News Release, Maryland Department of Natural Resources
The colder weather has descended upon the Maryland landscape and few know it better than our furry, finned, and feathered friends who call the outdoors their home. All are on a bit of a feeding binge to prepare for the cold winter months ahead.
Forecast Summary: Nov. 13 – Nov. 19:
Bay temperatures are dropping fast. The cool weather has reduced the water temperature of upper Bay mainstem and rivers to the upper 40s, and main Bay surface waters from Annapolis south to the state line to the mid to lower 50s. This cooling will continue through the next week.
Warmest waters continue to be found in the bottom quarter of the water column. Anglers should focus on prime habitat areas for larger concentrations of baitfish and hungry gamefish as they migrate to their winter holding areas. As always, make sure to focus on moving water periods for the best results.
Expect normal flows from most of Maryland’s rivers and streams this week. There will be above average tidal currents through next Monday as a result of the full moon Nov. 12. Bay surface salinities are largely back to normal conditions.
There will be reduced water clarity from the Susquehanna Flats down to Betterton as a result of some spill gates being opened last week at Conowingo Dam. On the Potomac River, there is reduced water clarity from Occoquan to the Route 301 bridge.
To see the latest water clarity conditions, check Eyes on the Bay Satellite Maps.
For the full weekly fishing conditions summary and more detailed and up-to-date fishing conditions in your area of the bay, be sure to check out Click Before You Cast. You can now get regular updates on Maryland’s waters and the creatures that call them home sent to your inbox with our new Eyes on the Bay newsletter. Sign up online.
Upper Chesapeake Bay
The water releases at the Conowingo Dam have diminished recently. Casting topwater lures or swimshads as close to the power generator discharges is a favored tactic for striped bass in the early morning hours. The throwback ratio is high but offers plenty of fun catch-and-release action. The water temperature in the lower Susquehanna River is holding around 49 degrees. The edges of the Susquehanna Flats and channel edges near the mouth of the river are offering some early morning and late evening topwater and jigging action.
A little farther down the Bay, there is some good topwater and jigging action near Hart-Miller Island, the Key Bridge, Love Point Rocks, and the mouths of the Chester and Magothy rivers. The topwater action is mostly in the early morning and late evening hours. Jigging is best along channel edges where striped bass can be spotted on depth finders. A few are having success with live-lining eels and small white perch near Pooles Island and the Key Bridge piers. Keep watch for diving seagulls and breaking fish. The bait in the form of menhaden is pouring out of the tidal rivers into the Bay.
Trolling is a great option for striped bass fishing. Pulling a mix of bucktails, hoses, and spoons either by themselves or behind umbrella rigs is a productive way to fish. Inline weights are in order to get lures down to where the larger striped bass are suspended along channel edges.
Fishing for catfish is a great diversion, and they certainly provide a lot of action. Blue, flathead, and channel catfish can be found in the lower Susquehanna and surrounding areas. Channel catfish can be found in all of the region’s tidal rivers. Bottom fishing with fresh cut bait or items like clam snouts works well. White perch can also offer good fishing when finding in the deeper waters at the mouths of the tidal rivers and out in the Bay. The Bay Bridge piers and rock piles are one of the traditional places to find them. Pieces of bloodworm on a bottom rig or dropper fly rigs are the most popular way to catch them. Yellow perch are showing up in the tidal rivers also and can be caught on small minnows or lures.
Water temperatures in the tidal rivers are now about 53 degrees and will continue to drop. Baitfish in the form of juvenile menhaden are moving down the rivers and pouring out into the Bay. To a lesser extent, young-of-the-year hickory shad and river herring are doing the same. These baitfish are running a gauntlet of hungry striped bass and seagulls as they make their way out into the Bay towards southern waters. This is the Chesapeake Bay food chain in all its glory.
It is a wonderful thing to see striped bass in such healthy condition due to cooler water temperatures and plenty to eat. They are fat and have that beautiful purple glow to their dorsal surfaces, which is a far cry from the skinny and washed-out condition they exhibited during the heat of summer. Most of the striped bass being encountered in the tidal rivers are 3-year old fish that range from 17 inches to 20 inches and provide plenty of fun on light tackle. Menhaden is “what’s for dinner” for these fish.
Jigging with 6-inch soft plastic jigs on ½-ounce jig heads tend to be the most popular lures to use. Soft plastics in white, pearl and chartreuse are a good choice and adding a skirt is a good idea. Paddletail plastics and metal jigs can also work well. In the tidal rivers, striped bass can be seen holding 10 feet under the surface and at times close to the bottom, usually in waters 20 feet or deeper. Along the edges of the shipping channel out in the bay, larger fish may be found suspended in deeper waters and close to the bottom.
Eastern Bay, the mouth of the Severn, and the lower Choptank River are good places to look for diving seagulls and breaking striped bass.
Although light-tackle jigging is a fall tradition, trolling can also be very productive along the shipping channel edges and those leading from the tidal rivers. A mix of spoons, bucktails dressed in soft plastics, swimshads, hoses, or spoons pulled behind umbrella rigs has been popular, and inline weights are often a must.
White perch can now be found in the deeper and lower waters of the tidal rivers, often over oyster bottom. Jigging with dropper fly rigs or fishing bottom rigs baited with pieces of bloodworm are popular ways to catch them. They can still be found at Kent Narrows and the Bill Burton Fishing Pier on the Choptank River.
Anglers are advised that the Talbot County side of the Bill Burton piers is now closed until April 1, 2020. Access to the park will still be permitted from sunrise to sunset. The Dorchester County side of the pier will remain open from 7 a.m to sunset.
Channel catfish can also provide plenty of fun fishing action in the tidal rivers.
Fishing fortunes are very good this week as striped bass can be found chasing baitfish. The lower Potomac, St, Marys, Patuxent, the Hoopers Island area and Nanticoke rivers are great places to light-tackle jig as baitfish travel down the rivers and into the Bay to head south. Most of the baitfish are young-of-the-year menhaden and offer wonderful forage for striped bass. Diving seagulls can often lead the way to the action. Jigging with soft plastics or metal is proving to be a fun and productive method of fishing. Many of the striped bass being encountered are two years old, with 3-to-5-year-old fish showing up at times. Casting topwater lures along shorelines during the early morning and evening hours in the lower sections of the tidal rivers is also providing plenty of fun fishing.
Out in the bay, the steep edges of the shipping channel are a great place to look for striped bass suspended off the bottom or up on top chasing baitfish being swept by currents. Tides are strong this week due to the full moon and there is an advantage to the ebb tide. Breaking fish and diving seagulls can be spotted during these swift currents as striped bass push baitfish to the surface. Watch for slicks and resting seagulls pointing the way to the action deep below the surface. Jigging with soft plastics or metal is a great way to target striped bass that are under birds or spotted with depth finders. White, pearl and chartreuse combinations have been favorite colors for soft plastics; crippled herring type lures with green or blue backs are also a good choice.
Trolling is a great option to target striped bass in the lower sections of the tidal rivers and out in the Bay along the shipping channel edges. Also, Tangier and Pocomoke sounds should not be overlooked. Pulling umbrella rigs with a swim shad or a bucktail dressed with a twister tail or sassy shad have been very popular; inline weights are a must to get them down. Spoons and hoses are often part of a mixed spread and deep-diving Rapala-type crankbaits can work well also, especially when trolling a couple of flat lines in the shallower tidal rivers.
Quite often while jigging for striped bass, anglers are catching speckled trout on both sides of the Bay in or near the tidal rivers. Many of the speckled trout are coming up a little short of the 14-inch minimum but larger ones are being caught, especially in the shallower areas on the eastern side of the Bay. Jigs in the 4-inch range with flashy flecking in them have been popular, and topwater lures such as Zara Spooks have been a good choice in the stump and grass fields on the Eastern Shore.
White perch are being found in the deeper waters of the lower tidal rivers often over oyster bottom. Bottom fishing with dropper fly rigs or bottom rigs baited with pieces of bloodworm. Blue catfish reign supreme in the tidal Potomac, Patuxent and Nanticoke rivers and the cooler water temperatures have them in a very active feeding mood.
As a reminder, Point Lookout State Park is now closed to night fishing until April 15, 2020. During this time, the fishing pier will be closed. Boaters will still be permitted to use the boat launch after sunset but should contact the park to arrange access.
During the last week of the fall trout stocking program, crews made a concerted effort to stock many of the catch-and-release areas in the western region. These waters offer ideal trout habitat and these trout will provide plenty of fun fishing throughout the winter months. Fly fishing with nymphs and streamers will be two of the most popular ways to fish.
Deep Creek Lake is offering some exciting fishing as the cold water temperatures have caused walleye and yellow perch to move into shallower waters. Casting jerkbaits and crankbaits along rocky shorelines during the early evening hours are a great way to fish for walleyes. Using live minnows or small spinners are a good tactic for yellow perch. Northern pike can be found near the mouths of coves, and smallmouth bass is near rocky points and sunken wood. Crappie is schooled up in deep water near structure such as bridge piers.
Fishing for smallmouth bass in the upper Potomac River shows promise. Water temperatures are getting cold for smallmouth bass but the larger bass can be enticed to pick up tubes and small crankbaits. The bite will be subtle. Walleyes are becoming a more common species being caught on tubes, jigs, small crankbaits, and live minnows.
In the tidal Potomac and other tidal rivers, largemouth bass is holding in deeper waters near sunken wood, bridge piers, and channel drop-offs. Jigs, grubs, and blade lures are good choices when fishing these deeper waters close to the bottom. Small crankbaits and spinnerbaits can be good choices to use in slightly shallower transition areas or near the remaining grass beds or spatterdock fields.
Cooler waters and declining grass make fishing for chain pickerel a fun endeavor in the many places they can be found across Maryland — small ponds, larger reservoirs, and tidal rivers and creeks. This time of the year they will often be holding near shoreline sunken wood.
Crappie is schooled up near deep structure in a variety of waters across Maryland. They can be found near marina docks and bridge piers in tidal waters and caught with minnows or small jigs under a slip bobber. Bridge piers, sunken wood, and fallen treetops in deeper waters are good places to find them in nontidal waters.
Regional biologist Mary Groves reports after a recent night electro-fishing survey on Rocky Gorge that our crews saw a lot of 4-pound to 5-pound landlocked striped bass, good numbers of largemouth bass, and crappie.
Colder water temperatures are beginning to slow down fishing for northern snakeheads. Most anglers are casting chatterbaits over open water or using live minnows behind a bobber or popper cork. Many are reporting that as the afternoon sun warms up shallower waters, the northern snakeheads tend to become more active.
Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays
Cold water has put the skids to much of the surf fishing for summer species, but new opportunities are developing. There are still small bluefish being caught on cut mullet or finger mullet. Increasing numbers of striped bass are being caught along the beaches on cut bait, although most fail to meet the 28-inch minimum.
In and around the inlet and Route 50 Bridge area, striped bass is being caught by those casting and jigging soft plastic jigs. Most are sub-legal in length but still offer a lot of fun. A few red drum within the slot range is also being caught at times. The last of the flounder are moving through the inlet and can be found in the channels. Tautog has moved into the area and is being found along the jetty rocks and bulkheads inside the inlet. Sand fleas tend to be the favored bait but pieces of green crab are also working.
Fishing for sea bass at the wreck and reef sites off Ocean City could hardly be any better. Captains must pick days with calm seas, but when the boats get out they often achieve their limits at the first site visited. A few flounder, triggerfish, and bluefish can be part of the mix. Some of the charter and private boats have been targeting tautog on the wreck sites and doing well.
Those willing to travel out to the offshore canyons when calm weather permits have been enjoying some exciting deep-drop fishing. Through trial and error, Ocean City fishermen have figured out how to catch swordfish during daylight hours at extraordinary depths. A few bigeye tuna have been caught by those trolling.
“Are these striped bass worth catching? They’re all worth catching!” — A recent conversation among two fishermen in the lower Choptank River.
Click Before You Cast is written by Tidewater Ecosystem Assessment Director Tom Parham.
This report is now available on your Amazon Echo device — just ask Alexa to “open Maryland Fishing Report.”
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