Gulps is a great way to target larger flounder as is live lining spot close to the bottom. If one can access fresh silversides or finger mullet they also make excellent baits for flounder.
Outside the inlet those trolling along the shoals have been picking up a few Spanish mackerel, it is hoped that more will move into the region soon. A few larger bluefish are also being caught by trolling. The boats headed out to the offshore wreck and reef sites are finding good fishing for black sea bass along with flounder. A few charter boats have been targeting flounder at some of the wreck sites closer to shore and finding very good catches of large flounder for their anglers.
Those heading out to the canyons are experiencing a slowdown in the yellowfin tuna bite this week but it is hoped this will improve as a new wave of tuna moves through the region. The bluefin tuna seem to have moved out of our area for waters farther north. Those trolling are catching a mix of yellowfin tuna, a few dolphinfish, and a white marlin now and then. Many are deep dropping along the canyon edges for a mix of blueline and golden tilefish to fill out their trips.
“The thing about fishing … is not how many fish you catch or what kind of fish. I, for one, think that making a hard-headed profession out of fishing is a waste of time, because a fish is only a fish and when you make a lot of work out of him you lose the whole point of him.” — Robert Ruark
Click Before You Cast is written by Tidewater Ecosystem Assessment Director Tom Parham.