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CNB Fishing Maryland Report: Warming Waters Coming AND Spawning Gamefish will Follow

Maryland Fishing Report – April 17

Photo of two men holding a catfish

Tim Wills was out on the Bay recently fishing for blue catfish with his friends and enjoyed a great day on the water together. Photo by Bob Neighoff

We are in store for some nice weather this week, so be sure to get outdoors and enjoy some of the many fishing opportunities in Maryland. Trout fishing is bolstered with continuing stockings, other freshwater species are active, and blue catfish can be found in every tidal water of the Chesapeake Bay.

Forecast Summary: April 17 – April 23:

Warming days in the week ahead will heat up our local Maryland waters for the progression of spawning gamefish. Main Chesapeake Bay surface temperatures have risen to the upper 50s. River temperatures have also risen to the upper 50s and low 60s, although smaller streams and downwind areas will warm faster on a sunny day and can hold temperatures even warmer. Such low salinity areas will be prime areas to look for hickory and American shad as they move upriver to spawn.

Expect above average flows for the Potomac and Susquehanna Rivers but average flows for most of the other Maryland rivers and streams. As a result of recent rains, expect poor water clarity for the Maryland portion of the Bay down to the Bay Bridge as well as the Potomac River down to the 301 Bridge. To see the latest water clarity conditions, check Eyes on the Bay Satellite Maps. There will be above average tidal currentsFriday through Tuesday as a result of the previous full moon on April 24.

For more detailed and up-to-date fishing conditions in your area, continue to check out Click Before You Cast.

Upper Chesapeake Bay
Photo of man on a boat holding a fish

Patrick Fingles hefts up a big blue cat he caught at Podickory Point. Photo courtesy of Patrick Fingles

High water along with stained water conditions continue below the Conowingo Dam and the lower Susquehanna River this week. There are no major rain events predicted soon so hopefully conditions will improve. Despite these unfavorable conditions anglers are catching and releasing hickory shad in the river, at the mouth of Deer Creek, and in Octoraro Creek. A variety of colorful shad darts and small spoons rigged in tandem are the most popular lures being used. There are also a few reports of American shad being caught near the Conowingo Dam pool. The dam fish lift is reported to be operating.

Striped bass will be spawning soon in the lower Susquehanna River. The upper Bay spawn is usually one of the last, due to cold water coming from the Conowingo Dam releases.  Striped bass are off limits to anglers until May 16. 

White perch are steadily moving down the region’s tidal rivers this week and should be arriving at their summer habitat locations in the next few weeks. Typically, one can expect them to be at these locations by the middle of May. They can be intercepted at various sections of the tidal rivers, and it will take some exploring to find out where they might be holding. A high low bottom rig baited with grass shrimp, or pieces of bloodworm make the best baits. 

Large blue catfish are being caught from the lower Susquehanna River south to the Bay Bridge this week. Salinity values are very low due to recent rains and salinity values are less than 1 ppt, or parts per thousand, in the upper Bay. The low salinity values are allowing large blue catfish to roam the entire upper Bay as well as every tidal river within the region. There are some upper bay charter boats that are leading blue catfish trips; you can check the Maryland DNR website to find them. Most blue catfish being caught by anglers are in the 15-20-pound range or more, which makes for a hefty battle. Cut bait of menhaden and gizzard shad is popular, but many anglers are having good luck with chicken liver or chicken breast scented with WD-40 and other scents.

Middle Bay

Striped bass have been spawning in the upper Choptank River for a week and the peak of the spawn may have passed. The spawn lasted for more than a full week, which is very good, so perhaps our conservation efforts — which includes the closure of the fishery until May 16 — are paying off. Salinity values are very low so much of the spawn occurred a little farther downriver than usual. 

White perch are moving down the region’s tidal rivers headed to their typical summer habitat locations near the mouths of the tidal rivers and creeks. The tidal rivers will have white perch passing through and fishing with a high-low bottom rig is perhaps the best way to target them. Grass shrimp or pieces of bloodworm are popular baits. Check our Angler’s Log to learn how you can catch your own grass shrimp

Due to low salinity values, large blue catfish can be found in the middle Bay this week. Anglers are catching them on a variety of baits, but cut bait tends to be at the top of the list. Salinity values are about 2 ppt at Annapolis and 7 ppt at the Gooses, which allows large blue catfish to roam free. Most anglers are using fish finder type rigs with circle hooks to ensure better hookups. Some prefer a 2-inch float close to the hook, and others do fine without it. 

The tidal rivers are a good place to fish for a mix of channel and blue catfish this week. All the tidal rivers within the region have populations of blue catfish, but the Choptank River tends to have the largest populations. Due to low salinity values, the best fishing for blue catfish occurs from the Dover Bridge on Route 331 south to the town of Secretary. Plenty of channel catfish can be found from the town of Denton south. 

Lower Bay
Photo of man holding a fish

Billy Londeree caught and released this hickory shad. Photo by Eric Packard

The catch-and-release fishery for hickory and American shad at the Fletcher’s Landing-Chain Bridge area of the tidal Potomac is a popular fishing destination this week. High water flows and stained conditions persist, but with relatively clear weather in the long-range forecast, there is hope that the water flows will settle down and water clarity improves.

A variety of colorful shad darts and small flashy spoons are very popular lures to cast, and they are often rigged in tandem. When conditions are poor in the Potomac River, anglers are finding better conditions in Mattawoman Creek. The catch-and-release action there is often much better.

All catch and release of striped bass is now closed in Maryland waters through May 15, until the summer striped bass season begins May 16. The main stem of the Potomac River from the Wilson Bridge south will be open to catch and release fishing for striped bass until May 15. Jigging will be one of the most popular ways to fish for them and those deciding to use cut bait must use circle hooks. Striped bass have been spawning in the tidal Potomac for the past week and the same can be said for the upper Patuxent and Nanticoke rivers. 

Any angler looking for some fun fishing action and plenty of good eating are focusing on blue catfish. The largest blue catfish have moved down to the lower parts of the tidal rivers due to low salinity values. They are still being found in the deeper waters but are now spreading out more. Shore-based anglers are having good luck as well as those fishing from boats. There are several charter boats offering blue catfish trips on the Potomac and it is a comfortable way to fish and fill a cooler with good-eating fish. Check the Maryland DNR website for a geographic list of charters.

Freshwater Fishing
Photo of girl holding a fish

Camille Schwarb holds up a pretty largemouth bass she caught and released at Loch Raven Reservoir recently. Photo courtesy of Camille Schwarb

As we move through the third week of the traditional spring trout season, stocking teams are out almost every day. Trout fishing has been hampered in some streams and rivers due to high flows caused by heavy rains. Conditions are improving and trout from the earliest stockings have spread out due to those heavy flows, so anglers can spread out over wider areas. Check the Maryland DNR website for the latest trout stockings and access maps

Largemouth bass are aggressively feeding in a variety of locations this week. Ideal water temperatures have fish moving freely through different water depths and all day long. Grass beds are emerging, and they provide an excellent location to look for largemouth bass that are searching for baitfish and crayfish. Spinnerbaits, jerkbaits, soft craws, and soft plastics are all good choices for baits. Male largemouth bass are holding in the shallow spawning areas now and will be carving out nests to attract females. The female largemouth bass will generally be staged in slightly deeper waters and feeding.

Chain pickerel are providing a lot of fun fishing this week in the tidal and nontidal waters of the state. The upper sections of the Bay’s tidal rivers are a good place to look for chain pickerel holding near sunken wood or emerging grass beds. The state’s many small ponds and larger reservoirs all hold good populations of chain pickerel. Single-hook paddletails, spinners, spoons, and jerkbaits are all excellent lures to use. 

Fishing for crappie could hardly be any better this week. They can be found holding near structures such as sunken wood, rocks, fallen treetops, marina docks, and bridge piers. Unicorn Lake near Millington has a program where they anchor old Christmas trees to the bottom of the lake to attract crappie. A simple slip bobber rigged with a small minnow is an excellent way to fish for them. Casting small marabou jigs and various lures and retrieving slowly is also a good way to fish for them.

Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays

It was a blustery weekend in Ocean City, with strong winds churning up the coastal bays and making the ocean rough. Despite the winds, surf anglers enjoyed the mild temperatures and soaked baits hoping to hook up with black drum. Clams, crab, and sand fleas were the most popular baits being used, and several black drum were caught by anglers.

Fishing for tautog at the Ocean City Inlet jetties and the Route 50 Bridge has been very good, with some anglers catching limits of tautog measuring more than 16 inches. Sand fleas and pieces of crab are the most popular baits. 

Striped bass are providing a lot of fun fishing in and around the inlet and the Route 90 Bridge this week. Most of the striped bass being caught are coming up a little short of the required 28 inches but are entertaining anglers with plenty of fun catch-and-release action. Casting soft plastic jigs and paddletails are the most popular way anglers are fishing.

When sea conditions permit, anglers are heading out to the offshore wreck and reef sites to catch tautog. Catches have been good with many large tautog being caught. Pieces of crab are the most popular bait being used.

“The contentment which fills the mind of an angler at the close of his day’s sport is one of the chiefest charms in his life.” – William Cowper Prime

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.