Maryland Fishing Report – May 22
Memorial Day weekend is upon us and many Marylanders will be headed to local festivities, to the mountains or to the beaches for family fun and relaxation. Fishing rods will be seen everywhere, poking out of campers, pickup trucks and roof racks. Fishing offers time for reflection, so please take a moment to remember those who sacrificed for the freedoms we all enjoy today.
Air temperatures in the 80s should warm up most surface Chesapeake Bay waters to the low to mid-70s in the next week. Salinities are still running low for this time of year. In most Maryland bay waters, anglers will find adequate oxygen for gamefish from the surface to bottom. However, to avoid low oxygen conditions in the deep channel waters from the Bay Bridge down to the state line, avoid fishing deeper than 30 feet.
For the middle-to-upper bay — from Annapolis north — water temperatures are holding near the upper 60s to low 70s. For the middle-to-lower bay, the surface temperature has warmed to the high 60s while the bottom temperatures are stable at the low 60s. Choptank area water temperatures are also rising to the low to mid 70s. For the Potomac River, at Little Falls and Lewisetta, surface water temperatures are stable at 70 degrees. Expect reduced water clarity in the mainstem down to the Chester River and also on the Potomac River, down to Colonial Beach from recent rains. Expect elevated flows from the Susquehanna, Potomac and most other rivers and streams due to recent rains farther up in the watershed. There will be above average tidal currents through Thursday as a result of the recent full moon.
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.
Although flows from the Conowingo Dam have dropped a bit there is still a lot of cold and stained water coming down the Susquehanna River and into the upper bay region. There has been a limited amount of striped bass action near the Susquehanna Flats area and nearby channels. Slow trolling crankbaits or casting soft plastic jigs along channel edges is producing a few striped bass within the 19-inch to 26-inch size slot.
Targeting striped bass that measure over 19 inches is quickly becoming more popular in the upper bay. Casting a variety of jigs along channel edges in the bay and at the mouths of some of the major tidal rivers is providing some success. Jigging over suspended fish in the main bay channels is also presenting opportunities when fish can be spotted on depth finders. Most are jigging with light jig heads with 6-inch or better soft plastics.
Trolling a variety of different lures will most likely be the most common way to fish. Umbrella rigs with medium-sized swimshads or bucktails as trailers are proven fish producers. Spoons are also a good bet when trolled behind inline weights or planers. Most will also place a few large parachutes or bucktails in their spreads in hopes of intercepting large post-spawn striped bass heading down the bay from their spawning sites.
Chumming and chunking is quickly becoming more popular and boats can be seen setting up along the channel edge at Love, Podickory and Swan points. Fresh menhaden baits are the norm and a good tide is always essential to success. A mix of blue and channel catfish are now part of the new norm when chumming as salinity values in the upper bay remain low due to prolonged rain events. They tend to move into chum slicks and will pick up any baits that descend close to the bottom.
There is plenty of striped bass action being found near the Bay Bridge piers and the sewer pipe that is just north of the bridge on the eastern side of the span. Some are trolling along the pipe and between the bridge piers. Others are casting jigs at the bridge piers and jigging near the pier bases. Still others have been drifting cut baits back towards the deep bases of the bridge piers, all with reasonable success.
White perch have been offering fun fishing in the tidal rivers. When fishing deep, most are using grass shrimp or pieces of bloodworms on a single or double hook bottom rig. Casting small jigs, beetle spins and spinners along shoreline structure is a great way to enjoy light-tackle action with white perch.
The weather looks very favorable and fishing for striped bass will be on the mind of those out on the bay. We are on the tail end of a full moon and that means May worm swarms. Striped bass have been gorging themselves on the easy feast so it may be tough to entice a fish to eat after they are stuffed with the easy pickings. Trolling will be perhaps one of the more popular ways to fish for striped bass. The steeper channel edges along the eastern and western sides of the shipping channel and near the mouths of the major tidal rivers will attract a lot of attention. A few of the traditional channel edges that will see action are the outside edge of Hacketts, Thomas Point, Bloody Point, Buoy 83, Breezy Point, the CP and CR buoys to name a few.
Medium-sized bucktails and spoons will be favorite choices to target striped bass in the 19-inch to 28-inch range. Umbrella rigs with bucktails or swimshads as trailers are a good bet, and spoons can be deployed behind inline weights or planers. There is still the possibility of bumping into a really large trophy striped bass, so large parachutes and bucktails will be part of most trolling spreads.
Those looking for some light tackle action will be slowly surveying channel edges with depth finders looking for suspended striped bass. Once you find them, jigging with large soft plastics on relatively light jig heads of two ounces or less will be the name of the game. Those looking for some shallow-water action have been finding very little. It may take another week or two for this fishery to develop to its full potential. There have been a couple of exceptions though — the rocks at Thomas Point Light and the rock walls at Poplar Island have been holding some striped bass in the early morning and late evening hours.
A word of caution from our partners at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Ongoing construction continues near Poplar Island. The construction zone extends more than 1 mile north of the island and is marked by a total of 50 cautionary buoys.
Chumming is becoming more popular for targeting striped bass and many of the traditional channel edges will see boats anchored up this weekend. It can be a peaceful and relaxing way to fish for striped bass, if one can steer clear of holiday weekend boat traffic. Fresh cut menhaden is the bait of choice and one needs to remember non offset circle hooks are mandatory. Depressed salinity values have lured catfish out of the tidal rivers and into the bay, so they will be a prominent occupant in the lower end of your chum slick.
Those fishing in the tidal creeks and rivers for white perch will have plenty of fish to choose from this week. There are good numbers of white perch holding near dock piers and structure in waters 8 feet deep or more. Grass shrimp or pieces of bloodworm fished close to structure is a good way to catch them. Casting small beetle spins and spinners near shallower shoreline structure in the mornings and evenings is a fun way to fish for them.
The prospects for striped bass fishing is good here, and there tends to be plenty of striped bass in the 19-inch to 26-inch range holding along channel edges in the bay and the lower Potomac and Patuxent rivers. Fish have been feeding heavily on the recent May worm swarms and some could be reluctant to bite. Trolling a mix of small to medium-sized spoons behind inline weights and planers and medium bucktails and parachutes rigged in tandem or behind umbrella rigs will be a popular way to target the school sized striped bass. Most are also running large parachutes and bucktails in their trolling spreads in hopes of tangling with a few lingering large post spawn striped bass exiting Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake.
Due to the focus shifting to smaller striped bass, many are looking to light-tackle jigging for some action. Closely watching depth finders as one motors slowly along steeper channel edges is a great way to find suspended striped bass. Large soft plastic jigs with jig heads less than 2-ounces has been a favorite way to target them. Casting swimshads and small crankbaits near shoreline structure such as rock piles and piers is also popular in the mornings and evenings. The Cedar Point Light or at least what is left of it is always a great spot to try.
The mouth of the Patuxent River and surrounding waters as well as the lower Potomac River near St. Georges Island are holding large numbers of striped bass in the 16-inch to 28-inch size range. Those fishing in the main stem of the Potomac need to remember that the minimum size there for striped bass is 20 inches, while it is 19 inches in the Maryland tributaries to the Potomac.
Chumming and chunking is always a traditional way to fish and many will be giving it a try. Most will scan the depths with depth finders and wait till a group of fish is found before setting up a chum slick. A mix of blue and channel catfish are now regular customers when chumming due to low salinity values so bring plenty of bait and a large ice chest for those blue catfish. The mouth of the Potomac River, Point Lookout, Cove Point and the Buoy 72 area are good places to check out.
On the eastern side of the bay, those drifting soft crab baits near the mouths of creeks and guts flowing into the bay have been catching a few large speckled trout and slot size red drum. Casting white Gulp mullet plastics has also been a good way to catch a mix of striped bass and occasional speckled trout. Casting soft plastics and topwater lures along the marsh edges has been providing a lot of fun fishing for striped bass, although many tend to be under the 19-inch minimum size.
White perch offer fun fishing in the tidal creeks and rivers throughout the lower bay region. Grass shrimp and pieces of bloodworms will be two of the most popular baits when fishing bottom rigs in deeper waters. Casting small jigs, spinnerbaits, beetle spins and spinners is a fun way to catch them along shoreline structure in the mornings and evenings. There have been reports from our southern neighbors of croaker and spot arriving in Virginia waters; how soon they arrive here is anyone’s guess. Low salinity values may delay their arrival.
If you’ve promised crabs for Memorial Day weekend, your best bet will be to try the tidal creeks of the lower Eastern Shore. Most who are working trotlines are managing to come up with nearly a bushel of crabs per outing. Chicken necks seem to be doing fine for bait, but of course razor clams are a delicacy to blue crabs.
The state hatchery staff and crews have been busy stocking trout for everyone to enjoy. Last week they stocked more than 15,000 trout, so there will be plenty of opportunities for every level of fishing expertise. Some of the trout are stocked in community ponds making it easy for families to enjoy. Other areas speak to the more adventurous type, where stocked trout can make themselves at home in traditional flowing trout habitat.
Stream flows in Western Maryland are starting to get back to normal, and now is the time for some good dry fly fishing on our special trout fishing areas. The Youghiogheny River was stocked with bonus brown and rainbow trout earlier this month, and hatches of March browns, sulphurs and caddisflies are occurring in the evening. The North Branch Potomac River Upper Catch-and-Return Trout Fishing Area also received a stocking of rainbow trout to supplement the fishery.
The upper Potomac is beginning to calm down after last week’s flood conditions and should offer wonderful fishing for the holiday weekend. Smallmouth bass will be a popular target species and fishing the deeper current breaks, eddies behind large boulders and underwater ledges will be great places to target them with soft plastic jigs, grubs and small crankbaits. In the early morning hours they can often be found in shallower waters and can offer a fun and exciting topwater bite.
Deep Creek Lake will be a popular destination for Memorial Day vacationers and those seeking a peaceful fishing experience may have some company in the form of speed boats and jet skis. Be careful out there, and note that points are often a busy place to be. The back coves should offer good fishing for a mix of largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappie and chain pickerel. At the dam face trout can be caught by slow-trolling nightcrawlers in a worm harness down deep.
The tidal Potomac is offering a variety of fishing options. Largemouth bass are always popular and they can be found holding near structure in transition zones near sunken structure. Bridge piers, rip rap, fallen treetops, drop offs and sunken wood all fall in this category. Working grubs, jigs, craws and small crankbaits will all work well near these structure areas.
During the early morning and evening hours, casting topwater lures over shallow grass is an exciting way to fish for largemouth. As the mornings progress, largemouth bass can be found looking for shade under grass mats and dropping stick worms or a variety of soft plastics down through the grass can trigger a pickup.
In the tidal waters of the Potomac and other areas such as the Susquehanna Flats and the tidal rivers of the Eastern Shore fishing grass beds, spatterdock or pickerel weed on a flood tide is a good tactic. On a falling tide, working the outside edges with spinnerbaits, jerkbaits or lipless crankbaits is a good way to fish.
Crappie fishing has been good in the tidal rivers and the ponds and reservoirs throughout the state this week. Fishing with a small minnow or jig under a bobber tends to be the most popular way to fish for them around structure. Bluegill sunfish are spawning and offer plenty of light tackle fun. Various species of catfish are providing fun opportunities throughout Maryland.
The many small ponds and similar impoundments can offer a place of relative peace and quiet and some fun fishing for a wide variety of fish species. Atop that list are various sunfish species which have always provided plenty of action for our younger anglers. This is a perfect situation for families, since there is always a little pond close to home, and often there is a park nearby for when attention spans wander off to other activities.
Surf fishing is about as good as it gets and Memorial Day weekend will offer plenty of opportunities. To top the list are large trophy-sized striped bass that are moving along the beaches on their way north to New England waters for the summer months. They are being caught on cut baits of mullet and menhaden, clams or by casting large jerkbaits. Bluefish are present in good numbers and are being caught on cut bait, finger mullet or by casting metal lures. Black drum are being caught on clams and sand fleas, kingfish on pieces of bloodworms.
At the inlet, bluefish have been moving in on flood tides and providing limit catches for those casting Got-Cha lures, metal, bucktails, swimshads or drifting cut bait. Tautog are providing good fishing at the South Jetty and along inlet area bulkheads and the Route 50 Bridge. Flounder are also caught at the inlet by working squid, minnow or Gulp baits along the bottom in the swift current.
In the back bay channels there are bluefish to be caught by casting lures or as an incidental catch while fishing for flounder. A few weakfish or sea trout have also been caught lately. The best flounder fishing tends to be on an outgoing tide and the largest flounder are being caught on Gulp type baits in white.
The start of the 2019 sea bass season has begun with a bang as patrons on charter and headboats are regularly finding limit catches of sea bass. Most are fishing the nearshore wrecks and reef sites with clams, while others have been venturing out to the deeper waters just short of the canyons in hopes of catching a larger grade of sea bass and a few blueline tilefish.
The Bluefin tuna bite at the Wilmington Canyon has been epic as the migrating tuna move through our waters on their way north. Most boats are able to catch their limits, plus a dolphin now and then. The first mako and thresher sharks of the season were caught this week off Ocean City and they will be a favorite target for offshore anglers. There are new federal regulations for shortfin mako fishermen. Male makos must measure at least 71 inches straight fork length and females 83 inches to help build up mako populations. A public notice link helps define these new regulations.
“Now then my son,” the old man said, “we ain’t goin’ to talk any, because fishin’ is a silent sport and a lot of conversation scares the fish and wrecks the mood. What I want you to do is sit there and fish and when the fish ain’t bitin’ I want you to listen and look and think. Think about heaven and hell and just how long is hereafter. Look at everything you see and listen to everything you hear, just like you were brand-new come from another world and think about all those things and how they got there. Now let’s fish.” — Robert Ruark, The Old Man and the Boy
Click Before You Cast is written by Tidewater Ecosystem Assessment Director Tom Parham.
Western Region 1 Fisheries Manager Alan Klotz contributed to this report.
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