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CNB Fishing Maryland Report: That Is One Big Blue Fish!

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This huge bluefish is an example that you never know what can happen when you cast a line. Photo by Travis Long

Summertime fishing is in full swing, and anglers have been finding many adventures with other species of fish during the two-week striped bass closure in the Chesapeake Bay.

Forecast Summary: July 26 – August 1:

Bay waters will continue to heat up with high temperatures, and a small chance of thunderstorms throughout the week. Main Bay surface water temperatures cooled slightly from recent rains but will likely increase back to the mid 80s later this week. The coolest main Bay surface waters are still found between the Patapsco River and Annapolis. 

Bay salinity is still above average. While there is still low oxygen, or hypoxia, in bottom waters, the hypoxia volume in June was very low and among the best on record. On the west side of the Bay from the Patapsco down to the Rhode River, avoid fishing below 15-20 feet. In these areas, better oxygen conditions will be found on the east side of the Bay. Check the areas of low oxygen map to help determine the maximum fishing depth in your favorite area. 

Expect average flows all week, although localized thunderstorms may increase flows in nearby waters. There will be above average tidal currents Saturday through Tuesday as a result of the upcoming full moon on August 1. Expect average clarity in Maryland’s waters. To see the latest water clarity conditions, check Eyes on the Bay Satellite Maps.

As always, the best fishing areas could be further refined by intersecting them with underwater points, hard bottom, drop-offs, and large schools of baitfish. 

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.

Upper Chesapeake Bay
Photo of man on a boat holding a large catfish

Wyatt Eckerson caught this big blue catfish just south of Betterton Beach recently.Photo by Kim Eckerson

During the current striped bass closure, upper Bay anglers are focusing their attention to fishing for white perch, blue and channel catfish, and northern snakeheads. Striped bass targeting in Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay resumes August 1. 

White perch are always an abundant Bay species to fish and they provide some excellent eating. All the tidal rivers in the upper Bay contain populations of white perch and they can also be found on oyster reefs and knolls. When fishing in the Bay or in the deeper waters of the tidal rivers, bottom rigs baited with grass shrimp, peeler crab or pieces of bloodworm are standard fare. Just enough sinker to hold bottom and one or two No. 4 hooks or dropper rigs with small soft plastic jigs or flies will do the trick. In some areas of the Bay and near the mouths of the tidal rivers, spot can be part of the mix. 

Perhaps the most fun way to fish for white perch is to use a light-tackle spinning rod and cast beetle-spins, small spinnerbaits, spinners, and small plastic jigs along shoreline structure in the Bay and tidal rivers. Rock jetties, breakwaters, steep edges, bulkheads, piers, areas with old pilings, and almost any kind of structure that might harbor food for white perch are good places to target. The best fishing success occurs during the morning and evening hours when a good tide is running.

There are plenty of blue catfish in the upper Bay and they are worthwhile targeting since they make good table fare. One of the secrets to preparing catfish – either blue or channel – is to remove all the red meat and silver skin when fileting them. The lower Susquehanna River and the Chester River have large populations of blue catfish, and they can be found in all the region’s tidal rivers in substantial numbers. Cut bait is the most popular, but many anglers have good luck with chicken liver and scented baits.

At the Conowingo Dam pool, flathead catfish can be found below the tailrace of the power generating turbines, picking up pieces of fish that happen to come through the turbines. In the dam pool, the flathead catfish can grow large foraging on the abundant gizzard shad, which is why it makes one of the most popular baits. Many anglers also have good luck with live bluegill sunfish. 

Northern snakeheads are in various stages of spawning this week – either actively spawning, protecting fry balls, or in a post-spawn mode of behavior. Heavy grass is the place to find them, and they can be found in all the region’s tidal rivers and creeks. Casting annoying topwater lures like buzzbaits or chatterbaits is a good way to get their attention. Soft frogs are another good choice. If they are protecting fry balls it may take several casts to finally upset them enough to strike.

Middle Bay
Photo of man weighing a fish with a hanging scale

Scott Johnson recently caught this 15.5-inch whopper of a white perch. Photo courtesy Scott Johnson

White perch are big on anglers’ list in the middle Bay this week. They can be found in the tidal rivers, at the west end of the Bay Bridge, and in Kent Narrows to name a few places. In deeper waters, bottom rigs baited with grass shrimp, peeler crab, small minnows, or pieces of bloodworm are very popular. Oyster reefs, shoals, dock piers, rocks, jetties, and channels in the tidal rivers are good places to look for white perch during a running tide. 

Casting small lures along shoreline structure during the morning and evening is a wonderful way to fish for white perch with light spinning gear. Beetle-spins and small spinnerbaits are great lures to use for this way of fishing. Prominent points, dock piers, rock breakwaters, and bulkheads are all good examples of structure that white perch like to frequent when feeding. A flood or ebbing tide is always important when fishing for white perch. 

Bluefish and Spanish mackerel are slowly moving into the middle Bay and providing some fishing action. At times they can be found chasing schools of baitfish and their presence is often revealed by diving gulls. To entice a Spanish mackerel to strike, casting small but heavy flashy jigs or Got-Cha lures into the breaking fish and allow it to sink a bit, then speed-reel to retrieve it. A slower retrieve will catch bluefish. 

Trolling is a popular way to fish for Spanish mackerel and bluefish when they are spread out over a wide area. Small Drone and Clark spoons in gold are very popular and usually pulled behind No. 1 orNo.2 planers at about 6 to 7 knots. Slower speeds will allow bluefish to catch up. It often pays to pull a couple of spoons behind inline weights to fish the upper column of water.

Channel catfish can be found in all the region’s tidal rivers and blue catfish can also be found. The greatest concentration of medium to large blue catfish is in the lower Choptank River currently. Fresh cut bait and chicken liver are hard to beat for bait.

Lower Bay

The most abundant fish in the lower Bay right now are spot and white perch. The lower Patuxent River has been a sort of ground zero for the best spot fishing. These fish are getting larger and if you can filet a mess of them for tasty bites. Others just remove the head, scale them, and cook them that way. Fried spot is right up there with white perch as a tasty treat. Bottom fishing for spot is also a great introduction to fishing for kids or adults who have never been fishing before. White perch will be mixed in with the spot, along with the occasional kingfish and small croaker. 

Photo of man on a boat holding a long, thin fish

A larger cousin of the small Atlantic needlefish is the houndfish – Tylosurus crocodilius – measuring up to 5 feet long. They make excellent cut bait. Photo by Travis Long

Spot and white perch can be found in Tangier Sound, Pocomoke Sound, and often near the mouth of the Potomac and Nanticoke rivers. Pieces of bloodworm or the artificially scented imitation bait work well. 

The mid-summer months find us welcoming visitors from the south such as cobia, large red drum, speckled trout, the occasional flounder and sheepshead, and of course Spanish mackerel and bluefish.

White perch can be found in all the region’s tidal rivers and can be caught on grass shrimp, small minnows, peeler crab, and of course pieces of bloodworm when fishing deeper waters around docks, piers, rocks, bulkheads, and almost any kind of structure. Tide is always important– both ebb and flood are good for white perch. Casting beetle-spins, small spinnerbaits, and small jigs is a fun way to catch white perch along shoreline structure during the morning and evening. 

Speckled trout are being found along shoreline grass flats and stump fields on the eastern side of the Bay, from Pocomoke Sound north to Taylors Island. Anglers are casting Zara Spooks into stump fields or over grass during the early morning and late evening hours. Fishing soft plastic shrimp and paddletails under a popping cork is a good way to fish over grass without your lure running through the grass and the cork attracts the trout. There is also some speckled trout action on the western side of the Bay near Point Lookout and the mouth of the Patuxent River.

Cobia are being found at Smith Point and from the Target Ship to the Middle Grounds. The action is sparse but a few nice cobia are being caught mostly by chumming and fishing with live eels at the back of the chum slick. Red drum are being spotted here and there by the Target Ship and Mud Leads. Most anglers are either jigging with large soft plastics when they spot them or dropping soft crab baits.

Reports are that recreational crabbing is good for the most part in all regions of the Bay. In the upper Bay, the Gunpowder River has been a good place to crab with a half-bushel to a full bushel per outing. In the middle and lower Bay, crabbers can harvest a full bushel of large crabs per outing. Many crabbers in all regions are excited to be catching crabs in the 7-inch to 8-inch size range, and they are heavy with meat. The best crabbing has been occurring in waters less than 12 feet, and in some areas small crabs have been chewing up baits. In the past when small crabs became a problem many commercial crabbers would often switch to salted bull lips which are tough and last a long time.

Freshwater Fishing

The trout management waters of the western region are experiencing typical low summer flows this week but do offer some challenging fishing in the fly-fishing catch and release management areas. Light tippets and a stealthy approach are usually the norm. This is a great time of the year to cast terrestrials, caddis, and streamers.

Photo of boy in a small boat on a river, holding a fish

J.J. Renner caught and released this fine-looking smallmouth bass while fishing in the upper Potomac recently. Photo by Jason Renner

The upper Potomac River is experiencing low summer flows, which opens the opportunity for wading and casting for smallmouth bass. If you can get on the river at dawn or late evening, casting poppers can be an exciting way to catch smallmouth bass. Tubes, swimbaits, spinnerbaits, and small crankbaits work well near current breaks, underwater ledges, and the deeper pools. The water is very clear, so long casts and a light line can be an advantage.

Largemouth bass are holding tight to a typical summer mode of behavior. This means they are active in the morning and evening, and during the heat of the day they’re holed up somewhere in the best cool shade they can find. Casting frogs over grass in the early morning or evening can elicit some fun surface action. Buzzbaits can also be a good choice. Spinnerbaits and jerkbaits are a good choice outside of grass, and spatterdock beds and grubs and stick worms can be a good choice when working deep cover. Flipping wacky rigged stick worms through grass mats, under overhanging brush or under shaded docks is another good tactic when largemouth bass are lounging in the shade.

Northern snakeheads are in various stages of spawning this week but in all cases, they will be found in thick grass. Casting buzzbaits, chatterbaits, and soft plastic frogs over and through the grass is the best way to arouse a snakehead into charging a bait.

Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays
 Photo of man holding a large fish at night

Angler David Moore caught and released a 46.5-inch red drum at Assateague. Photo courtesy David Moore

Along the beaches of Assateague, anglers continue to catch a mix of kingfish, spot and croaker, flounder, and small bluefish. The action is reported to be slow but worthwhile. There has been a recent run of large red drum along the beaches during the evening, which offers exciting catch-and-release action.

At the inlet and Route 50 Bridge area sheepshead are being caught near the jetties, bridge piers and bulkheads on sand fleas. Large bluefish are an exciting addition this week and are being caught on Got-Cha plugs, soft plastic jigs, or drifting cut bait. Striped bass are also being caught on soft plastic jigs. 

In the back bay channels, flounder fishing has been good due to clear water this week. Drifting traditional squid and minnow baits are catching plenty of flounder but those seeking larger flounder are using live spot, finger mullet, or menhaden.

Outside the Ocean City Inlet, a mix of Spanish mackerel and bluefish are being caught by those trolling silver Clark and Drone spoons behind No. 2 planers. The shoal areas are a good place to fish, and flounder are also being caught in these areas.

At the wreck and reef sites anglers are catching black sea bass, triggerfish, cutlassfish, and some large flounder. Farther offshore at the canyons, those trolling are catching a mix of wahoo, bigeye, and yellowfin tuna. Lately the yellowfin tuna have been scarce – hopefully their numbers will improve soon. Anglers are loading up and often catching limits of chicken dolphin near the lobster buoys or any other floating material they can find. Deep dropping for blueline and golden tilefish has been good.

“Fishing is a perpetual series of occasions for hope.” – Mike Gaddis

Maryland Fishing Report is written and compiled by Keith Lockwood, fisheries biologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources

Click Before You Cast is written by Tidewater Ecosystem Assessment Director Tom Parham.