By Keith Lockwood.
This is a marvelous time of year to enjoy Maryland’s outdoors, and recreational crabbing is just one way to get onto the quiet tidal creeks and rivers of the Chesapeake Bay.
Fishing the Chesapeake Bay is a time-honored tradition. While anglers often set their sights on striped bass there are several other species which provide just as much if not more excitement. Join the Maryland Department of Natural Resources July 9 at noon for a virtual discussion on summertime fishing — including alternative fish species, how to plan fishing trips at the most appropriate times, how to properly catch and release, and how to fish with circle hooks.
Our Maryland Fishing Report team – recreational fisheries staff Keith Lockwood and Erik Zlokovitz, with Tidewater Ecosystem Assessment Director Tom Parham — will discuss how to reduce striped bass mortality during the summer.
You can join the discussion through Google meets or by phone at 1-443-671-4706, and use the PIN: 674 636 739.
Don’t forget that throughout Maryland’s warmest months, the department’s online striped bass fishing advisory forecast provides a seven-day outlook to help anglers reduce striped bass mortality during the summer fishing season.
Forecast Summary: July 8-14:Expect warm, sunny skies, a chance of thunderstorms and low winds most of the week. Main Chesapeake Bay surface water temperatures are holding in the low 80s. These warm waters and corresponding low oxygen are appearing from Swan Point down to the mouth of the Potomac River. In areas north of Love Point, to find suitable oxygen for gamefish, avoid fishing much deeper than 20 feet.
Gamefish are remaining on cooler river mouths or main bay structure but moving to slightly shallower depths in the coolest water available. Recent DNR water monitoring indicates that the coolest oxygenated water is found in the deeper waters of the Gooses Reef down to the Virginia state line. The other way to find cooler water is to fish the shallows at first light when surface water temperatures can be several degrees cooler. As always, the best fishing areas could be further refined by intersecting these cool, oxygenated areas with underwater points, hard bottom, drop-offs, and large schools of baitfish.
White perch can be found on tidal creek mouths on mud, sand, or clay bottoms near structure in waters less than 20 feet deep. Adult spot can be found up to the upper Chesapeake Bay mainstem and tributaries in areas with salinities greater than 5ppt on oyster bars, sand, and mud bottom, feeding on benthic worms and small clams.
Expect reduced water clarity from algal blooms along the western shore from Chesapeake Beach down to Point Lookout, as well as the lower Patuxent River. On the Potomac River, expect poorer-than-normal water clarity from Piney Point down to Point Lookout. To see the latest water clarity conditions, check Eyes on the Bay Satellite Maps. There will be above average tidal currents through Saturday as a result of the July 5 full moon.
For more detailed and up-to-date fishing conditions in your area of the bay, be sure 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 BayThe Conowingo Dam has been on a late-day power generation schedule, which means less-than-average discharges for this time of year. There is an early morning topwater striped bass bite in the dam pool. A fair percentage of the fish being caught are undersized but topwater fishing is always a fun and exciting way to fish for striped bass. Casting soft plastic jigs and swim shads into the dam pool and the lower river can also produce strikes. There is some topwater action reportedly at the crack of dawn in the Susquehanna Flats area.
There are large numbers of blue and channel catfish holding at the mouths of the Susquehanna and Elk rivers this week, and those who fish for them are catching all they wish to keep. The Sassafras, Bohemia, and Chester rivers are also good places to fish for them. The Chester tends to be holding large numbers of blue catfish. Fresh cut bait is a good choice for bait as are nightcrawlers, clam snouts and chicken livers.
At the Tolchester Lumps there has been a large fleet of boats chumming and live-lining for the striped bass that have been holding there. Low oxygen values in waters deeper than 15 feet have caused the striped bass to be stuck in this relatively shallow and very warm water. This combination of factors along with poor catch-and-release practices are causing high mortality numbers that do not bid well for sustainable striped bass recruitment in future years. Care must be taken when handling fish and anglers using live bait or cut bait are reminded that they must use non-offset circle hooks at all times.
There has been striped bass fishing activity in other areas of the upper bay. Those wishing to troll have been pulling umbrella rigs along the edges of Swan Point, around Love Point Rocks and the 25 foot channel edges at Podickory Point. The action tends to be slow but fish are being caught. The Bay Bridge and Francis Scott Key Bridge offer some striped bass action at some of the intermediate bridge piers for those live-lining, chumming, or jigging.
Spot and white perch can be caught in waters off Sandy Point and the mouth of the Magothy River, and surely other places that are 10-12 feet deep with a hard bottom. Many anglers are talking about a shortage of bloodworms lately. An old trick to extend your bloodworms is to mix in some cut up nightcrawlers in the bloodworm juice when cutting up baits. Others have good luck with artificial bloodworm baits that come in fibrous strips.
White perch fishing is very good in all of the tidal rivers and creeks of the upper bay. During summer, white perch can be found holding near structure such as docks and piers in the smaller creeks, and out in the bay on oyster bottom shoals or the bridge piers at the Bay Bridge or the Francis Scott Key Bridge. Bloodworms are a preferred bait but often wild shrimp from a seafood market, grass shrimp, and small minnows can work well when fishing with a bottom rig. In the morning and evening hours, casting small spinners, spinnerbaits, and small soft plastic jigs near shoreline structure is a good tactic.
Middle BayThe striped bass tend to be spread out over a wider area in the middle bay. There are striped bass holding along the 15-foot to 25-foot channel edges at Hacketts, Bloody Point, and Thomas Point. These areas have been very popular with those live-lining spot, and a few who are chumming. With warmer air temperatures and water temperatures, care must be taken when handling fish and anglers using live bait or cut bait are reminded that they must use non-offset circle hooks at all times.
Striped bass can also be found in Eastern Bay, the Buoy 83 edge, and the waters off Chesapeake Beach for those trolling or setting up on suspended fish. Those who are trolling are using umbrella rigs with white bucktail or swim shad trailers. A few bluefish will be part of the mix when trolling.
There is some early morning and late evening striped bass action near structure such as the rocks at Poplar Island and prominent points with submerged rocks. Water temperatures are getting warm enough now that this fishery usually shuts down when the sun clears the horizon. These are areas where anglers are casting a variety of topwater lures. Speckled trout can be part of the mix at times, especially below the Choptank River in the Taylors Island area. Stump fields are one of the best places to cast Zara Spooks and similar lures when targeting speckled trout.
White perch fishing is in a summertime swing this week for all ages and abilities of anglers. Those that know their stuff often target them in the mornings or evening along shoreline structure like old submerged wood, rocks, jetties, or breakwaters. Casting small spinners (such as a Panther Martin) or jigs on a quiet summer morning or evening is a relaxing and productive way to catch some nice large white perch. They are a real treat when filleted, and battered with your favorite coating and pan fried.
White perch are special for younger anglers because they are often the first fish kids get to catch. There are few better ways to introduce a young child to fishing than taking out a theme-related fishing outfit they picked themselves, and fishing off a dock or pier with a simple bottom rig baited with grass shrimp or pieces of bloodworm. The fishing is straight down so no casting is needed.
Fishing for a mix of channel and blue catfish offers a productive and fun fishing experience. There are channel catfish to be found in the tidal rivers of the region, and they are relatively easy to catch using a bottom rig and fresh cut bait, nightcrawlers, clam snouts, or chicken livers. The blue catfish seem to have moved up the Choptank River from the Dover Bridge area to the mouth of the Tuckahoe Creek and the Denton area.
Lower BayThe big buzz around docks and marinas is the arrival of cobia in many of the traditional fishing locations in Maryland waters. Boats can be seen anchored up at the Middle Grounds up past the Target Ship to the Mud Leads chumming to entice a cobia into range, using cut bait or perhaps a live eel. Others are roaming around sight fishing, getting up high above the water and wearing polarized sunglasses. Live eels are pre-rigged with a circle hook through the lips and kept in a 5-gallon bucket, ready to go when a cobia is sighted. Casting large soft plastic jigs in white or pink are popular also when cast out in front of the surface-cruising fish. The minimum size for cobia is 40 inches with a catch limit of one cobia per person per day and up to 3 cobia per vessel if three or more anglers are onboard. Cobia steaks grilled with a light coating of olive oil and some seasoned salt are hard to beat.
Increasing numbers of spot have moved into the region and the lower Patuxent, Cornfield Harbor on the lower Potomac, Hoopers Island, and Tangier Sound are just a few of the places you can catch them. White perch can often be found in the same locations. Pieces of bloodworm are the most popular bait to catch them. Most are catching small spot for live lining but some larger eating-sized spot are becoming more common.
There is some trolling action for striped bass along the channel edges in the lower Patuxent and Potomac rivers. Most are pulling umbrella rigs behind inline weights to get them down to about 25 feet where striped bass are suspended. White bucktails with sassy shad or twister tails rigged on them have been popular choices for trailers. A few are also putting hoses in their spreads for bluefish and large spoons in case a large red drum happens to come by. The red drum are mostly on the eastern side of the bay in the Tangier Sound area, and always make for some fun catch and release fishing action.
Fishing for a mix of speckled trout and striped bass on the eastern side of the bay continues to be a large draw for light tackle anglers this week. Most are casting topwater lures or swim shads in white-pearl sparkle combinations with good luck. Casting Zara Sooks over grass beds and into stump fields is an excellent way to target speckled trout in the early morning and late evening hours.
Flounder are becoming more of a common catch in Tangier Sound. Most are being caught along channel and shoal edges on squid, large minnows, or pink or white Gulp baits. A few Spanish mackerel have been caught here and there along the channels by those trolling small Drone spoons. There have also been a few reports of black drum near the mouth of the Honga River recently.
Recreational crabbing has been very good in the lower bay, especially on the lower Eastern Shore. Middle bay recreational crabbers can usually put a half to a full bushel together per outing. The best opportunities seem to be at about 15 feet along oyster bars. There are a lot of very small crabs chewing up baits and razor clams continue to be the most desired bait.
Freshwater FishingFisheries biologists and hatchery crews have been busy bolstering trout populations in several western region trout waters with rainbow trout juveniles. The Youghiogheny River catch-and-return trout fishing area was stocked with 10,000 — 19 fish per pound — from the Mettiki Hatchery, plus another 15,000 — 42 fish per pound — from Albert Powell Hatchery. The North Branch Potomac River zero creel limit trout fishing area was stocked with 15,000 rainbow trout juveniles, also from the Powell hatchery.
The Savage River has two trophy trout management areas – one area is restricted to fly fishing only while the other allows the use of spinning gear using single hook artificial lures. Both management areas support a high density wild brown trout with lesser numbers of brook trout and a few rainbow trout. Terrestrial patterns, mayflies, small hair nymphs, and wet flies can all be good choices to lure them. Most western region trout streams are low and clear this week, which gives the advantage to the trout, so casting long and staying out of sight are important.
The fishing scene at Deep Creek Lake and similar western region reservoirs has transitioned into a typical summer pattern of fish behavior. Trout can be found deep along the dam face; walleye and yellow perch are deep along grass edges; and smallmouth and largemouth bass are holding under or near floating docks and moored boats, seeking cool shade.
Fishing for smallmouth bass in the upper Potomac River is fair as water temperatures rise. Grubs, small crankbaits, and tubes rigged without weight are good choices for working underwater ledges and deeper parts of the river. In the early morning hours casting buzzbaits near the shallower areas can result in explosive strikes from smallmouth bass.
Largemouth bass are now locked into a typical summertime mode of behavior which translates to feeding in the shallower areas at night and seeking cool shade during the hot daytime hours. In the early morning and late evening hours, casting a variety of topwater lures near shallow grass is a good choice. Soft frog baits and floating worms rigged Texas-style are good choices when fishing thick grass. When fishing these soft baits it is important not to set the hook until you feel the weight of the fish. They often grab and hold onto a soft bait before inhaling it into their mouth.
When fishing for largemouth bass in tidal waters, the thick grass beds are often the key to successful bass fishing. Weedless soft frogs and floating worms are excellent choices. Buzzbaits are also a good choice and if open patches can be found lipless crankbaits work well. Small feeder creeks are good places to cover as well as fallen treetops and spatterdock fields. At high tide the grass beds and spatterdock fields will often hold largemouth bass and northern snakeheads deep into the cover. At low tide working the edges of these grass beds or spatterdock fields with lipless crankbaits and spinnerbaits is a good choice.
Northern snakeheads are now finished spawning and will often be found in deep grass protecting their broods. They will strike anything they perceive as a threat to their young — buzzbaits can be a good choice. Northern snakeheads are spread throughout all of the tidal rivers in Maryland. The greatest concentrations at this time tend to be the Potomac, Patuxent, and Nanticoke rivers, and the tidal creeks of Dorchester County.
Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays
Kingfish are providing plenty of action in the surf for those fishing with pieces of bloodworm or imitation baits on bottom rigs. Those fishing with finger mullet are catching a few bluefish. Spanish mackerel are reported to be dashing through the surf and can be caught by casting a variety of small metal lures and speed retrieving. Fishing with squid can entice a flounder or northern blowfish in the surf.
Bluefish are moving in and out of the Ocean City Inlet on the tides, especially during the evening hours. Flounder are being caught at the inlet on traditional squid and minnow baits or by working large white or pink Gulp baits.
In the back bay areas, flounder are the main focus of anglers. The channels tend to be the best place to find them, but it can be a harrowing place to fish with summertime boat traffic. Some of the less traveled channels in Sinepuxent Bay can offer a little respite. Traditional baits of squid strips and minnows will always be a standard. Large Gulp baits in white or pink tend to catch the largest flounder.
Fishing for sea bass does not show any signs of slowing down, which is typical for the summer months. Good catches of chunky sea bass tend to be common and some anglers have been catching limits. Large flounder are holding near the wreck and reef sites and can be caught on large Gulp baits or squid strips. Bluefish and Spanish mackerel are being found near several of the 30 Fathom Line lumps such as the Jackspot this week.
Out at the canyons, boats have been trolling skirted ballyhoo rigs and plastic lures for a mix of offshore species. The most common and welcomed catches have been yellowfin tuna and bigeye tuna. A few white marlin are being caught and released. Several mako sharks have also been reported recently.
“The art of bottom fishing is that of letting the fish come to the fisherman, instead of vice versa…. Bottom fishing, in short is the Thinking Man’s fishing.” — Louis D. Rubin Jr., 1983
Click Before You Cast is written by Tidewater Ecosystem Assessment Director Tom Parham.
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