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Maryland Fishing Report – May 15

Photo of woman on a boat holding a fish

Sarah Yow holds up a beautiful speckled trout she caught in  Tangier Sound. Photo courtesy of Sarah Yow

There are lots of great fishing opportunities this week, from freshwater to the coastal waters of Ocean City. The first segment of Maryland’s striped bass season starts May 16 in the main stem of the Chesapeake Bay below the line from Hart-Miller Island to Tolchester. Summer migrant species including spot, red drum, and speckled trout are arriving in the lower Bay, creating exciting fishing opportunities.

Forecast Summary: May 15 – May 21:

Unstable, but warm weather this week will make for generally good fishing conditions to enjoy the variety of fish currently swimming in Maryland’s waters. Main Bay surface water temperatures have cooled to the mid 60s. River temperatures have also dropped to the mid 60s. On the Potomac River, avoid the low oxygen areas below 15 feet between the Wicomico River and St. Georges Island. With Maryland’s part of the Bay running fresher than average, there will be abundant areas with suitable salinity for hunting blue catfish. There are plenty of cool, oxygenated waters in the lower portion of the tidal rivers as well as the Bay for searching out striped bass as its season opens. 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. 

Expect average flows for most of Maryland rivers and streams. Expect average water clarity for the Maryland portion of the Bay. To see the latest water clarity conditions, check Eyes on the Bay satellite maps. There will be above average tidal currents Sunday through Tuesday as a result of the full moon on May 23.

For more detailed and up-to-date fishing conditions in your area, continue to check out Click Before You Cast.

Upper Chesapeake Bay
Photo of eel-like fish on a rocky bottom

Lamprey, photo by Shawn Paulley.

Anglers in the Conowingo Dam pool and lower Susquehanna River are seeing the last of the hickory shad spawn this week, but American shad are being caught and released in the dam pool and adjacent river waters. Anglers are using heavy shad darts often in tandem for the American shad in the swift currents. Anglers fishing for American shad are encouraged to report their fishing trips to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources shad Volunteer Angler Survey

Flathead catfish are being caught in the dam pool on cut bait with minimum weight or on a jig head. When fishing for the flathead catfish, a stout surf rod about 9 feet long and a heavy spinning reel spooled with braid helps reach the flatheads and to be able to handle them in the strong current once hooked. 

White perch are present in the lower Susquehanna River this week and are getting ready to spawn. The white perch spawn in the lower Susquehanna is always later than other tidal rivers due to the cold water coming out of the Conowingo Dam. Anglers are enjoying good fishing once they locate schools, which are usually in about 20 feet to 25 feet of water. Casting dropper rigs with small shad darts, colorful streamer type flies or small soft plastic jigs are working well. If you find areas with less current, small spinnerbaits and roadrunner typer lures can work well also. Bottom rigs baited with small minnows, grass shrimp or pieces of bloodworm are a tried-and-true rig for deepwater white perch. 

Anglers are seeing sea lampreys in Deer Creek and the Patapsco River waters and most likely in other creeks and rivers in the upper Bay. They are an eel like predator of saltwater fish, rasping a hole in a fish’s side with their buccal mouth parts to draw blood. Lampreys were once scorned by anglers but now are accepted as their numbers are now not too great. They move up creeks and rivers to spawn in gravel beds in the spring. Their young become filter feeders until they swim back to the ocean waters and become adults.

The Maryland legislature approved a name change for the northern snakehead to a new common name in the state, the Chesapeake channa. The new name is derived from the genus name for snakeheads, as the full scientific name for the invasive species is Channa argus. The change is intended to make this tasty species a more loveable fish to diners and perhaps more appealing to consumers when it’s sold in seafood retailers and restaurants. So get used to seeing the name Chesapeake channa in place of northern snakehead in Maryland fishing reports. Anglers, of course, can call this fish anything they want – just keep catching them!

Photo of a woman on a boat with a fish

Beth Brittingham is all smiles with this large blue catfish. Photo by Kevin Brittingham

Anglers are catching some impressive Chesapeake channa, or northern snakeheads, near the Conowingo Dam pool. White paddletails are the most popular lure being used but one would suspect they’d go after a chatterbait or perhaps a buzzbait. The tidal rivers on the western shore have been a hotspot for anglers to catch our Chesapeake channa near grass beds where some of them are beginning to spawn. White paddletails are a top lure to use in open water near grass beds and fogs, buzzbaits and chatterbaits are good choices when working grass. Some anglers have good luck annoying tentative parent fish protecting fry balls by dragging buzzbaits and chatterbaits near those darling baby Chesapeake channa, causing the parent fish to lash out at a lure that is perceived as a threat. 

Striped bass anglers will be looking forward to the opening of the first segment of the 2024 Maryland striped bass season which opens Thursday, May 16. Upper Bay anglers will be able to fish for striped bass south of a line from the south corner of Hart-Miller Island east to the end of Route 21 at Tolchester – check the DNR website for a map of open areas. Anglers will be able to catch one striped bass per day that measures from 19 inches to 24 inches in the main stem of the Bay. 

The piers of the Bay Bridge will be a popular location to cast paddletails and soft plastic jigs near the bridge piers. The Love Point rocks and the Sandy Point Light will be good spots to cast jigs. Trolling will be a popular way to fish near channel edges and the sewer pipe just north of the Bay Bridge on the east side. Umbrella rigs and tandem rigged soft plastic sassy shads and bucktails will be popular lures to use. 

Medium to large blue catfish will be present in the upper Bay this week and can be caught by fishing with cut bait, chicken liver, or scented chicken breast. Anglers who chum for striped bass in the upper bay region will attract a large following of blue catfish. If one is targeting striped bass, non-offset circle hooks are required. Non-offset circle hooks work well for blue catfish, so it makes sense to use them when fishing with cut bait.

Middle Bay

Anglers in the middle Bay will be looking forward to the opening of the striped bass season in the main stem of the Bay. The tidal rivers such as the Choptank River will remain closed until June1, other tidal rivers in the region will be open to catch and release only. The DNR website includes a map showing the striped bass season boundaries

Trolling will be a popular way to fish along channel edges with umbrella rigs and tandem rigged bucktails and swimshads. Jigging will also be popular when striped bass can be found suspended near channel edges or bottom structure. Soft plastic jigs and paddletails will be popular. The rock wall at Poplar Island and the drop-off at Thomas Point will be a great place to cast paddletails and jigs during low light periods in the morning and evening hours. Many anglers will have their favorite spots to check. Chumming will be another way to fish for those who would like to anchor up and relax, non-offset circle hooks are a must and be prepared for blue catfish and cownose rays to be attracted to your chum slick and baits. 

Anglers looking for a mix of channel catfish and blue catfish in the tidal rivers are finding good action in the Choptank River from the town of Denton south to Cambridge. Fishing from boats and shoreline access points has been good and offers a peaceful setting. Cut baits of menhaden and gizzard shad are popular as is chicken liver and scented chicken breast. 

White perch are providing good fishing in the region’s tidal rivers and creeks this week. The white perch have been steadily moving downriver to sites near the mouths of the rivers. Fishing with a bottom rig baited with small minnows, grass shrimp or pieces of bloodworm are a good way to fish in the deepest waters. Using dropper rigs with small flies, jigs and shad darts is also a good way to fish the deeper water. In moderate depths casting small spinnerbaits and roadrunner type lures is a productive and fun way to fish. Targeting structure is often the key to good white perch catches.

Lower Bay
 Photo of a man holding a fish

Red drum, photo courtesy of Walter Witt.

Anglers in the lower bay region look forward to the opening of the 2024 striped bass season on Thursday, May 16. Anglers will be able to catch and keep one striped bass per day that measures between 19 inches and 24 inches in the main stem of the Bay, the tidal Potomac River as well as Tangier and Pocomoke sounds. 

Trolling will be a popular way to fish along channel edges with umbrella rigs using bucktails dressed with sassy shads and twistertails or swim shads. Jigging will be fun when fish can be spotted on depth finders; most anglers will be using soft plastic jigs. Casting a mix of paddletails and soft plastic jigs along favorite shoreline locations will be a fun way to fish and a great way for kayakers to get in on the action. Spot have moved into the region and can be found near the mouth of the Patuxent River and Cornfield Harbor near Point Lookout, so many anglers will try live lining spot. When doing so, remember that one must use non-offset circle hooks for live-lining. 

There has been a wonderful influx of red drum and speckled sea trout in the lower Bay for the past week or so — those casting a variety of soft plastic jigs and paddletails are catching them. In addition to catching slot-size red drum, anglers are large ones over the 18-inch to 27-inch slot size near Point Lookout and in Tangier and Pocomoke sounds. This is a great start to the summer season for anglers.

Blue catfish will be providing plenty of opportunity this week in the tidal Potomac, Patuxent, and Nanticoke rivers. In the Potomac River the blue catfish can be found from the Wilson Bridge all the way downriver to Solomon’s Island. The Bennedict area is a favored location on the Patuxent, and the Sharptown area on the Nanticoke. As always cut menhaden is the easiest bait to obtain and does a great job of attracting blue catfish. 

Recreational crabbers who just can’t wait any longer have been going out this past week and running crab traps and trotlines. Most are reporting catching a lot of small crabs and the legal-sized crabs just make it over the minimum size of 5 inches but are heavy. Depths of 10 feet to 15 feet tend to be the best depths for the larger crabs. Catches run from a dozen or so to 3 or 4 dozen. The tidal rivers of the lower Eastern Shore tend to provide the best crabbing success this time of the year. 

Freshwater Fishing

Anglers are enjoying fishing for holdover trout in many of the put-and-take areas this week. Casting small spinners, spoons, and jerkbaits are a great way to cover water now that the trout are spread out in streams and other waters that were recently stocked. The delayed harvest waters are providing plenty of fun catch-and-release fishing for trout; starting June 1, anglers can keep five trout per day through September 30. 

Photo of a man in a kayak holding a fish

Photo courtesy of Conner Stafford

The upper Potomac River is providing good catch and release fishing for smallmouth bass this week. A variety of soft plastic jigs, tubes and small crankbaits are good lures to use near current breaks, underwater ledges, and large boulders. June 15 anglers will be allowed to keep up to 5 smallmouth bass over 12 inches if they so desire.

Fisheries biologist Mary Groves reports from the tidal Potomac:  “The largemouth bass tournament season on the tidal freshwater portions of our rivers is in full swing. There is still a 15-inch minimum in tidal waters until June 15 where it goes back down to a 12-inch minimum size. Grasses have been slow to progress, but there are patches of milfoil breaking the surface at some of the traditional places we see submerged grasses.  Hydrilla always comes in later so the absence of grass right now will likely change as the water temperatures continue to rise.”

Largemouth bass are in various stages of spawning this week and many are still holding tight to nesting sites, especially in the western region. In areas where the females have left the nesting sites, transition waters that are slightly deeper are a good area to target. A variety of spinnerbaits, jerkbaits, and crankbaits are excellent choices for lures. Any structure in the form of grass, sunken wood or edges are good places to target. 

In the tidal waters of both shores of the Bay, the many creeks are holding Chesapeake channa, or northern snakeheads, back in shallow grassy locations. The fish are in various stages of spawning but those that are pre-spawn will readily take a white paddletail, buzzbait, chatterbait, or frog. If parent fish are guarding a fry ball, bugging them with a buzzbait or frog can cause them to strike the annoying intruder.   

Various species of sunfish are actively spawning in shallower areas near shorelines. Casting small floating ants and rubber insect imitations with a lightweight fly rod can offer a lot of fun fishing. Crappie are holding close to structure at this time, marina docks, fallen treetops, bridge piers and sunken wood all fit the bill. A small minnow or marabou jig under a slip bobber is a great way to target them. Chain pickerel are beginning to move into thick grass but working the edges can provide plenty of fun fishing.

The fishing rodeo season is still active with many youth events scheduled in the next week or two. These youth fishing events provide a lot of fun for our younger anglers and often provide prizes. To find a fishing rodeo near you, check the DNR website and gather up your young anglers for a day of family fun. 

Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays

Surf anglers are catching a mix of bluefish, black drum, and striped bass this week on cut baits of menhaden and mullet, or clams and sand fleas for the black drum. Anglers are catching and releasing some very large striped bass as they migrate north along Maryland’s beach fronts. Cownose rays are also beginning to make an appearance and give a tough fight before being released.

At the inlet and Route 50 Bridge area, anglers are seeing an increased run of bluefish with limit catches occurring. Casting soft plastic jigs and Got-Cha lures are two of the most popular methods being used. Striped bass are also being caught and released with a few measuring above the 28-inch minimum. Striped bass are being caught in the inlet area and at the Route 90 Bridge piers. In the back bay waters near the Route 90 Bridge, paddletails and jerkbaits are popular lures to use. 

Flounder fishing in the back bay channels improves each week and anglers are now catching good numbers in the channels leading away from the inlet. There tends to be a high percentage of sub-legal flounder but most anglers can put together a good catch of legal-sized fish on each trip. Gulp baits tend to catch the larger flounder. 

The 2024 tautog season will reopen July 1 through October 31 with a two-fish daily limit. The 2024 black sea bass season opens May 15 to September 30 with a limit of 15 fish per day at a minimum size of 13 inches.

Offshore anglers may begin to encounter bluefin tuna migrating to northern waters anywhere from the 30-fathom line to the canyons. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the National Marine Fisheries Service designed a mandatory reporting program to monitor recreational landings of bluefin tuna, swordfish, billfishes, and sharks (except spiny dogfish) in Maryland. Anglers landing these fish in Maryland MUST report at a state-operated reporting station. You may NOT report using the NMFS toll free number, HMS Reporting App, or online. Anglers can go to the DNR Catch Card and Tagging webpage to learn more about this program and its requirements.

“Of the many species of fish, each has its own special appeal, but none has the universal charisma of trout … of all fish, the trout demands the most of the angler and gives the most in return.” – Joe Brooks

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.”