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Maryland Fishing Report – September 30

Photo of a woman holding up a Spanish mackerel

Eva Register holds up a nice Spanish mackerel caught while fishing out on the bay. Photo courtesy of Eva Register

September and early October are noted for the beautiful and mild sunny days that grace us, so make sure to take advantage of them and enjoy the Maryland outdoors with family and friends.

Please join us as we resume our Maryland Fishing Roundtable webinar series Oct. 15 at noon. We will discuss the anticipated fall trout stocking season with Coldwater Program Manager Marshall Brown. Details for joining the webinar are on the department’s online calendar.

Forecast Summary: Sept. 30 – Oct. 6:

The upcoming week will bring cooler days and breezy conditions through Thursday, with a chance of rain Thursday, Friday, and Monday. Chesapeake Bay surface water temperatures are hovering in the low 70s and will continue to cool this week. Turnover has occurred, mixing the bay’s water from surface to bottom, providing adequate oxygen for fish at all depths. This will result in cool-water preferring fish being able to move more vertically in many areas and be more scattered until turnover conditions stabilize. As surface waters continue to cool, deeper waters will remain slightly warmer. As a result of the below normal flows from the Susquehanna River, upper bay salinities are slightly higher than normal. As always, best fishing areas could be further refined by intersecting them with underwater points, hard bottom, drop-offs, and large schools of baitfish. 

Expect above average flows for most Maryland rivers and streams. There will be above average tidal currents all week as a result of the full moon Oct. 1-2.

Expect temporary reduced clarity for streams and rivers in Maryland portions of the bay due to recent rains. To see the latest water clarity conditions, check Eyes on the Bay Satellite Maps.

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 Bay
Photo of woman holding a white perch

Michele Harrington caught this nice white perch near Gibson Island. Photo courtesy of Michele Harrington

Most of the striped bass action is occurring south of Pooles Island and tends to be scattered across a wide variety of structural habitat. Striped bass are moving freely throughout the upper bay region and feeding aggressively on bait fish that are beginning to exit the tidal rivers. The mouths of the tidal rivers, shoal areas, and steep channel edges where bait is being swept along by strong currents are prime areas to look for suspended striped bass.

Trolling with bucktails, spoons, and umbrella rigs along channel edges has been popular. Live-lining eels at Pooles Island, the Key Bridge, and the Bay Bridge piers is very productive as well as drifting fresh cut bait, live spot, or soft crab baits. As the fall pattern of striped bass behavior develops, jigging with metal and soft plastics begins to take center stage. Suspended striped bass can be found over shoals and reefs, Love Point Rocks, channel edges, and bridge piers and rocks.

The shallow-water fishery for striped bass has been good in the morning and evening hours. Casting topwater lures, paddle tails, and crankbaits near shoreline structure has been very productive. Most of the action is taking place below Pooles Island. There has been only fair shallow water action around the Susquehanna Flats area and many of the fish are sub-legal in length.

Some of the best fishing for blue and channel catfish is in the lower Susquehanna River, and the Chester River is a close second. Blue catfish can also be found in lesser numbers in all of the tidal rivers in the upper bay. Channel catfish are holding in all of the tidal rivers and many areas in the upper bay near channel edges. Fresh cut bait has been popular, but nightcrawlers, clam snouts, and chicken liver can work well also.

White perch are steadily moving out of their summer season habitat in the many creeks and tidal rivers of the upper bay. They are moving towards the lower sections of the tidal rivers and out into the bay. Right now the largest white perch can be found holding over shoals and reefs, and as water temperatures become colder they will head for deeper waters.

Bottom rigs baited with pieces of bloodworm tend to be the best way to catch them. Jigging with dropper flies or small metal jigs can also be productive near structure. The rock piles at the Bay Bridge are an excellent location to jig for large white perch.

Middle Bay
Photo of man holding a good-sized Spanish mackerel

Photo by Eric Packard

Much of the focus is toward striped bass and their shift into a fall pattern of behavior. Trolling a mix of spoons, tandem-rigged bucktails, and swimshads as well as umbrella rigs is popular along channel edges and near breaking fish. Most will be using inline weights to get lures down to where the fish are holding.

Jigging over suspended striped bass will be popular with light tackle anglers. Depth finders will be very important for locating suspended fish, and binoculars can be very helpful to spot distant diving seagulls. Surface slicks can also be a good indicator of feeding action under the surface of the water. Skirted plastic jigs can offer a larger profile to fish when jigging, and braided line helps with sensitivity. Jigging may even reward you with a speckled sea trout.

Most of the Spanish mackerel have left the middle bay, but a few stragglers will be encountered by those trolling small Drone or Clark spoons behind planers near breaking fish or along channel edges. Bluefish are still roaming the region and mixing it up with 2-year old striped bass out in the main portion of the bay. They will also most likely be moving out of the region within the next week.

White perch are on the move in the region’s tidal rivers and creeks, there seems to be small white perch in the traditional summer habitat areas but the large white perch tend to be found in deeper waters over oyster reefs and similar bottom in the lower sections of the tidal rivers. The most effective way to target them in the deeper waters is with bottom rigs baited with pieces of bloodworm or peeler crab.

Lower Bay

The lower bay is hosting the last of the Spanish mackerel, red drum, bluefish, and cobia. The remaining Spanish mackerel may be gone by the weekend, but there is always the chance of a few stragglers that can be caught by speed reeling metal jigs through breaking fish or trolling small Drone or Clark spoons behind planers along the shipping channel edges. 

The bluefish may stick around through the weekend and will be mixing it up with striped bass as they chase bay anchovies and juvenile menhaden along the shipping channel edges. Casting to breaking fish is a fun light-tackle way to catch them. Trolling spoons and hoses are also an effective way to catch them.

Photo of father and daughter holding a Spanish mackerel

Sophia Korin got to go trolling with her dad when she caught this nice Spanish mackerel just north of Point Lookout. Photo by Chris Korin

Fishing for striped bass is good along the shipping channel edges for those trolling umbrella rigs or jigging under breaking fish. The lower Potomac has been a great place to troll along the channel edge between St. George’s Island and Piney Point. Light-tackle jigging has also been a popular and effective way to catch striped bass this week wherever they can be found suspended over structure or under breaking fish.

Fishing for striped bass along the shallower shorelines of the lower Potomac, Patuxent, and bay shores is good this week. Casting topwater lures, paddle tails and similar soft plastics or crankbaits are all effective ways to catch them. In many areas, speckled trout and small to medium-sized red drum can be part of the mix. In Tangier Sound, fishing for speckled trout is very good along marsh edges and creek mouths. Drifting pieces of soft crab in the small marsh creeks on a falling tide can be a very effective way to catch speckled trout and red drum.

The numbers of large red drum and cobia have dwindled in the last week or so, and most have crossed the border into Virginia and continue to head south. Most anglers that are still fishing for the cobia are trolling red hoses behind inline weights. Placing a few large spoons in a trolling spread is always a good idea in the hopes of enticing a large red drum for a little catch and release action.

Bottom fishing for spot remains excellent this week in the lower Potomac and Patuxent rivers as well as Tangier Sound. Depending on the location, white perch, speckled trout, and small red drum can also be part of the mix. Pieces of bloodworm and soft crab are being used on bottom rigs for the best results.

Recreational crabbing fortunes in the tidal rivers has unfortunately dropped off in the past week. Everywhere one looks at commercial docks, the shade roofs are coming off workboats, oyster culling boxes are being set up onboard, and hand tongs are being readied for the upcoming oyster season. The colder water temperatures are driving the crabs deeper as they travel down the tidal rivers towards the bay. Trot liners have been reported crabs dropping off lines as they come up, so collapsible crab traps might be a good idea. Baits are attracting sooks and fortunately there are lots of them, which speaks well for the future of our blue crab resources.

Freshwater Fishing

With lack of substantial rain in the western region, trout management waters are experiencing low flows but cooling temperatures. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources will begin fall stocking of thousands of brown, golden, and rainbow trout in select creeks, lakes, and rivers across the state starting in early October. Some streams may be running too low to receive a full stocking and some may have unacceptable water levels, so we will post locations on our website after they are stocked. Anglers can sign up to receive stocking updates by email. Our online map of trout management areas around the state can help you explore areas to fish.

Also, join us for our Maryland Fishing Roundtable webinar Oct. 15 at noon as Coldwater Program Manager Marshall Brown discusses trout stocking. Details for joining the webinar are on the department’s online calendar.

The upper Potomac River is running very low this week with clear water conditions. Grass beds are declining due to shorter daylight hours and falling leaves are now adding to line-fouling headaches. Clear and low water conditions call for light lines and long casts for smallmouth bass fishing. Topwater lures near shoreline structure in the early morning hours can work well and tubes, crankbaits, and anything that looks like a crayfish is a good bet in deeper waters near current breaks and submerged ledges.

Photo of man holding up a bluegill

Herb Floyd was casting a crankbait in an Eastern Shore lake when this hefty bluegill decided to take on a shad rap lure. Photo by Herb Floyd

Cooler water temperatures are pushing largemouth bass to feed aggressively; one of their favorite feeding patterns this time of year is to intercept baitfish and crayfish retreating to deeper cover as shallow water grass beds decline. They will often hold near drop-offs or any kind of structure they can find in transition areas to the shallower waters. If you’re in a boat, cast towards the shallows and retrieve your bait towards the drop-off, and when you feel you’ve hit the drop-off allow the bait to pause and then slowly descend. Crankbaits and craw-type soft plastics are excellent baits to imitate crayfish heading for deeper water. Casting spinnerbaits around the edges of declining grass beds or spatterdock fields in a falling tide in the tidal rivers is another good bet.

The tidal rivers of the western region and Eastern Shore offer plenty of good fishing for largemouth bass, and the tidal rivers of the middle and lower Eastern Shore have a lot less angling competition and room to spread out. Northern snakeheads will be in the mix in most tidal waters and they are showing a bit of a slowdown in activity due to cooler water temperatures. Buzzbaits, chatterbaits, and white paddle tails will still be at the top of the list for eliciting some response from a snakehead. Cooler waters and less grass will herald in the use of large minnows under a bobber. Casting lip-hooked minnows near submerged wood is also a winning tactic in cooler waters.

The fall months are a great time to fish for channel catfish in just about any tidal river in Maryland. Pesky, bait-stealing blue crabs have moved far downriver and channel catfish are very active. Blue catfish continue to expand their range in the Chesapeake Bay’s tidal rivers. The Potomac, Patuxent, Nanticoke, Choptank, Chester, and Susquehanna rivers all have substantial numbers of blue catfish. They will be found in lesser numbers in just about all of the tidal rivers in Maryland. Fresh cut bait, clam snouts, and nightcrawlers all make good baits.

Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays

Surf anglers are catching good numbers of kingfish this week along with spot, croaker on bloodworms and flounder on squid. Those fishing with finger mullet are catching some bluefish. Many have the big surf rods out this week in hopes of some catch and release action with large red drum that usually migrate along the beaches of Ocean City and Assateague Island this time of the year. Cut spot, menhaden or mullet make excellent baits on a fish finder rig for large red drum or striped bass.

Photo of woman holding a sea bass

Photo by Monty Hawkins

In and around the inlet fishing for sheepshead at the bases of the jetty rocks has been at the top of the list for many, pieces of green crab and sand fleas are popular baits. Bluefish are moving in and out of the inlet on the tides and being caught by casting jigs or drifting cut bait. Flounder are being caught by drifting live spot or mullet and traditional squid and minnow rigs.

The coastal bay waters are clearing up and flounder fishing is improving. Strong, persistent winds will stir the relatively shallow bay waters into cloudy conditions. Flounder are ambush predators and must see the bait anglers are presenting.

The fishing for sea bass at the offshore wreck and reef sites has been very good this week. Limit catches of sea bass are common. A few small dolphin are still being caught along with flounder. Farther offshore at the canyons, boats have finally been able to venture out after days of rough sea conditions. The Washington Canyon is a popular destination where limit catches of small dolphin are being caught. White marlin are being caught and released and a few wahoo are being caught at the Rock Pile.

A reminder to fall swordfish anglers that you are responsible for completing a catch card when returning to port for each swordfish, bluefin tuna, or sharks on board the vessel. A tag is provided for each completed catch card and the angler is required to place this tag around the tail of the fish before removing it from the vessel. Trailered boats cannot be pulled from the water until the tag is in place. Please be aware that anglers in Maryland who recreationally land swordfish outside of tournaments must use a catch card. See the catch card reporting website for details on how to use them.

Soak it up, go into it softly and thoughtfully, with love and understanding, for another year must pass before you can come this way again.” — Gene Hill

Maryland Fishing Report is written and compiled by Keith Lockwood, Maryland Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist. 

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.”