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Maryland Fishing Report – March 6

Photo of man holding a large fish in a boat

Blue catfish, photo courtesy of Rich Gray.

Welcome to March and the first signs of spring – including our first fishing report for the 2024 season. Blooming daffodils, departing Canada geese, the arrival of ospreys, and the spring spawning runs of yellow and white perch are happening all around us. Many anglers have been fishing through the winter months due to the generous preseason trout stocking program and the abundance of blue catfish that we encourage everyone to help remove.

Upper Chesapeake Bay
Photo of girl holding a fish

Lucy Perez is very happy with this well-earned yellow perch. Photo by Nick Perez

Perhaps the most exciting news for anglers is the annual spawning runs of yellow and white perch in the region’s tidal rivers. They are often looked at as a rite of spring providing fun fishing in the upper reaches of the tidal rivers. The spawning in the tidal rivers and creeks on the western shore are noted to be the first to occur, followed by the eastern side of the Bay’s tidal rivers and creeks, and lastly the Susquehanna River. 

There are so many yellow perch runs occurring now in the upper Bay that it would be hard to list each. A few of the most popular are the Northeast, Bush, Magothy, and Chester rivers. You can find an online map site that lists most known yellow perch runs in Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake. 

The time that yellow perch spawning occurs is governed by water temperature and length of photoperiod, or the amount of time in a day that light is available. Current water temperatures are about 48 degrees, which falls within the 48-to-54-degree temperature range that spurs yellow perch to spawn. Often the very beginning of the flood tide moves the perch into the spawning reaches and they usually always spawn at night, leaving ribbon-like strings of eggs on submerged sticks and vegetation. Much of the yellow perch spawn hit a peak this past weekend but there are still plenty of opportunities for pre- and post-spawn yellow perch. The minimum size for yellow perch in tidal waters is 9 inches, with a creel limit of 10 fish per day. There is no minimum size or creel limit for white perch.

Successful yellow perch anglers find small spinnerbaits, Beetle-spin type lures, and small jigs to be good choices when fishing with lures. Fishing with small lip-hooked minnows is perhaps the most effective and popular way to fish for yellow perch on a simple one hook or a high-low bottom rig. Anglers are warned that using J-style hooks is being considered illegal under the current circle hook regulations. Anglers are urged to use small (approximately size No. 4) when fishing with live minnows.  These small circle hooks are not easy to find, but a few hook manufactures make them in these small sizes.

White perch are now being found moving up the upper sections of the tidal tributaries right behind the yellow perch. Bottom rigs baited with pieces of bloodworms or grass shrimp are the most popular baits. Anglers using these baits can legally use J-style hooks if the gap in the hook is a half-inch or less. Casting small jigs tipped with a piece of minnow or bloodworm also works well and can be a real asset when weeding through large numbers of small white perch that are tossed back. 

Anglers looking for a little more pull on the end of their line will have no trouble locating blue catfish in the deeper channels and holes in the region’s tidal rivers. Anglers are urged to do their best to remove some of these blue catfish since the larger ones do a lot of damage by feeding on white perch, yellow perch, hickory shad, and river herring that are attempting to make their spring spawning runs up the tidal rivers. It is amazing how many large fish they can manage to consume. The deep holes and channels where pre-spawn fish might rest before ascending farther up the rivers is where most of the carnage takes place. Cut bait of gizzard shad, menhaden, white perch, or alternative baits in the form of chicken liver or scented baits work well.

Middle Bay
Photo of man holding up three fish on a line

White perch, photo by Keith Lockwood

Fishing for yellow perch and white perch will be at the top of the list for many anglers in the middle Bay. The Choptank River and Tuckahoe Creek are two of the most popular tidal waters to fish for the spawning perch. Although much of the yellow perch spawn has occurred, there are still some to be found as they move downriver from the spawning areas, and white perch are moving upriver into the spawning reaches. Anglers will also witness the swirling actions of spawning alewife river herring in the shallows. 

DNR fisheries biologist Paul Piavis manages the resident species programs and observed that the yellow perch run is beginning now. ”Approximately a quarter of the yellow perch in our surveys have spawned,” Paul says. ”The white perch run will follow in a couple of weeks, but there are always some around to make it worthwhile to wet a line. Anglers can expect results similar to last year for both species. There will be many 7.5-inch yellow perch and 5-inch white perch to cull through, but large yellow perch (greater than 11 inches) and jumbo white perch will be available in good numbers. Medium-sized yellow perch and white perch will be noticeably scarce. Yellow perch and white perch reproduction generally follows the same pattern as striped bass, so production for both species has been low for the past few years. Runs may be slightly lighter than last year, but likely not noticeable to anglers.”

Fishing slightly downriver from the spawning reaches in the channels is a good place to find post-spawn yellow perch. Bottom rigs baited with lip-hooked small minnows is a good way to target them. Anglers are warned that using J-style hooks is being considered illegal under the current circle hook regulations. Anglers are urged to use small (approximately size No. 4) circle hooks when fishing with live minnows. Casting Beetle-Spin type lures and small jigs are also fun ways to fish for yellow perch moving down the spawning rivers. 

Fishing the channel waters leading to the upriver spawning sites is providing good fishing for white perch this week. Using bottom rigs baited with grass shrimp or pieces of bloodworm is the most popular way to fish for them this week. Casting small spinnerbaits, Roadrunner type lures, and small shad darts tipped with a piece of bloodworm or minnow are also very effective, especially when the white perch are concentrated in an area.

The Choptank River is providing good fishing for a mix of channel and blue catfish in the channel areas of the river. The river from Denton to the town of Choptank tends to be the best place to fish in the deeper waters of the river. Cut gizzard shad, menhaden, or white perch are the most popular baits. Anglers will also see white catfish taking the same baits. We continue to update information on invasive species such as blue catfish; check our website for some information on fishing for blue catfish, there are other links on fileting and preparing blue catfish for eating. 

Water temperatures in the middle Bay have risen to the middle 40s this week and will continue to slowly rise further later this month. A few anglers are practicing catch and release for large striped bass that move up the bay before entering the Choptank River and the upper bay spawning sites. Most are jigging with 1.5-ounce jigs with large soft plastics that measure 6-inch to 8-inch in length, with chartreuse being the most popular color. The warm water discharge at the Calvert Cliffs Power Plant is always a target for anglers looking for striped bass nosing into the warm water. The Choptank River and other spawning rivers in the Bay are closed to catch-and-release fishing for striped bass at this time, and catch-and-release in the Bay will end April 1. 

Lower Bay
Photo of man holding up a fish

Yellow perch, photo courtesy of Billy Reilly.

Targeting spawning yellow perch and white perch in several of the lower Bay tidal rivers will be a popular pastime for anglers this week. The list of rivers and creeks that contain spawning populations is extensive. On the Eastern Shore, fishing in the Nanticoke and Marshyhope Creek is a great place to intercept white perch heading upriver to spawning sites. The Wicomico and Pocomoke rivers offer equal opportunities.

The Patuxent River and the many tributaries of the Potomac River also offer many opportunities for white perch and the last of the yellow perch spawning runs. An online map will help those who do not already have their favorite fishing spots to find good places to fish for both yellow perch and white perch. 

Anglers will soon be able to fish for American and hickory shad in the Potomac River at the Fletcher’s Landing area of the river,which is inside the District of Columbia boundaries. Anglers wishing to enjoy this fun catch-and-release fishery will need to purchase a D.C. fishing license.

Blue catfish are overwhelming the major tidal rivers in the lower Bay and anglers looking for some heavyweight action are urged to fish for them. One of the best ways is fishing from a boat using bottom rigs and circle hooks baited with cut bait. There are several charter boats that are now offering trips for blue catfish in the tidal Potomac and Patuxent rivers. The charter fee split between six anglers lowers the price to a very reasonable cost. The reward is a cooler full of catfish filets that make for good eating and freeze well for future meals.

Freshwater Fishing
Photo of man in a stream holding a fish

Rainbow trout, photo courtesy of Brent Fletcher.

Since December, trout anglers have been enjoying the generous preseason stockings around the state. The put-and-take areas are providing plenty of fun fishing opportunities for anglers, young and old. Closure 1 put and take areas will close on March 10 and closure 2 on March 24. All will reopen at 6:30 a.m. on the traditional opening day of the 2024 spring trout season on March 30 at all Closure 1 and Closure 2 trout management areas

New this year, DNR is offering a special youth trout fishing day on Saturday, March 23 for anglers who are under the age of 16. This is a great opportunity for our young anglers to essentially have the popular put-and-take trout management waters all to themselves.

Parents, relatives, and friends should start thinking about setting the stage for those young anglers who need some instruction and equipment. For those under the age of 4, a trip to one of the many community ponds that are stocked can be a great choice for some simple bobber and bait fishing with a push-button closed-face spinning outfit. Get the kiddos out on an open lawn and have them practice casting to a target with a rubber sinker just to make it fun. Those a little older and knowledgeable may be ready for a trip to a stocked creek or river. In all cases, familiarize them with casting because if you cast for them, you need to have a fishing license and trout stamp to be legal.

Trout are not the only game in town this time of the year. Fishing for smallmouth bass and walleye is excellent in the upper Potomac River and to a slightly lesser extent in the lower Susquehanna River. A variety of soft plastic swim jigs, grubs, soft craw jigs, and crankbaits are all good choices to cast near current breaks and submerged ledges. 

The colder months of early spring are a great time to fish for chain pickerel in the upper tidal waters and freshwater ponds and lakes. The heavy growth of grass beds has yet to begin, so there is a lot of open water and chain pickerel are looking for any kind of structure to hold near to ambush baitfish. Sunken wood is usually the most available structure. Casting a variety of lures that are rigged with single inline hooks work well for this mostly catch-and-release fishery. 

Deep Creek Lake and reservoirs across the western and central regions are coming to life and offer a variety of fishing opportunities for yellow perch, crappie, largemouth bass, and smallmouth bass. Most will respond to smaller lures that are fished deep and slow this time of the year. Check the DNR website to explore locations you may not have fished before

It is still a little too cold for northern snakehead activity but as March moves on, fishing large minnows under a bobber or popping cork near shoreline brush can offer up a few fish. The sunny afternoon shores of a body of water will often attract northern snakeheads to warmer waters.

Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays
Photo of boy and woman on a boat, holding a fish

Tautog, photo by Monty Hawkins

Most of the fishing activity in the Ocean City area revolves around tautog. A few fish are being caught around the Ocean City Inlet and the Route 50 Bridge area. A few striped bass are being caught by anglers casting soft plastic jigs at the Route 90 Bridge and Ocean City Inlet area, but most are under the 28-inch minimum.

The new recreational summer flounder regulation modifications are now posted. From January 1 to May 31, the minimum size for flounder is 16 inches, with a creel limit of four flounder per day. From June 1 to December 31 the minimum size will be 17.5  creel limit of four flounder per day.

Fishing for tautog at the offshore wreck and reef sites is good this month with plenty of tautog coming over the rails. Traditional crab baits and jigs are popular choices for anglers.

“I shall now confess to you that none of those three trout had to be beheaded, or folded over double, to fit their casket. What was big was not the trout, but the chance. What was full was not my creel, but my memory.” – Aldo Leopold

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.”