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Maryland Fishing Report – July 19

Photo of man and son on a boat in the ocean, holding a fish

Summer vacations are in full swing, the perfect time for fishing trips such as this father and son on a charter boat off Ocean City. Part of their catch was this delicious triggerfish. Photo by Monty Hawkins

There is plenty of fishing to entertain anglers during these hot summer days. As a reminder, all areas of the Chesapeake Bay will be closed to any targeting of striped bass from July 16 through July 31 to protect the species during this hottest part of the year. 

Fishing for a variety of species can also earn you an award. Congratulations to Maryland’s two new FishMaryland Master Angler award recipients, David McCollum of Bel Air and David Moore of Salisbury. Each angler caught ten different species that all met the minimum size requirements in the Department of Natural Resources fishing award program. An award presentation by Fishing and Boating Services was held at Bass Pro Shops in Hanover, which presented each Master Angler recipient with a $250 gift certificate, and included a behind the scenes tour and fish feeding session at the large aquarium. Dave Mccollum, also known as the “Conowingo Fish Whisperer” does a lot of casting for both walleye and striped bass below the Conowingo Dam in the Susquehanna River. David Moore is an avid surfcaster that catches striped bass, red drum, and various shark species from the beach at the Assateague National Seashore. He also participates in the NOAA volunteer angler shark tagging program. More information on the FishMaryland awards is on the Department of Natural Resources website.

Forecast Summary: July 19 – July 25:

Bay waters will continue to heat up with high temperatures, low winds, and a small chance of thunderstorms throughout the week. Main Bay surface water temperatures are very warm and have increased to the mid 80s, with the coolest surface waters found between the Patapsco River and Annapolis. Bay salinity is still above average. There is low oxygen in bottom waters from Tolchester down to the Virginia line, and in the Potomac River from Blossom Point down to Point Lookout. Check the areas of low oxygen map to help determine the maximum fishing depth in your favorite area. 

Expect average flows all week, although localized thunderstorms may increase flows in nearby waters. There will be above average tidal currents through Sunday as a result of the recent new moon on July 18. Expect average water clarity in Maryland’s waters. To see the latest water clarity conditions, check Eyes on the Bay Satellite Maps.

As always, the 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

While striped bass are off the table through July 31, anglers are focusing their attention on blue catfish, northern snakeheads, and white perch. The blue catfish can be found in the lower Susquehanna River and the tidal rivers within the upper Bay. Fresh cut bait of oily fish such as menhaden and gizzard shad are the standard bait but most any cut fish, chicken liver. or scented bait will work.

Northern snakeheads can be found in the grassy shallows of the Susquehanna Flats and in the tidal rivers; the Bush, Middle, and Gunpowder rivers hold large numbers of northern snakeheads. Target them with noisy surface lures such as soft frogs, chatterbaits, and buzzbaits to get their attention. If they are protecting fry balls it may take several attempts to upset them enough to strike.

White perch always entertain anglers of all ages during the summer and they can be found in all upper Bay tidal rivers and creeks. They can be targeted in waters more than 10 feet deep with a bottom rig baited with pieces of bloodworm or an artificial version. Small minnows are a great bait, especially when targeting larger white perch. Peeler crabs work well and if you can catch your own fresh grass shrimp, they are hard to beat. Structure such as dock piers, oyster reefs, rocks, and bridge piers are good places to target. Casting small spinnerbaits, beetle-spins, spinners, and ultra-small soft plastic jigs near shoreline structure during the morning and evening is a fun way to fish for white perch.

Middle Bay

Water temperatures in the middle Bay are now in the mid 80s and salinity values are favorable for bluefish and Spanish mackerel. Anglers are finding these two species working together to harass schools of bay anchovies along the shipping channel edges. A keen eye for diving seagulls can guide you to breaking fish. An upwind and careful approach to get within casting distance can treat you to one of the most exciting and fun ways to fish for the Spanish mackerel. The tactic is to cast a small but heavy metal jig or Got-Cha type lure as deep into the surface action as possible, allow it some time to sink a bit, and then speed-reel as fast as you can. A slower retrieve will often reward you with a bluefish.

Trolling is a popular option to fish for a mix of bluefish and Spanish mackerel. Small Drone and Clark spoons with gold being the most popular color in the Bay. The Drone spoons can also be purchased with a splash of chartreuse which some angler’s favor. The spoons are pulled behind No. 1 planers or inline weights to cover all depths. The favored trolling speed for Spanish mackerel is about 6 to 7 knots, and slower speeds will allow the bluefish to catch up to your lures. 

Photo of man on a small boat holding a fish

Herb Floyd holds up a nice Choptank speckled trout. Photo by Herb Floyd

With striped bass off limits until August 1, a few anglers are fishing the bayside and the lower tidal river shorelines of the Eastern Shore for speckled trout, also called spotted seatrout. This is typically a dawn to early morning event and casting Zara Sooks over grass beds and in stump fields is one of the best tactics. If you do hook a striped bass by accident, do your best to retrieve it quickly and release it while it is still in the water. Most anglers are reporting that they have turned their focus to northern snakeheads.

White perch are a summertime delight for anglers of all ages. They can be caught off any dock or pier that has water of some depth under it and a perfect match up for our youngest anglers. A simple one-hook bottom rig with a No. 4 hook dangling about 4 inches to 6 inches off the bottom and a 1-ounce sinker will often do. It is hard to beat fresh grass shrimp for bait if you can catch them, but pieces of bloodworm will do just fine. When fishing deeper oyster reefs, a slightly heavier bottom rig will serve you well.

In the morning and evening  when light conditions are low, white perch will come into the shallower areas around structure. Casting small spinnerbaits, beetle-spin type lures, spinners, and small soft plastic jigs are all good choices when fishing with light spinning gear. If there is a 5-weight fly rod in your quiver, a sinking tip fly line and chartreuse and silver Clouser minnows are one heck of a good time.

There are channel catfish to be found in the region’s tidal rivers and the Choptank has a large population of blue catfish. The blue catfish tend to be in the lower part of the river this time of the year, from the town of Choptank to Cambridge. Most any cut bait will do but fresh menhaden tends to top the list. 

Lower Bay

As a reminder to lower Bay anglers, striped bass fishing is closed everywhere this to protect the species from water temperatures. The Potomac River is closed until August 20, Virginia waters are closed until October 4 and all Maryland waters are closed to targeting striped bass through July 31. Lower Bay anglers are fortunate that they have several other species to fish for this week.

Bluefish and Spanish mackerel can be found in good numbers this week making life miserable for schools of bay anchovies. The action tends to be best when a strong tide is running, and the baitfish are being swept along the edges of channels throughout the region. Diving seagulls will often lead the way to breaking fish. Casting small heavy and flashy jigs or Got-Cha type lures into the fray, allowing them to sink, and then speed reeling is a great way to catch Spanish mackerel. Slower retrieves will get you bluefish. It pays to look for slicks that are telltale signs that some baitfish were being chomped nearby, and jigging deep often will provide results.

Trolling is a popular option and a great way to cover a lot of water when in search of Spanish mackerel and bluefish. Small Drone spoons in gold or with chartreuse coloring added are an excellent choice for Spanish mackerel. Small gold Clark spoons are another good choice. Both are usually pulled behind No. 1 planers at about 6 to 7 knots. Bluefish will hit at slower speeds. Putting out a couple of lines with inline weights to fish closer to the surface is always a good addition to any trolling spread.

Fishing for a mix of spot and white perch with a few small croakers tossed in has been exceptionally good lately. The spot are getting larger and there are a lot of them to be found in the lower Bay . Pieces of bloodworm or the artificial version are the baits of choice. The mouth of the Patuxent River and Tangier Sound are two of the best places to get in on the action.

Photo of man on a boat holding a fish

Red drum, photo courtesy Richard Conley

There are plenty of white perch to be found in the tidal rivers and creeks as well as Tangier Sound. Pieces of bloodworm, small minnows, peeler crab, and grass shrimp are just a few of the bait choices that will serve you well. Shoal areas in the rivers and sounds are good places to look for white perch. The shorelines always hold good numbers of white perch around docks, rocks, bridge piers, and prominent points. Fishing with bait or small lures is a wonderful way to fish for them. 

Speckled trout are being found along the marsh edges of the Eastern Shore in stump fields and over grass beds along with the occasional slot size red drum. Large red drum are being encountered near the Middle Grounds and the Target Ship, anglers are jigging at them when troubled water can be spotted or by drifting soft crab baits to them and trolling large silver spoons. Cobia fishing tends to be slow this week, but it only takes one legal-sized fish to make your day. Smith Point has been one of the better places to set up a chum slick.

Recreational crabbers are doing well this week in all regions of the Bay. In most areas crabbers are finding the best success in waters less than 12 feet on a good moving tide. In some areas small crabs have been chewing up baits but in many locations crabbers are finding a bounty of 7-inch and 8-inch crabs that are full of meat. Many are reporting culling crabs under 6 inches and tossing them back into the water in favor of the larger crabs. Nettles have been pesky lately and if you are pulling a trotline, net rings, or collapsible crab traps into the wind, the stinging nematocysts can really be bothersome. 

Freshwater Fishing

Freshwater biologists have been busy in recent weeks surveying and studying some of the freshwater sites in Maryland. In the North Branch of the Potomac River, biologists have been outfitting trout with passive integrated transponders, known as PIT tags. These are small radio transponders that contain a specific code that allows each individual fish to be assigned a unique identification number. They are often used in fisheries studies to track movement, survival, and growth over time. Department of Natural Resources biologists tagged 225 trout this year and recaptured five that were tagged last year. The multi-year study is focused on determining growth and mortality in the study area.

A fish population survey of Herrington Lake showed that fish populations have rebounded since the lake was drained earlier for refurbishment. Biologists also surveyed several ponds at Idylwild Wildlife Management Area on the Eastern Shore to find fish populations in good shape despite a bacterial fish kill last winter.

The upper Potomac River continues to exhibit typical low summer flows and very clear water. Light lines and long casts are in order when fishing for smallmouth bass during the morning and evening. At dawn, topwater lures are an exciting way to catch smallmouth and as the morning wears on, tubes and small crankbaits can be a good choice. Recently the Department of Natural Resources stocked 15,000 juvenile smallmouth bass in the Potomac at Brunswick, Point of Rocks, and White’s Ferry to bolster smallmouth bass populations.

Photo of snakehead fish that has been fileted

Greg Sharky caught this snakehead out of Little Seneca Lake just before it was ready to spawn. Photo by Greg Sharky

Largemouth bass are holding to a typical summer mode of activity, feeding close to shallow cover during the night and retreating to cool shade during the day. Some of the best largemouth bass action can occur in the early morning and late evening low light conditions near shallow cover like grass, where baitfish and other prey can be found. Topwater frogs, poppers, buzzbaits, and chatterbaits are great choices to work the grass cover for largemouth bass. 

Once the largemouth bass retreat to cool shade, a variety of tactics can be used. If they are holding under thick grass matts in deeper water, dropping wacky rigged worms with a heavy weight can entice them to pick up a bait. If they are holding under the shade of a dock or overhanging brush flipping soft plastic worms or creature baits to them can work well. 

Invasive northern snakeheads are found In tidal waters and unfortunately have spread to some nontidal lakes and ponds, often in the same cover as largemouth bass. 

Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays

Surf anglers continue to catch a mix of kingfish, spot, and croaker this week on bloodworms and artificial bloodworm baits in the surf. Flounder are being caught on squid strips and northern blowfish are showing up as well. A few large red drum are being caught and released on large baits of cut mullet, menhaden, and clams. Stingrays and inshore sharks are also part of the mix when fishing large cut baits.

Photo of man on a boat holding a fish

Fluke, photo by Monty Hawkins

At the South Jetty and inside the inlet to the Route 50 Bridge piers, sheepshead are being caught on sand fleas. Large bluefish are being caught by casting bucktails and soft plastic jigs, striped bass are also part of the mix, and some fall into that magic range of 28-31 inches. 

The back bay channels leading towards the inlet are providing good flounder fishing this week. The channel out in front of the Ocean City Airport has been another great place to fish for flounder with a lot less boat traffic. Anglers targeting larger flounder are using Gulp baits and live spot, finger mullet, and small menhaden.

Outside the inlet, anglers who are trolling a mix of Clark and Drone spoons behind planers and inline weights are catching Spanish mackerel on some of the inshore lump and shoals. The anglers headed out to the offshore wreck and reef sites continue to enjoy excellent fishing for sea bass with a mix of triggerfish and flounder. Farther offshore at the canyons a mix of bigeye tuna and yellowfin tuna are entertaining anglers who are trolling.

“One thing becomes clearer as one gets older and one’s fishing experience increases, and that is the paramount importance of one’s fishing companions.” – John Ashley Cooper

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.”