ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Summer heat is upon us and many are seeking relief near waters across the state, from cool mountain streams of Western Maryland to the surf and offshore sites of the Atlantic Ocean. This is a good opportunity to seek and pursue the wide variety of fish found in our waters.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources reminds anglers the upcoming striped bass closure period in the Chesapeake Bay begins July 16 and runs through July 31, to lessen catch-and-release mortalities of undersized striped bass. Throughout the summer be sure to also check the striped bass fishing advisory forecast to help protect this iconic species during harsh conditions.
Forecast Summary: July 14 – July 20:
Sunny, warm weather all week should continue to drive up Chesapeake Bay water temperatures. Long-term Maryland DNR water monitoring shows peak Bay temperatures typically occur in mid to late July. Bay surface water temperatures and river and stream temperatures are in the lower 80s, and will continue to rise this week. July monitoring data is showing main Bay bottom waters remain slightly cooler than surface waters and are beginning to show some poor oxygen conditions, so in some locations Bay gamefish will be higher in the water column to find adequate oxygen and their preferred water temperatures. In addition, the coolest oxygenated bottom waters can be found from the Kent Island area north to Tolchester. Bay surface temperatures cool by about 2 degrees to 3 degrees at night.
Due to low bottom oxygen levels, avoid fishing below the following depths in these locations: Swan Point, 25 feet; Bay Bridge to Bloody Point, 15 feet to 25 feet; Choptank River to Point No Point, 35 feet to 45 feet. On the Potomac River from Colonial Beach to Piney Point, avoid fishing deeper than 5 feet to 35 feet. Along the western shore, avoid fishing deeper than 15 feet. Conditions can vary daily so be sure to check the depth-to-oxygen level online prior to your next fishing trip.
Maryland upper Bay waters down to the Bay Bridge are running saltier than normal while the waters south of the bridge are normal. Expect average flows for most Maryland rivers and streams. There may be localized high flows from rain expected on Saturday and Sunday. There will be above average tidal currents Wednesday and Thursday because of the July 10 new moon.
Expect average clarity for Maryland portions of the Bay and rivers, but expect poorer water clarity due to algal blooms in the North East and Sassafras rivers. Reduced water clarity may be present in some other areas from recent, localized high flows. To see the latest water clarity conditions, check Eyes on the Bay Satellite Maps.
For more detailed and up-to-date fishing conditions in your area of the Bay, check the Maryland DNR website for 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
The Conowingo Dam has been releasing large amounts of water during the afternoon hours for power generation, and shuts down during the early morning hours. Anglers that arrive at dawn at the dam pool have been enjoying good striped bass action by casting topwater lures and paddletails. A fair percentage of the striped bass are undersized but most anglers have been able to leave with one legal fish before the bite shuts down.
The early morning striped bass action has been continuing down to the Susquehanna Flats area where casting toward the edges of the flats is producing exciting action. Several anglers have reported that northern snakeheads and largemouth bass are part of the mix when casting topwater lures and paddletails near the edges of the grass flats. This early morning shallow water action has also been found near the mouths of the tidal rivers and Bay shores, generally from Rock Hall north.
The lumps and knolls extending from Pooles Island to Tolchester have been the main focal point of live lining for striped bass in the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake. The best catches have been early in the morning on a good moving tide.
All striped bass fishing will come to a halt this coming Friday. The lower Susquehanna River and all Maryland’s bay and tidal river waters will be closed to all striped bass fishing from July 16 through July 31. No catch-and-release fishing is allowed and attempting to catch striped bass during this time is illegal.
During the striped bass closure period there are plenty of blue catfish and channel catfish in the upper Bay to entertain anglers. Anchoring up or drifting are good ways to fish for them, as is casting from shore. Fresh-cut menhaden or gizzard shad make the best baits but chicken liver, nightcrawlers and clam snouts can work well also on a simple one hook bottom rig. Using a fish finder rig can work well for finicky catfish but most just use a three way swivel and sinker-hook rig.
Fishing for white perch can offer plenty of fun for those fishing light tackle in the tidal rivers and creeks of the upper Bay. Small lures such as beetle spins, spinners, and jigs are good choices to fish shoreline structure in the early morning and late evening hours. White perch have also moved out into the Bay and are holding on oyster knolls and shoals. Fishing with a bottom rig baited with pieces of bloodworm is the most common tactic employed.
Bryan Floyd holds up a nice striped bass caught in late June in the lower Choptank River. Photo by Herb Floyd
Anglers will find some striped bass action at the Bay Bridge piers for the next day before the closure begins Friday, July 16. Most have been pulling up to the bridge at dawn and casting jigs close to the piers. A few are also live-lining spot — both work but the important thing to keep in mind is that the action tends to close down by mid-morning and that a fair percentage of the fish being seen are undersized.
Getting out on the water early has been paying off for shallow water anglers who enjoy casting topwater lures and paddletails along shoreline structure, at places like the rocks at Poplar Island, Thomas Point Light, Eastern Bay, and all along the shores of the middle Bay.
Those trolling along the edges of the shipping channel and channels leading from the tidal rivers have been pulling umbrella rigs with swimshads as trailers down deep, and tandem or single bucktails dressed with curly tails or swimshads closer to the surface.
White perch will be offering plenty of options for anglers before and after the striped bass closure, which reopens Aug 1. The perch are available in the tidal rivers and creeks and casting small lures in the early morning and evening hours. Shoreline structure such as submerged rocks, old breakwaters, and prominent points are all great places to cast beetle spins, small spinners, and jigs. Many deeper shoreline areas near piers can offer fun and successful white perch fishing by using simple bottom rigs baited with grass shrimp or pieces of bloodworm. Small jig heads tipped with grass shrimp or bloodworm work well also and perch will be found holding close to the dock piers or even under the dock.
Photo by Keith Lockwood
Perhaps the most exciting action in the lower Bay is cobia fishing. Many are catching their limit of 2 cobia per boat at 40 inches or larger by chumming. Drifting a live eel back in the chum slick is a great way to catch one of these hard-fighting fish. Sight fishing is always fun if one is set up for it with some kind of elevated, flying bridge type rig. Some are lashing a ladder to their consoles and spotting fish, but this can only be done with slick calm conditions, and even then this is not for the faint of heart. Once you spot a cobia, casting a live eel or large soft plastic is a good way to target them. Smith Point, the Middle Grounds, the Target Ship, and Virginia waters are good places to find cobia this week.
Spanish mackerel are beginning to show up in the lower Bay — not many, but just enough to lure some anglers into targeting them by trolling small Drone and Clark spoons behind inline weights at a good clip. More and more bluefish are being caught every week as they filter into the lower Bay.
Some of the best options for targeting striped bass in Maryland waters before the July 16 closure have involved casting topwater lures and paddletails along shorelines in the earliest morning hours. The Cedar Point rocks, bulkhead areas, the cuts through Hoopers Island, and the Marsh edges of the lower Eastern Shore have all been good places to fish. Although they’re not as abundant as they were, speckled trout can be found in the same areas. The main stem of the Potomac River is now closed to striped bass fishing from July 7 through August 20. The tidal rivers on the Maryland side of the river will close right at midnight on July 16 and stay closed until Aug. 1.
White perch and spot offer some fun bottom fishing opportunities in places like the lower Patuxent River, Tangier Sound, and St. Mary’s River. The spot are getting large enough to be pan fried. Those that target them are catching flounder in the Tangier and Pocomoke sounds along channel edges and adjacent hard shoals.
Recreational crabbing is still challenging this week but there is hope for the future as more small crabs are showing up on trotlines and in collapsible crab traps. In most cases, recreational crabbers can catch anywhere from a couple dozen good crabs to a half bushel for those lucky enough to dial into a good trotline lay. Catch in the lower Bay is still lagging behind the middle and upper Bay regions. Despite the high price, many find using razor clams lead the way to better catches, while others rely on the old standard of chicken necks.
The trout waters of western Maryland are running low and clear this week, which is typical for the summer months. The zero creel waters are holding plenty of trout for those wishing to try and fool the trout there with fly-fishing gear. Deep Creek Lake is in the full summer swing of things and there are good fishing opportunities for largemouth and smallmouth bass and large bluegills along deep grass edges, sunken wood. and rocky points.
Chris Whiteman and Eric Packard hold up an impressive string of northern snakeheads caught this week. Photo by Eric Packard
The upper Potomac River is running low and clear with water temperatures around 80 degrees. Anglers will find sparse grass and quite a bit of algae. The river is still recovering from the scouring action from extreme flood conditions in 2018. The forage base, which was also decimated in 2018, has rebounded significantly. The entire freshwater portion of the Potomac is full of baitfish. and the smallmouth bass appear to be in excellent condition as a result. To see more information about the upper Potomac River and fisheries management in Washington and Frederick counties go to DNR’s region specific webpage.
It is no surprise to largemouth bass anglers that the fish they pursue are locked into a summer pattern. If one wants to tangle with them in the shallower areas, you need to be there in the early morning or evening hours. The shallows are where they find the buffet of baitfish, frogs, tadpoles, small water snakes, and anything else that looks good to eat. Topwater lures and soft plastics are go-to lures for fishing in the shallow grass and cover.
As the sun climbs into the sky and the summer heat rises, the bass are going to seek cool shade and wait out the day. Thick milfoil grass beds, fallen treetops, docks, sunken wood, anything that can provide cool shade will attract the attention of largemouth bass. Wacky rigged stick worms and a variety of soft plastics worked slow and deliberate will often entice a lounging largemouth to pick up a bait.
Northern snakeheads are leaving their broods and actively feeding. They generally will be found holding in grass and waiting for something to ambush. If you’re casting chatterbaits, frogs, or weedless paddletails, they very well may crash a bait.
Survey information from the Conowingo Dam fish lift operations this spring is now available. A total of 6,354 adult American shad were successfully transported alive from the fish lift to Columbia, Pa. so they could spawn. There were a few unintended hitchhikers as well — 949 northern snakeheads and 1,098 flathead catfish were removed from the fish lift. The invasive fish were processed and donated to Maryland food banks. Sorting and removal of invasive northern snakeheads and flathead catfish will be a continuing process in the future.
Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays
Despite some rather imperfect water clarity in the surf, anglers are catching good numbers of kingfish, small croakers, and spot on pieces of bloodworm or Fishbites. Those fishing with cut spot strips are catching small bluefish and flounder.
Tyler Leonardi caught a pleasant surprise with this large sheepshead at the Ocean City Inlet. Photo courtesy of Tyler Leonardi
At the inlet, many are enjoying catch-and-release of sub-legal striped bass, and every once in a while one will measure above 28 inches. Most are working white soft plastic jigs or bucktails dressed with a curly tail near the South Jetty and near the Route 50 Bridge. Medium-sized bluefish are also becoming more common.
In the back bay areas, the summer fishing focus is always on flounder and they are being found in the channel areas of Assawoman and Sinepuxent bays. Drifting with traditional baits of squid strips or minnows is popular, and working large soft plastic jigs in white or pink work well for the larger flounder.
Outside the inlet, the wreck and reef sites continue to provide excellent fishing for black sea bass. Limits are not uncommon and there is plenty of action even for the most inexperienced anglers. Flounder can be part of the mix also, especially for those who target them after catching their limit of sea bass.
There has been a welcomed influx of larger yellowfin tuna offshore, with some weighing up to 80 pounds. Many seeking yellowfins are chunking with good success at some of the 20- and 30-fathom lumps such as the Hot Dog and Washington Lumps. Others are trolling the canyons and catching a mix of yellowfin tuna, dolphin, and the occasional white marlin.
“There are always greater fish than you have caught, always the lure of greater task and achievement, always the inspiration to seek, to endure, to find.” — Zane Grey
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.”