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Maryland Fishing Report – Dec. 9

Photo of man holding a largemouth bass

David Shaw shows us some of the rewards that can be found when fishing this time of the year as he caught and released this largemouth bass in the Sassafras River recently Photo by David Shaw

This week concludes our Maryland Fishing Report for 2020 — look for our winter update in early February, and for our weekly reports to resume in March 2021.

Despite colder temperatures there is still plenty of good fishing ahead in the winter months. Many will now shift their focus to freshwater and ocean fishing — with freshwater providing the easiest opportunities and definitely the more comfortable.

The 2020 recreational striped bass season closes Dec. 10 for the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay. Anglers will still be able to fish in the bay but will have to practice catch and release. In the tidal Potomac River, anglers will be able to catch and keep two striped bass at a minimum of 20 inches until Dec. 31.

Photo of an oyster shell

Photo by Keith Lockwood

Those looking for a little winter outdoor fun and some good eating can recreationally catch their own oysters. If you have a boat and a set of tongs you’re good to go. Drifting in the shallows with clear water one can often spot individual oysters and collect them with a miniature set of tongs called nippers.

Tides typically vary quite a bit during the winter months and when they are low they can reveal these prized bivalves. If you can find access to an approved shellfish area with clear water, watch for a low tide, and put on a pair of knee boots or waders and you can wade out and pick them up as you spot them on the bottom. Using a wire mesh crab net is a great way to scoop them up; long gauntlet type gloves are even better. Before you go, make sure to check the Department of Natural Resources website for necessary regulations and shellfish maps where it is safe to harvest oysters.

Forecast Summary: Dec. 9 – Dec. 15:

As we enter mid-December, expect unstable weather patterns with daytime air temperature in the 50s through Sunday and then cooling through next Tuesday, with temperatures in the 40s by day and 30s at night. Surface water temperatures continue to cool as a result of cooling air temperatures and the decreasing daylight hours, with a 7:16 a.m. sunrise and a 4:44 p.m. sunset next week. Daytime bay water temperatures have dropped to the 40s. Warmest bay surface waters are located from Gooses Reef south to the Virginia state line. Bottom waters in this area will be slightly warmer. The other warm water areas to consider are near the water discharges of your local power plants.

Bay fish including striped bass and white perch have moved towards the deeper but warmer waters as they prepare for winter in the river mouths or nearby waters, in areas with good structure and protection from strong current such as underwater points, channel edges, and bridge pilings with nearby oyster bottom and reefs.

As a result of the below normal flows from the Susquehanna, main 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 average flows for most Maryland rivers and streams, and above-average flows for the Eastern Shore and lower Potomac watershed. There will be above average tidal currents Friday through the rest of the week as a result of the upcoming new moon on Dec. 15.

Expect average clarity in most of Maryland’s portion of the bay and rivers. However, expect reduced water clarity from algal blooms in Fishing Bay and the Back, Bohemia, Sassafras, and middle Chester rivers. To see the latest water clarity conditions, check Eyes on the Bay Satellite Maps.

We will begin our weekly bay fishing conditions forecasts again in March. However, for those hearty cold-weather anglers, all water conditions maps, plots, and satellite pics will be continuously updated and posted.

For more detailed and up-to-date fishing conditions in your area of the bay, continue 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

With the end of striped bass season, the action is slowing down as the fish in the lower Susquehanna River are feeling the chill of water temperatures below 50 degrees. There are still some anglers casting soft plastic paddle tails and jigs into the Conowingo Dam pool, with some luck in the morning and evening hours. Flows from the dam have been extremely low for about a month. The channels leading to the Susquehanna, Elk, and Northeast rivers are offering some light-tackle jigging action along the deeper edges. Others are having luck trolling crankbaits and bucktails, and smallmouth bass and walleye can sometimes be part of the mix.

In the upper bay, the best striped bass fishing opportunities are being reported at the mouth of the Patapsco River, the Chester River, Love Point Rocks, and the Bay Bridge piers, rock piles, and concrete abutments. Striped bass are holding in relatively deep water along channel edges. At the Bay Bridge they can be found schooled up close to the bottom, often down-current of the structure. Jigging is the most popular way to fish near structure, using metal jigs or soft plastics in white pearl combinations.

Those trolling are working the deeper edges of the shipping channels and at the mouths of the tidal rivers. Heavy inline weights are being deployed to get umbrella rigs or tandem rigged bucktails down to depths of 30 feet to 35 feet. Chartreuse tends to edge out white as popular colors for umbrella rigs, sassy shad teasers, and bucktail trailers which are also dressed with a sassy shad.

Fishing for blue catfish is very good in the lower Susquehanna and upper Chester River, and should continue into January. Channel catfish are active in all of the tidal rivers and will also provide good fishing. Those casting small jigs and beetle spins in the upper sections of the tidal rivers and creeks are catching yellow perch. White perch have generally moved out into the bay and are holding deep over hard bottom.

Middle Bay
Photo of man on a boat holding two striped bass caught on a tandem line

Bill Corman shows us what can happen at times when you troll tandem rigged bucktails; this action took place off the mouth of the Choptank in late November. Photo by Thomas Butler

Most of the best striped bass fishing here at season’s end tends to be on the eastern side of the bay in the Eastern Bay area and the mouth of the Choptank. Striped bass are being located at 30 feet to 35 feet and are taking soft plastic or metal jigs. The channel edges near Buoy 83 and the False Channel down to the CP Buoy have also been good places to jig. Many have switched to heavier jigs and as the striped bass are holding deep and winds and currents complicate the function of keeping jigs close to the bottom.

Trolling has been popular but it takes heavy tackle to deal with the even heavier inline weights needed to get umbrella rigs and tandem rigged parachutes down to where the fish are holding. Chartreuse is the color of choice for most teasers and trailers on umbrella rigs or tandem-rigged bucktails.

The western side of the shipping channel is also providing some trolling opportunities. The channel edge near Thomas Point and the edge from Chesapeake Beach south past Parkers Creek has been getting the attention of those trolling umbrella rigs and bucktails.

When the surrounding waters become a bit frigid, the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant warm-water discharge always gets the attention of fish nosing into the warm water,  This can hold particularly true for species such as speckled sea trout and puppy drum that most likely wish they’d left Maryland waters and headed south earlier with their buddies. That said, anglers are also attracted to this site and will continue to be through the winter months. Drifting in the current and jigging with soft plastics or metal close to the bottom is how to fish this area, and it must be done with the welfare of other anglers in boats in mind at all times. The number of boats and engine noise as well as depth finders pinging away can all have detrimental effects on fishing success.

Fishing for white perch is not getting any easier but it is possible to find schools of white perch hugging the bottom near deep oyster reefs in the bay or the mouths of the major tidal rivers. Pieces of bloodworm on a bottom rig is the best way to catch them.

Lower Bay
Photo of man holding a large striped bass

Julian Tsai holds up a nice striped bass caught while jigging. Photo by Eric Packard

Perhaps the best striped bass fishing in Maryland waters to occur the final week of the season has been along the east side of the shipping channel from the HS Buoy south to Buoys 72A and 72. Anglers have been encountering diving seagulls and breaking fish ; most of the best sized striped bass are being found deep underneath the smaller striped bass that are breaking water. Soft plastic jigs and metal jigs are being worked close to the bottom. Trolling is another popular way to catch striped bass and often provides a larger grade of fish. Once again heavy inline weights will be needed to get umbrella rigs or tandem-rigged bucktails down to 30-foot to 40-foot depths along the channel edges. 

There has also been plenty of action on the west side of the lower bay. The mouth of the Patuxent, the area from Point No Point to Point Lookout and Smith Point has been a great place to jig or troll for striped bass suspended off the bottom in some of the deeper channel edges ranging from 30 feet to 40 feet deep. Those fishing the lower Potomac can keep two 20-inch striped bass until December 31. 

If you are fishing and boating in the area of the Nice-Middleton Bridge project, please slow down and be aware of the crews working on the new bridge pilings. An emergency speed zone regulation has been proposed to reduce wakes in this area. You can read more about it on the Department’s boating regulations page

White perch are now holding in 40 feet of water or more as they seek out slightly warmer water to hunker down for the winter months. It may take a couple of ounces of metal weights to hold a bottom rig to catch them with pieces of bloodworm. Fishing for blue catfish is very good this time of the year and they can be found in the tidal waters of the Potomac, Patuxent, and Nanticoke rivers.

Fisheries biologists have been tagging and releasing blue catfish into the tidal freshwater Patuxent River. Through a combination of radio and acoustic tagging, their movements will be monitored via passive and active tracking methods. The project is in collaboration with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. Fish have ranged from 22.8 inches to 36.4 inches in length, and 5 pounds to 25.9 pounds in weight. Anglers are asked if they catch a tagged blue catfish to write down the tag number — do not cut the tag off — and release the catfish immediately so biologists can track their movements.

Freshwater Fishing

Fishing for a variety of coldwater species at Deep Creek Lake continues to be good, and the action should last through the winter months, whether fishing open water or ice fishing. Yellow perch, walleye, pike, crappie, bluegill and smallmouth bass are all available. Live minnows are hard to beat when fishing for yellow perch, walleye and crappie.

Photo of boy holding a yellow perch

Bergen Kline caught this fine-looking yellow perch at Deep Creek Lake recently. Photo courtesy of Bergen Kline

Recently the trout hatchery program needed to make additional space for newly arriving fish, so they did an unplanned stocking at several locations. Lake Habeeb received 2,000 rainbow trout, Casselman River received 1,500 rainbows, and Youghiogheny River received 1,500 rainbow trout. Most that are fly fishing are nymphing with a variety of nymphs such as Caddis and pheasant tails or working leech patterns and small streamers close to the bottom. Those using spinning tackle will find casting small spinners, spoons, and tiny jerkbaits are a great way to cover water to find trout that have eluded others in the put-and-take waters.

The upper Potomac River is offering fair to good fishing for walleye and smallmouth bass and this action should continue through the winter months. Slowly working tubes, grubs, and soft baits close to the bottom in the deep pools and current breaks is a proven tactic. Life jackets must be worn at all times on the upper Potomac and its tributaries from November 15 through May 15.

Largemouth bass tend to be holding as deep as they can go in larger bodies of water during these cold months. In tidal rivers and reservoirs, working small plastics such as grubs, craws, and other lures like blades and small crankbaits slow and close to the bottom can entice largemouth bass to pick up a bait. Some anglers “dead stick” soft baits that have their favorite fish scent on them and watch for a subtle pickup. In small ponds and creeks, largemouth bass can be found in waters that are not so deep, but they still will call for small baits that are retrieved slowly and close to the bottom.

Northern snakeheads usually sit out the winter months but can be enticed with large minnows under a bobber. Fishing for blue catfish and channel catfish is often good during the winter months in the channel areas of the tidal rivers. Fresh cut bait, clam snouts and chicken liver are good choices for bait. If you intend to do any targeting of invasive flathead catfish in Maryland’s river systems, please be aware that the state record slot for this species is still vacant and the minimum required weight has been reduced to 40 pounds.  

Yellow perch can be found in the middle sections of the tidal creeks in many areas. Casting beetle spins close to the bottom or slowly retrieving a lip-hooked minnow are two of the best ways to fish for them. In the lower Susquehanna River there is a deep hole below the Railroad Bridge (opposite the Perryville condominiums) where yellow perch begin to congregate in the winter months. It often takes a fairly large sinker to hold bottom, but a bottom rig with minnows or small jigs is a great way to catch some early season yellow perch.

Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays
Photo of man holding a black sea bass

Photo by Monty Hawkins

Surf anglers continue to soak large cut baits in hopes of catching some of the striped bass of the southbound migration in the next few weeks. Traditionally the bulk of the striped bass pass the Ocean City area far offshore but there is always hope some will stray closer to shore.

At the inlet and Route 50 Bridge, most of the focus will be on fishing for tautog. The fishing has been good, with most anglers being able to catch a few over 16 inches to take home. There will continue to be some striped bass action in and around the inlet and the coastal bay bridges. Most of the action will be catch and release but a few fish over 28 inches will be caught.

The action for sea bass and tautog at the wreck and reef sites could hardly be better. Limit catches of both species are not uncommon on most trips to the sites. Clams and jigs work well for sea bass and pieces of green crabs or white leggers work for the tautog. Further offshore, deep-dropping for swordfish and blueline and golden tilefish will be the focus of most who travel to the canyons. Please note that the slot for a state record swordfish remains vacant and the minimum required weight has been reduced to 300 pounds.

“Many of us probably would be better fishermen if we did not spend so much time watching and waiting for the world to be perfect.” — Norman Maclean

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.”