ANNAPOLIS, Md. – The 2023 Maryland trout season had its normal start last weekend, with plenty of trout to go around for everyone. The weather was wet and chilly, but fun was had by all.
Hickory and American shad are arriving at traditional locations to the joy of catch-and-release anglers.
The spring striped bass catch-and-release season will be closed April 1 through May 1.
Forecast Summary: March 29 – April 4:
The warming weather of the week ahead will cause Chesapeake Bay and river water temperatures to steadily rise for gamefish including striped bass, shad, and herring, which are spawning or preparing to spawn in the next couple of weeks. Main Bay surface water temperatures have risen to the low 50s. River temperatures have climbed into the upper 40s and low 50s. Smaller streams and downwind areas on a sunny day will warm faster and often hold water temperatures in the mid to upper 50s. Low salinity areas in this temperature range are prime locations for spawning perch as they move up from their wintering areas in the downstream portion of rivers.
Bay salinities are about normal. Expect average clarity for most Maryland portions of the Bay and rivers. To see the latest water clarity conditions, check Eyes on the Bay Satellite Maps.
Expect average flows for most Maryland rivers and streams. There will be above average tidal currents Saturday through Tuesday as a result of the upcoming full moon April 6.
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
Anglers in the lower Susquehanna River and the Conowingo Dam pool are beginning to see the vanguard of hickory shad and American shad arriving for some fun catch-and-release fishing. Shad darts and small flashy spoons are excellent lures to use. The pace of this fishing should pick up in the next few weeks.
Anglers can help the Department of Natural Resources track these species’ populations by filling out an easy online angler survey. Visit the department’s website and search Volunteer Angler Survey, click on Shad Survey and tell us about your fishing trip. Your participation will help state biologists track the health of these species in our area, and we will include you in our annual Shad Volunteer Angler Survey Report at the end of the fishing season. A small prize will be awarded to the angler with the most log entries. Thank you to those who participated in the 2022 season, and we hope to see your fishing reports this year!
Flathead catfish are active this week in the dam pool and just below it. A mix of blue and channel catfish can be found in the lower Susquehanna River, upper Bay, and surrounding tidal rivers. Fresh cut bait and a variety of chicken parts serve as good bait. Smallmouth bass are active in the Susquehanna near the dam pool and are providing some good catch and release fishing.
The Susquehanna Flats striped bass catch-and-release fishery has been providing some good action leading up to its closure; anglers are reminded that any targeting of striped bass ends March 31. When the fishery is open, most anglers are casting lipless crankbaits, jerkbaits, diving crankbaits. and soft plastic jigs with good results. A few anglers have been trolling the steep and deep edges of the shipping channel in the upper Bay and connecting with some pre-spawn striped bass headed for the upper Bay spawning sites. The Dumping Grounds and the channel edge near Podickory Point are two such locations. Jigging with large soft plastics at the Bay Bridge piers has also been a good light-tackle option.
Fishing for white perch is a great option this week for anglers fishing in the upper sections of the region’s tidal rivers. The Bush, Magothy, and the Chester rivers are standouts, but other rivers can have spawning runs as well. Pieces of bloodworm on a small jig head or a single-hook bottom rig are the best way to get into the action. Deeper holes and channels in the upper reaches off the spawning rivers are good places to look for white perch.
The shipping channel of the middle Bay has been a good location for large pre-spawn striped bass. Trolling at depths of 50 feet or more with heavy bucktails and parachutes dressed with equally large sassy shads has been the ticket to this action. Light-tackle anglers are also finding success when they can spot schools of menhaden that the striped bass are working on and jigging with large soft plastics in deep waters. Anglers are reminded that the catch-and-release season ends March 31 and striped bass fishing in the Bay will not reopen until May 1. The tidal rivers are closed to catch-and-release fishing for striped bass.
There is evidence that striped bass are beginning to spawn in the upper Choptank River this week. It is a little early for the bulk of the spawning activity, which usually happens during the second week of April. Striped bass spawning will increase as water temperatures approach 58 degrees. It is not uncommon for some of the larger female striped bass to spawn in cooler waters in the Choptank River during late March.
White perch have been spawning in the upper Choptank River since mid-March and there are still good numbers of white perch to be found in the upper Choptank from Greensboro to Red Bridges. Hickory shad are also making a presence this week in the same areas, and blueback herring are arriving on the scene. Fishing for hickory shad, blueback herring, and alewife herring is strictly a catch-and-release affair because they are protected species. Small shad darts and flashy spoons are good lures when fishing for them. Anglers are still catching a few post-spawn yellow perch in the upper and middle regions of the Choptank River and Tuckahoe Creek this week.
Fishing for a mix of blue and channel catfish is an opportunity to enjoy some fun action from shore or out in a small boat. The Miles-Severn-West river complex and the Choptank River all hold populations of channel catfish. The Choptank River in the Dover Bridge region is providing plenty of blue catfish opportunities.
Anglers are enjoying these last few days of striped bass catch-and-release fishing in the deepest waters of the shipping channel. Those who are trolling are using heavy parachutes and bucktails dressed with sassy shads in tandem at depths of 50 feet or more. Light-tackle anglers are watching their depth finders for striped bass chasing menhaden in the shipping channel. Large soft plastic jigs in the range of 2 ounces with 9-inch soft plastic bodies are being used at depths of 50 more or more by anglers using braid line.
Striped bass are now in place at the spawning reaches of the Nanticoke, Patuxent, and Potomac Rivers. The waters are warming up just enough that some preliminary spawning is taking place. The bulk of the spawning activity should take place during the end of the first week of April and into the second week; all fishing for striped bass is prohibited during April.
Fishing for white perch is good in the middle to upper reaches of the region’s spawning rivers. White perch are being found in the Nanticoke and Wicomico rivers, the upper Patuxent, and tributaries of the tidal Potomac River. Small jig heads or shad darts tipped with a piece of fresh minnow or bloodworm will do the trick, as will a simple one-hook bottom rig. White perch will often be found working their way up the deeper channels and holes where water depths start to become sparse.
A mix of hickory shad and American shad are increasing in numbers in the Potomac River within District of Columbia waters, Mattawoman Creek, and the upper Patuxent River.
This is an exciting and fun catch-and-release fishery for light-tackle anglers using spinning or fly-fishing tackle. Colorful sinking flies, shad darts, and small flashy spoons will attract the attention of both species of shad.
Anglers are reminded if they fish the Potomac outside the Maryland line, they will need a District of Columbia recreational fishing license. The District is conducting extra enforcement this year and will check for licenses.
Blue catfish are certainly in play this week and offer plenty of action for those fishing along the edges of the main river channels. The tidal Potomac River from the Wilson Bridge south to the Route 301 Bridge holds large concentrations of blue catfish. Fishing from shore or from a boat with enough lead to hold bottom, large circle hooks and cut bait is the ticket to catching them. The Patuxent River from Benedict to Jug Bay holds large concentrations of blue catfish as does the Nanticoke River in the Sharpstown area.
The traditional opening day of trout season started with the usual fanfare and more than a few wet feet and cold fingers, but there were a lot of smiles. Anglers were treated to generous stockings seeded with trophy-sized trout at every location. Stocking continues into spring so keep checking the Department of Natural Resources trout stocking website. The trout stockings are posted as they occur, so the notice is usually online by the afternoon.
As April arrives, fishing for smallmouth bass is providing plenty of good fishing in the upper Potomac River, Deep Creek Lake, and the lower Susquehanna River just below the Conowingo Dam pool. Casting tubes, grubs, soft plastic craws, and crankbaits are good choices when worked close to bottom structure.
Largemouth bass are in the early pre-spawn stages of activity and are feeding aggressively in ponds, reservoirs, and rivers across Maryland. Targeting deep structure with whacky or drop shot rigged soft plastics, grubs, craw jigs, and small crankbaits are all good ideas. As the sun warms up shallower waters, largemouth bass will move to shallower waters and casting jerkbaits, spinnerbaits, and lipless crankbaits can work well.
Northern snakeheads are seeking the warmth of the sun in shallower waters; casting white paddle tails or fishing a large minnow under a bobber can get them to pick up a bait. Chain pickerel can be found holding near shoreline sunken wood or other types of structure. Springtime water temperatures will find large crappie near structure – fallen treetops, marina docks, and sunken brush all fit the bill.
Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays
Anglers are having fun catching tautog on sand fleas in and around the inlet and Route 50 Bridge area this week. Most of the tautog are coming up a bit short of the required 16-inch minimum length but some keepers are making it into the ice chest. The first flounder of the season are making their way into the back bays of Ocean City. The fishing is described as a slow pick, but on a nice day with no boat traffic, drifting along in the channels close to the inlet can be a very relaxing way to fish.
Striped bass are being caught inside the inlet, and near the bridges close to rocks and bridge piers in the deeper waters. Soft plastic jigs tend to be the best lure to use for this fun catch-and-release fishing since most striped bass fail to reach the 28-inch minimum.
Fishing for tautog at the offshore wreck and reef sites remains good this week when the wind is favorable. Some impressive tautog are being caught on a regular basis. Pieces of white-legger crabs have been the bait of choice for these larger fish.
“Time is probably more generous and healing to an angler than to any other individual. The wind, the sun, the colors and smells, the loneliness of the sea or the solitude of the stream work some kind of magic.” – Zane Grey
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.”