News Release, Maryland Department of Natural Resources
March is a time of fluctuating weather, a sort of back-and-forth pull between seasons. Spring is beginning to win out and signs are seen everywhere. Daffodils are opening up, spring peepers are calling out on warmer nights and anglers are fishing for stocked trout and other freshwater fish and even trying their luck on the spring spawning runs of yellow and white perch.
Yellow perch are being caught and may hit their peak towards the end of the week. The peak of the spawning runs is governed by warming water temperatures and increased daylight periods.
Forecast Summary: March 13-19
As we approach the March 21 vernal equinox marking the beginning of spring, expect temperatures first to warm through Friday and then cool through next Tuesday. Thursday and Friday will see windy conditions along with a chance of rain, and then it will be partly sunny skies through Tuesday. These typical March conditions will continue to warm Chesapeake Bay waters for gamefish preparing to spawn in the next several weeks.
As reported from the NOAA Nowcast, main bay surface water temperatures are ranging from the low to mid 40s. However, smaller streams and downwind areas will warm faster on a sunny day and will often hold water temperatures in the upper 40s. In addition, there are still slightly warmer bottom waters so anglers may want to scan these areas for fish.
Expect reduced water clarity in the upper bay from Aberdeen to the Elk River and on the Potomac River downstream to near the Wicomico River. Expect normal to above-normal flows for the Potomac and smaller rivers and streams entering the bay. There will be above average tidal currents conditions from next Sunday through Tuesday as a result of the full moon on March 21.
For the latest updates, check out our Click Before You Cast forecasts.
Upper Chesapeake Bay
Despite prolonged rainy weather in the upper bay watershed, the water releases from the Conowingo Dam have been rather moderate, from afternoon to evening. Water temperatures in the upper bay tidal rivers continue to be quite chilly and holding around 40 degrees to 42 degrees in most areas. Yellow perch are holding in deeper waters waiting for temperatures in the 45-46 degree range before moving up into the spawning areas.
Fishing for yellow perch began to improve despite chilly water temperatures in the Northeast River this past weekend, and anglers reported the bulk of the catches were male yellow perch. Other popular areas to fish this week are the Perryville area on the lower Susquehanna River, the upper Chester River at the Unicorn Branch and Millington on the eastern side of the bay.
The Grays Run area of the Bush River near the Route 41 Bridge is a popular place to fish on the western side of the bay. Locals report that there is a deep hole under the bridge that tends to be a staging area for yellow perch. Some anglers also have luck in the Winters Run branch of the Bush River.
Lip-hooked minnows on a 1/8 ounce jig head or drop shot rig fished close to the bottom tends to be the most productive way to fish.
The recent fishing for yellow perch and white perch had been slow to non-existent in the upper Choptank and Tuckahoe rivers due to cold and stained waters. A lot of anglers were out fishing without much to show but a relaxing day of fishing. Water temperatures are still chilly but improving each day, and spawning usually begins at 46 degrees. The white perch have been moving up the spawning rivers and are not far behind the yellow perch. Both have been holding in deeper pockets in the upper regions of the tidal rivers. White perch are being caught mostly on pieces of bloodworm, which can make for some expensive fishing when there are a lot of small white perch around.
Traditional areas to fish for yellow perch at the moment are Hillsboro on the Tuckahoe River, and Greensboro to Red Bridges on the Choptank River. White perch can be found from the Route 328 Bridge to Hillsboro on the Tuckahoe and Martinake State Park up past Denton on the Choptank.
A few hardy souls have been venturing out onto the bay waters looking for a little catch-and-release action with striped bass this week. The large female striped bass are moving up the bay and headed for the spawning rivers. The male striped bass are already moving into the spawning rivers and others out in the bay are becoming more active, as bay waters slowly warm. It is not hard to imagine there will be a few boats out on the bay trolling for a chance at catching and releasing a large female striped bass. Others might try a little jigging at the Calvert Cliffs Power Plant warm water discharge and some will try jigging wherever fish can be spotted on a depth finder.
The Nanticoke River has been providing some fun fishing opportunities for yellow and white perch in the river’s upper reaches of the river and Marshyhope Creek. The Marshyhope is providing most of the yellow perch fishing in the Federalsburg area and north. White perch are being found in the Sharptown area and lower Marshyhope. The upper Wicomico River is another great place to look for both yellow and white perch.
The upper Patuxent River has been providing some yellow perch action in area of Jug Bay to Wayson’s Corner near the Route 4 Bridge. Male yellow perch are making up the bulk of the catch but the larger females are holding in deeper waters waiting for warmer water temperatures.
The lower Wicomico River in St. Marys County always draws the attention of yellow perch fishermen, and area near Route 234—often referred to as Allens Fresh — is a popular place to fish. Mattawoman Creek in nearby Charles County also offers good fishing for yellow perch.
Blue catfish are active this time of the year and the Nanticoke, Patuxent and Potomac rivers offer excellent fishing for a wide variety of sizes. All of these rivers hold blue catfish in excess of 50 pounds. The middle to upper sections of the rivers tend to be where the best fishing occurs. Fresh bait is a must, especially for the larger catfish and fresh gizzard shad tends to top the list. Channel and white catfish can also be found in these same rivers and fresh cut bait, nightcrawlers or even something like chicken breast or livers can work.
The department’s pre-season trout stocking program has been busy placing trout in various waters around the state. A wide variety of rivers and community ponds spread through the central, southern and eastern regions of the state are offering some fun put-and-take trout fishing during the cooler months of the year, which provide optimal survival for trout. The western region’s streams and reservoirs tend to stay cooler during the summer months. Trout management policies such as tackle restrictions and catch-and-release provide quality trout fishing year round. It is a wonderful time of the year to fish these fly-fishing-only management areas since they provide plenty of elbow room and a chance to enjoy catching and releasing a beautiful trout.
The opening bell for the put-and-take trout season is 5:30 a.m. March 30. Closure 1 trout management waters are now closed until then, and Closure 2 waters will be closed March 24 until opening day. Stocking dates can be found at the department’s trout stocking site and be sure to check the trout stocking map site under trout links to see where trout are stocked.
Now is the time to check those boots for possible leaks, put fresh fishing line on reels and the assorted tackle one needs to go trout fishing. Perhaps one of the most important items on your check list needs to be a young angler. Fishing for stocked trout with bait is a wonderful set up for our young anglers. It may entail digging out an old fishing outfit and some gear for your new rookie and you just may find yourself developing a lasting relationship.
There will be a few trout stocking changes this spring. The Avalon Pond/Lost Lake in Patapsco Valley State Park cannot be stocked with put-and-take trout due to flood damage and storm debris. The allocation of trout will be stocked in the Avalon area of the Patapsco River. Laurel Lake cannot be stocked with put-and-take trout due to ongoing dam maintenance; its allocation will be stocked in the nearby Patuxent River.
Early spring is a great time of the year to fish the cold waters of the upper Potomac for walleye. Hair jigs, soft plastic grubs and crankbaits fished through current breaks, below dams and major ledges can produce some beautiful walleye. At present one can keep up to five walleye in the upper Potomac if they measure between 15 inches and 20 inches till April 15. Smallmouth bass tend to be sluggish in this cold water but if you fish slow and along the bottom in areas of less current with small jigs, you may get a subtle pickup from a large smallmouth bass.
Fishing for crappie continues to be good in the tidal and nontidal waters of Maryland. These fish tend to be holding in deep water around structure. Marina docks, fallen tree tops and sunken wood are all good places to fish for them. A variety of small jigs and beetle spins will work and a minnow under a slip bobber is perhaps the most proven way to catch them.
Chain pickerel do not mind cold water at all, and as a remnant of winter most of the pesky grass that they hide in is not present right now. Look for them holding near sunken wood and similar structure. Spinners, spoons, soft plastics and jerkbaits are all good choices for lures.
Largemouth bass are beginning to stir from their winter deep-water haunts and move into warmer water along transition zones between the shallows and deep water. Grubs, jigs and crankbaits are a good choice around sunken wood and other structure when fished close to the bottom. Spinnerbaits, crankbaits and jerkbaits often work well in the transition zones and are a good way to cover a lot of water. Lipless crankbaits, soft plastics and jerkbaits tend to be a good tactic in the shallower waters. Often largemouth bass can be found enjoying the warmer waters of the shallows during the middle of the day.
Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays
Tautog fishing has had its ups and downs recently, where some trips are finding limit catches and other trips are not so good. Captains believe fluctuating cold water movements are the culprit. Winter tautog fishermen are a dedicated group accustomed to cold weather and rough conditions. The charter fleet out of Ocean City has to pick the days they choose to fish mostly based on wind conditions.
The big draw to this type of fishing is the chance to catch a truly trophy-sized tautog. The winter months draw large tautog to the offshore wreck and reef sites. The classic bait for tautog fishing is pieces of green crab but trophy hunters often use much larger Jonah crabs.
Maryland Fishing Report is written and compiled by Keith Lockwood, Maryland Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist, who has produced this report since 2003. Keith is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys hunting, fishing, bird dogs, family and life on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
“There will be days when the fishing is better than one’s most optimistic forecast, others when it is far worse. Either is a gain over just staying home.” — Roderick Haig-Brown