By Keith Lockwood, Fisheries Biologist
The Maryland Chesapeake Bay striped bass season closes at the end of the day on Saturday, December 10, after which striped bass fishing in the Bay and its tributaries will be limited to catch and release. The main stem of the tidal Potomac River will be open to striped bass fishing until December 31, with a two-fish-per-day limit if the fish measure over 20 inches. Fishing in the state waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays remains open, with a 28-inch minimum.
A wide range of other opportunities continues, including catfish, freshwater species, and additional trout stocking in December.
Forecast Summary: December 7 – December 13:
Maryland can expect unstable weather conditions this week with a chance of rain Wednesday, Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday. Expect windy conditions Wednesday and Thursday with 15-20 knot winds and higher gusts.
Chesapeake Bay surface water temperatures are hovering in the low 50s with the coolest waters found in the upper Bay and upper Potomac River near the Woodrow Wilson bridge. The warmer Bay waters are found from Gooses Reef south to the mouth of the Potomac River. Maryland river water temperatures are currently in the mid 40s.
Cool conditions should keep surface water temperatures slowly inching downward, resulting in gamefish continuing their movement out of river mouths and down the Bay.
The Maryland portion of the Bay has a well-mixed water column with suitable oxygen conditions from surface to bottom. There are slightly warmer and saltier bottom water temperatures, so anglers may want to scan these deeper channel areas. Gamefish will be following baitfish and moving towards overwintering areas in the deeper, warmer bottom waters of the main Bay near such structure as channel edges, underwater points, hard bottom, and drop-offs.
Expect average water clarity for most Maryland portions of the Bay and rivers. Check Eyes on the Bay Satellite Maps on the Maryland DNR website to see the latest water clarity conditions.
For more detailed and up-to-date fishing conditions in your area of the Bay, be sure to check out Eyes on the Bay’s Click Before You Cast.
Water temperatures in the lower Susquehanna River have dropped into the 40s, pushing most striped bass to deeper and warmer waters down the Bay. Anglers will find walleye and smallmouth bass in the river below the Conowingo Dam pool if they know how to fish for them. Working small soft plastic jigs and crankbaits close to the bottom will often bring results when the water is this chilly.
Flathead and blue catfish never seem to slow down in the Susquehanna and fishing in the dam pool or river channels is as good as ever. The catfish usually are holding deep but are still very active; fresh-cut menhaden, gizzard shad, or a variety of scented baits are working well to catch them. Channel catfish can be found in the lower Susquehanna and upper Bay tidal rivers.
There are some striped bass this week at the mouth of the Patapsco and Chester rivers, holding in about 30-40 feet of water close to the bottom. The deeper channel edges near Podickory Point periodically hold schools of striped bass. A watchful eye on a depth finder is crucial to locating suspended fish this time of year. Jigging with soft plastic jigs or trolling sassy shads in white are popular ways to fish for them. To get down to the depths where the striped bass are holding, jigs will need to weigh at least an ounce and heavy inline weights will be needed to get trolling lures down to the fish.
White perch are holding in the deepest channel areas this week, as deep as 40 feet. They can be found by carefully watching depth finders but there is no guarantee they will bite. Bottom rigs baited with pieces of bloodworm may be the only way to entice them if they’re in the mood.
At the Bay Bridge piers, rock piles, and concrete abutments, anglers are finding a few striped bass holding in the deepest waters tight to the bottom. Jigging with soft plastics on the bottom is the only way to entice a pickup. As water temperatures drop into the 40s, anglers may find the fish refusing to bite at times.
The shipping channel edges from Thomas Point south to below Breezy Point on the western shore and Buoy 83 south to the Summer Gooses, False Channel, and the CP Buoy are good fishing locations. Jigging is the most popular way anglers are fishing these areas this week with large soft plastic jigs in the one-ounce or more size range. Trolling is another popular way to fish, and it will take heavy inline weights to reach the depths where the striped bass are holding. The rewards are great – the striped bass are in excellent shape, heavy shouldered and beautifully colored.
Anglers fishing plenty of weight are finding some large white perch holding deep at the Bay Bridge rock piles, the deep channel off Matapeake, and the Brick House Bar off Kent Island. A two-hook bottom rig baited with bloodworm pieces is the best way to entice the white perch to bite.
This week, the lower Potomac River continues to be a big draw for lower Bay anglers. The excellent fishing there for striped bass and the two-fish per-day limit is hard to beat. The tidal Potomac will also remain open to striped bass fishing until December 31. Anglers should note that only the river's main stem will be open to striped bass fishing; the creeks and rivers on the Maryland side of the Potomac are catch-and-release only for striped bass after December 10.
Anglers are finding striped bass spread throughout the tidal Potomac from the Route 301 Bridge south, the area of Carters Lumps, Kettle Bottom Shoals south past Piney Point, and the mouth of the river. Jigging is the most popular light-tackle way to fish and 6-inch to 8-inch soft plastics in white or chartreuse are favorite colors. Those trolling are using similarly colored sassy shads in tandem or behind umbrella rigs pulled behind heavy inline weights.
Striped bass have moved into the deeper edges of the shipping channel in the main stem of the Bay and can be found holding as deep as 40 feet. There are striped bass being found near Cedar Point at the mouth of the Patuxent River and along the deep edge from Buoy 76 south past Buoy 72B. The steep edges of the main channel in Tangier Sound are also producing some striped bass for anglers coming out of the Crisfield ports.
There is some white perch action in the lower Patuxent River below the Route 4 Bridge in some of the deeper waters and the mouth of the Nanticoke River and Tangier Sound. The white perch are deep, and it will take 2 ounces or more of weight to get a rig to hold bottom. Pieces of bloodworm on a two-hook bottom rig is the most popular choice to fish for them.
At Deep Creek Lake some of the coves already have skim ice, so the boat ramp may be closed due to ice. Anyone who wants to travel with a boat should call the Deep Creek Lake State Park office to verify if the ramp is open. Generally, the fish should be moving deeper and water temperatures have fallen into the upper 30s, so ice fishing may not be too far away.
Trout fishing is good this week in the western and central region special trout management waters that cater to catch-and-release fishing and fly fishing only. These restrictions ensure that there are healthy populations of trout to entertain anglers. One of the species maintained in these waters is the beautiful brown trout.
Put-and-take trout anglers may see some preseason stocking before the month of December passes so it would be a good idea to check the DNR trout stocking website for updates. It is also a good idea to have your trout fishing gear in ready order and be prepared to dress warmly.
Largemouth bass have moved into deeper waters and will be found near drop-offs, channel edges, and deep structure. Jigging slowly close to the bottom with blade lures, grubs, small crankbaits and soft craw jigs is becoming more popular as water temperatures drop. Bridge piers, sunken wood, marina docks, and rocks are all favored deep structure for largemouth bass.
Fishing for chain pickerel in the upper reaches of the Bay’s tidal rivers is always a fun fall and winter endeavor. Casting paddletails rigged with a single hook near shoreline sunken wood is a proven tactic to catch them. Most chain pickerel fishing is a catch-and-release event so the single hook makes easy removal for both the angler and the fish.
Blue catfish are ready and willing to take on any anglers willing to drift a fresh cut bait their way. The lower Susquehanna, tidal Potomac, Patuxent, Nanticoke, Choptank, and Chester rivers are all holding expanding populations of blue catfish. They can be caught fishing from the riverbanks or anchoring up in a small boat in the channels. Channel catfish will also be found in every tidal river and will be holding in the deeper sections of the rivers.
Surf anglers are waiting out striped bass along the beaches this week and dealing with a lot of pesky clear-nose skates. Cut menhaden tends to be the bait of choice and the head tends to hold up best to the gnawing of the skates. The striped bass being caught are a mix of sub-legal fish as well as those measuring above the 28-inch minimum.
At the inlet and Route 50 Bridge area, striped bass are being caught by casting soft plastic jigs and drifting cut bait. The ratio of legal fish to sub-legal is about 1 in 4, but the fishing is still plenty of fun. Tautog is caught near the jetty rocks, bridge piers, and bulkheads on sand fleas. There is also some catch-and-release striped bass fishing at the Route 90 and the Verrazano bridges for those casting soft plastic jigs and paddle tails. Most fish are failing to meet the 28-inch minimum.
Fishing for sea bass and tautog on the offshore wreck and reef sites continues to be excellent this week. Boat limits of sea bass are common.
“I love fishing. You put that line in the water and you don’t know what’s on the other end. Your imagination is under there.” – Robert Altman
Click Before You Cast is written by Tidewater Ecosystem Assessment Director Tom Parham.