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Maryland Fishing Report – September 21

Photo of boy holding a fish on a dock

Angler Philip Wyatt Wieland caught a 30-inch Spanish mackerel in the Chesapeake Bay. Photo courtesy Philip Wyatt Wieland

As summer fades into fall, anglers are enjoying milder temperatures and good fishing for a variety of species.

If you enjoy beautiful scenery to go with your fall fishing trips, check out the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Fall Foliage Report to find out where the trees are displaying their natural wonder. Sign up at the DNR website to receive the weekly report by email.

Forecast Summary: September 21 – September 27:

This week starts out warm with cooling temperatures arriving Friday and Saturday, and then continued cooling Monday and Tuesday, with a chance of rain Thursday and Sunday. Expect winds of 10-20 knots, with gusts much higher on Thursday and Friday, but dropping the remainder of the week. Chesapeake Bay surface water temperatures are holding at about 78 degrees. Maryland rivers are currently running in the low 70s and upper 60s. If you are seeking areas with cooler waters, fish the surface early in the day, or fish deeper waters or upwind areas.

At the following locations, adequate oxygen conditions can be found from the surface down to these depth ranges: from the Virginia state line up to the Gooses Reef buoy, 20 feet to bottom; Little Choptank up to the Choptank River, 20 feet to 35 feet; Bloody Point, 20 feet to 40 feet; Bay Bridge, 20 feet to 30 feet; Swan Point, 20 feet to 30 feet; and Still Pond to Susquehanna Flats, surface to bottom. Good deep water oxygen conditions are present in most tributaries, where there is adequate oxygen down to the bottom. On the Potomac River, there is adequate oxygen down to 10 feet near the Route 301 Bridge, and 20 feet to bottom from Colonial Beach to the St. Mary’s River. With cooling water temperature, gamefish will begin to range more vertically in the water column to find adequate oxygen and their preferred water temperatures and food.

Expect average flows for most Maryland rivers and streams all week. There will be above average tidal currents all week due to the upcoming new moon September 26.

There will be average water clarity for most of the main Bay and rivers, except for some poor clarity from algal blooms on the Back, middle Sassafras, and North East rivers. To see the latest water clarity conditions, check Eyes on the Bay Satellite Maps on the Maryland Department of Natural Resources website.

As always, best fishing areas could be further refined by intersecting them with underwater points, hard bottom, drop-offs, and large schools of baitfish.

For more detailed and up-to-date fishing conditions in your area of the Bay, be sure to check out Eyes on the Bay’s Click Before You Cast.

Upper Chesapeake Bay

Fishing in the upper reaches of the Chesapeake Bay at the Conowingo Dam pool, the lower Susquehanna River and Flats, and the Elk River are mostly the same as it has been for the past month. Few striped bass are being caught, even for those out at dawn who are casting lures. Catfish are the main contender in the ring for anglers who want some action. Flathead catfish are being caught at the dam pool, and blue and channel catfish are in the lower Susquehanna, Elk, and all the region’s tidal rivers. Fresh cut bait, chicken liver, and a variety of other baits will catch catfish.

The striped bass action has remained the same with the bass holding near Pooles Island and the lumps southeast to the Tolchester area. The piers at Key Bridge, the Love Point rocks, the edge at Swan Point, and the Sandy Point light are good places to look for striped bass. The most popular way to catch them is by live-lining spot, eels, or small white perch.

Anglers on the water at dawn are enjoying good fishing for striped bass along shoreline structure areas in the Bay and at the mouths of the region’s tidal rivers. Casting poppers is always fun, but using paddletails and crankbaits can also be productive. Jigging when a good current is running at the Love Point rocks and the Key Bridge can also be productive during the morning hours. 

Fishing for white perch has been good in the tidal rivers and some of the knolls in the Bay. Most anglers are using bottom rigs baited with bloodworms or peeler crab with good results. At the Bay Bridge, there is a mix of white perch and spot on the western end. 

Middle Bay
Photo of man on a docked boat holding a bluefish

Spanish mackerel. Photo courtesy Darren Collins

Anglers are still enjoying excellent fishing for a mix of Spanish mackerel and bluefish along the edges of the shipping channel, from Poplar Island south to the Little Choptank, and on the west side of the Bay below Thomas Point. Trolling is the most popular way anglers are catching these fish, pulling small gold Clark spoons and color variations of small Drone spoons behind planers at a fast clip.

Breaking fish are being spotted throughout the middle Bay as Spanish mackerel, bluefish, and sometimes small striped bass make life rough for schools of bay anchovies. It pays to have handy a spinning rod with a metal jig or heavy chrome spoon to cast into the action. Always make sure to use black snaps and swivels and even then, you may still get cut off by a bluefish.

The best striped bass action this week seems to be the early morning and late evening shallow-water bite in the middle Bay. Water temperatures are cooling ever so slightly and anglers casting poppers and other topwaters or paddletails near shoreline structure are enjoying good action on striped bass measuring in the mid-20s. Old sunken breakwaters, jetties, bulkheads, points, and stump fields are all good places to explore. There is also some action to be found at Thomas Point for those casting jigs during the early morning hours. 

Fishing for white perch has been good in the lower sections of the region’s tidal rivers this week. Fishing with a bottom rig baited with peeler crab or pieces of bloodworm over oyster bars is a good option, and white perch are still hanging close to deep-water docks and piers. 

Channel catfish can be found in the tidal rivers and blue catfish in the lower Choptank River from the Dover Bridge area south past the town of Choptank. Fresh cut menhaden, gizzard shad, or other fish are some of the best baits to use, but scented baits and chicken liver will work well.

Lower Bay
Photo of man in a kayak holding up two fish

Spotted seatrout. Photo by Eric Packard

Spanish mackerel and bluefish are popular targets for anglers along the edges of the shipping channel from Buoy 76 south past the Target Ship, Tangier Sound, and the mouth of the Potomac River near Smith Point. Schools of bay anchovies are being swept along the channel edges by currents. Trolling small Clark and Drone spoons behind planers at a fast clip is the most popular way to fish for them, but casting into breaking fish is an exciting alternative. Small heavy chrome spoons and metal jigs cast into the action, allowed to sink, and then speed-reeled in is a fun way to catch Spanish mackerel. Slower speeds will catch bluefish.

Photo of a bushel of blue crabs

Photo by Jim Livingston

Fishing the shorelines of the Bay, tidal rivers, and creeks is a very productive way to fish for a mix of striped bass, bluefish, speckled trout, and small red drum. The early morning hours offer some of the best opportunities to work points, grass beds, dock areas, and jetty rocks with topwater lures, crankbaits, and paddletails. On the east side of the Bay, marsh edges, creek mouths, and stump fields offer chances at speckled trout and red drum. Water temperatures are slowly declining so this fishery will only improve in the next couple of weeks.

Large red drum continue to entertain catch-and-release anglers this week. A popular way to fish for them is spotting schools on depth finders and jigging over them or dropping cut spot or soft crab baits. Trolling a mix of large spoons and hose lures is another option and a good way to cover a lot of water. Cobia are attracted to the hose lures, but they are out of season and must be returned to the water.

Fishing for spot could hardly be better this week and they are about as large as they are going to get before leaving our waters and heading south. The mouth of the Patuxent and Potomac rivers are excellent places to find them over hard bottom. The mouth of the Honga and Nanticoke rivers also has some spot. White perch, croaker, kingfish, and gray sea trout can be mixed in at any time.

Recreational crabbing continues to be good this week in the middle and lower Bay. The creeks around Kent Island and south in the tidal rivers on both sides of the Bay are holding a lot of crabs. Many of the male crabs are larger than 6 inches and are heavy as they prepare for the fall and winter. The abundance of sooks has dropped off in many locations as they work their way down the Bay. Some of the largest crabs are coming from waters deeper than 12 feet.

Freshwater Fishing

Water temperatures are cooling slightly across Maryland and a variety of fish will begin to respond by feeding more aggressively and longer into the morning hours. Trout in select management waters of the western and central regions are providing fun fly-fishing experiences this week. Fishing for smallmouth bass is improving with cooler water temperatures but the upper Potomac is still running low and clear, so long casts and light lines are the ticket. 

Fishing for largemouth bass is excellent in many tidal areas where grass beds are declining, forcing bass to seek existing beds and other types of structure. Casting spinnerbaits and lipless crankbaits around the edges of grass is a good tactic. Dropping wacky rigged stick worms through thick floating mats of grass is another good tactic as the sun climbs into the morning sky. Finding deep structure in the form of sunken wood, bridge piers, and rocks is a good place to look for lounging largemouth bass. Working wacky rigged stick worms or soft craw jigs near these structures can work well.

In the morning and evening hours, fishing with topwater frogs and buzzbaits is a fun way to fish for largemouth bass, and in tidal waters northern snakeheads can be part of the mix. Cooler water temperatures are causing snakeheads to be more active through the month of September. Fishing the open waters around the deeper edges of grass beds or sunken brush with a large minnow under a float is a very good way to fish this time of the year. Often one can dead-stick a minnow under a float while casting buzzbaits or white paddletails, just check on that float every so often.

Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays
Photo of a man holding a bright green fish

Dolphin (fish). Photo by Monty Hawkins

Surf conditions are relatively calm this week, although anglers report that the waters are still stained and cloudy. As the waters clear, fishing for a mix of kingfish, spot, and croaker will improve. At the inlet, those fishing with sand fleas near the South Jetty and inlet bulkheads are catching a few sheepshead and tautog. There are flounder in the inlet and Route 50 Bridge area, along with bluefish and striped bass. The bluefish are being caught by drifting cut bait and jigging; the striped bass are being caught by jigging also. In the back bay channels flounder are being caught this week along with a few sea trout and small bluefish. 

Anglers headed out to the inshore reef sites are finding good fishing for flounder. Those headed out to the wreck and reef sites farther offshore are catching a mix of sea bass, small dolphin, and flounder.

The boats headed out to the offshore canyons have been coming up short on yellowfin tuna for their anglers. A few bigeye tuna are caught now and then, along with wahoo and white marlin releases. Dolphin often save the day for many of the trips, and deep dropping for blueline tilefish is helping anglers go home with fish.

“Don’t tell fish stories where the people know you; but particularly, don’t tell them where they know the fish.” – Mark Twain

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

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.”