ANNAPOLIS, Md. – The winds, rain, and cool temperatures of Tropical Storm Ophelia set the stage for a transition to fall fishing. Those scorching summer days will mostly be a memory as a new season of exciting fishing in Maryland begins.
Forecast Summary: September 27 – October 3:
The Chesapeake Bay is continuing its rapid cooling, with a 10-degree drop in the past two weeks. The upcoming week should provide moderate temperatures with windy conditions through Saturday. This should result in Bay surface water temperatures continuing to cool from current 70 degrees. Bay salinity remains above average. The windy, cool conditions greatly increased oxygen conditions with all areas now recording suitable fishing depths down to the bottom. Check our map of areas of low oxygen to help determine the maximum fishing depth in your favorite area.
Expect average flows in Maryland rivers and streams all week. There will be above average tidal currents all week as a result of the September 28-29 full moon. Expect average water clarity for most of Maryland’s Bay, rivers, and streams. 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
The Conowingo Dam is still on an afternoon and evening power generation schedule, but releases are fewer. Cooling water temperatures in the dam pool and the lower Susquehanna River, along with the cloudy weather, are encouraging striped bass to become more active. The good fishing lasts longer through the day at the dam pool, the river, and the channel edges near the mouth of the river and the channel northside of Spesutie Island. Anglers are casting a mix of paddletails, soft plastic jigs, jerkbaits, poppers and twitch baits with good results.
Last week’s tropical storm provided strong northeast winds that most likely will herald a shift to a fall fishery. Water temperatures are holding around 70 degrees but will continue to decline this week due to cloudy cool weather. When the water temperatures in the tidal rivers hit the mid-60s, the exodus of small menhaden and other baitfish will begin. Striped bass will be waiting for them along major channel edges of the Bay, where the baitfish will be swept along by strong currents.
Striped bass are still holding at the mouth of the Patapsco River, the Key Bridge, and Baltimore Harbor. Using spot and small eels for live-lining continues to be popular, but the availability of spot will begin to become sparse as we move into October.
The Key Bridge holds promise this week for live-lining and jigging for striped bass close to the bridge piers. Jigging and trolling is a good option in front of Fort Carroll; soft plastic jigs and umbrella rigs behind heavy inline weights are popular choices. As waters cool, striped bass will move to other traditional locations like Love Point rocks, Podickory Point, and the sewer pipe on the eastern side of the Bay Bridge.
There are plenty of blue catfish in the upper Bay; the lower Susquehanna, Elk, and Chester rivers all hold large populations. They are also being caught with increasing regularity in the Bush, Middle. and Patapsco rivers. Fresh cut bait is the most popular choice, but chicken liver and assorted baits can also work. Populations of channel catfish can be found in all the region’s tidal rivers.
White perch are ready to provide fun fishing for anglers in the tidal rivers this week. Working shorelines with Roadrunners, small spinnerbaits, Beetle-Spins, and small soft plastic jigs are a great way to fish for them. In deeper waters, bottom rigs baited with pieces of bloodworms, peeler crab, or grass shrimp work well. Some of the lumps and knolls in the upper Bay hold schools of white perch and the Kent Narrows is always a good place to check.
Fishing the shallower waters near shoreline structure tends to be one of the more productive ways to fish for striped bass in the middle Bay. The Poplar Island rocks, Thomas Point rocks, Sharps Island Light, the waters in front of the Naval Academy, and the shorelines of the tidal rivers are great places to fish this week. Casting a mix of poppers, paddletails, jerkbaits, and twitchbaits are all great choices depending on water depth and the extent of grass beds. Puppy drum and speckled trout have been part of the mix lately.
Trolling is an option for bluefish that can still be found in the middle Bay; they will be heading south soon, following the Spanish mackerel for warmer waters. The eastern edge of the shipping channel from Buoy 83 south past the Sharps Island Light and the False Channel provide good places to troll for bluefish with small spoons and surgical tube lures behind planers and inline weights. Striped bass can also be part of the mix, but most anglers are using umbrella rigs when targeting striped bass.
Anglers are starting to encounter more breaking fish this week as bluefish and smaller striped bass mix it up with schools of bay anchovies, which are being swept down the Bay by ebbing tides. Casting a mix of metal jigs and soft plastics is the ticket to this event. Allowing jigs to sink to the bottom under the breaking fish can often reap rewards with larger striped bass. This activity will increase next month as schools of baitfish exit the tidal rivers when water temperatures dip into the 60s.
White perch are still holding in their typical summer habitats in the tidal rivers, but lower water temperatures next month will urge them out into the deeper waters of the lower regions of the tidal rivers. Casting small jigs, spinnerbaits, Roadrunners, and Beetle-spins are a fun way to fish for them during the morning and evening hours. Fishing with bait in the form of grass shrimp, peeler crab, small minnow, or pieces of bloodworms on a simple bottom rig near dock piers and oyster reefs is an excellent option.
In the lower Bay, there are still plenty of bluefish to be caught but they will not be around much longer. It often takes cool weather and a northeaster to set things in motion for bluefish, Spanish mackerel, spot and other warm water summer species. One good thing about fish species that enjoy warmer waters is that their larger representatives can tolerate cooler northern waters. Two recent examples in the lower Bay have resulted in new state records, for sheepshead and Florida pompano. The recent state record pompano, caught by Bobby Graves, was 6.44 pounds, and only two pounds shy of the IGFA World Record. Fishing for large sheepshead around the Target Ship, Holland Island, and anywhere there is structure in the form of rocks remains very good this week.
Trolling for bluefish has been good at the mouth of the Potomac River and channel edges of the Bay, and in Tangier and Pocomoke sounds. Trolling small spoons behind planers and inline weights has been popular. Anglers are also mixing various sizes of surgical tube lures in their trolling spreads.
Anglers working the shorelines of the tidal rivers, Bay shores, and sounds are catching a mix of striped bass, speckled trout, bluefish, and puppy drum. For casting, soft plastic jigs, paddletails, twitchbaits, and topwater lures are good choices. The morning and evening usually offer the best fishing, but with recent cloudy conditions the action can last through the day.
Large red drum are being encountered this week near Point Lookout, near the Target Ship and Middle Grounds, and in Tangier and Pocomoke sounds. Locating slicks or paying careful attention to depth finders can reveal their presence, and jigging with large soft plastics is a great way to enjoy exciting catch-and-release action.
Fishing for spot at the mouth of the Patuxent River remains good, but anglers could see this fishery come to an end in the next week or so. The spot are as big as they’re going to get, so anyone desiring some tasty fish should not wait much longer. White perch will hold to their typical summer habitat until the end of October unless water temperatures drop rapidly.
Recreational crabbers were doing well before the winds of Ophelia drove them off the water. In most tidal rivers throughout the Bay, the best quality crabs are coming from waters 12 feet to 16 feet deep. Many recreational crabbers are deploying net rings or collapsible crab traps as well as a trotline to explore different depths to find the best concentrations of quality crabs.
The western region finally received substantial rain, which should help with stream flows and cooling water temperatures this week. Anglers will begin to see fish becoming more active. The fall trout stocking program will begin in October and anglers across the state will be able to enjoy fun trout fishing in the put-and-take areas.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is asking put-and-take trout anglers for three minutes of their time to fill out an online survey. This information will be used to help inform and evaluate our stocked trout fishing program and to enhance anglers’ experiences fishing our stocked trout waters. The deadline for the survey is September 29. Please visit our website for information on the trout stocking program.
The upper Potomac River saw a rise in water levels due to the weekend’s rain, and although they dropped within a few days the water levels are still higher than they were before the rain. Anglers should see improved fishing for smallmouth bass due to increased flows and cooler water conditions. Slow retrieves will still be in order and fluorocarbon leaders will help greatly when presenting a variety of lures.
Cooler water temperatures and shorter daylight hours are beginning to influence grass bed decline where largemouth bass target, when feeding and residing during the daylight hours. Largemouth bass will begin to move to the thickest and healthiest portions of grass they can find. Using a variation of the Texas rig with heavy weight and a slide stop above the weight is a good way to punch through the thick floating grass mats to largemouth bass residing below. A stout rod, braided line and soft plastic baits will be valuable assets.
Largemouth bass are becoming more active as they shake off the summer temperatures and bright sunlight ,and will be feeding more through the day as they try to build up body stores. As shallow grass beds begin to decline, baitfish and crayfish will be moving towards deeper waters where they can find cover for the colder months. Largemouth bass will often be found in transition areas to intercept them. Soft craw baits, crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and jerkbaits are all good choices to fish in these areas.
Northern snakeheads will be holding close to existing grass beds and shoreline brush. They are very active this week as they feel the need to build up body stores after a long spawning season. Chatterbaits and buzzbaits are good choices when working grass or brush. As snakeheads begin to be found in more open waters near cover, large minnows fished under a bobber can offer additional opportunities while casting lures. The creeks feeding into the tidal Potomac River, the lower Susquehanna River, and the Middle, Bush, and Patapsco rivers are excellent places to find snakeheads. The lower Eastern Shore tidal waters and the upper Patuxent also hold large populations of northern snakeheads.
Crappie are beginning to school up near marina docks, bridge piers, fallen treetops, and sunken brush in the deeper water tidal waters, reservoirs, and lakes. Using small minnows or marabou jigs fished under a slip bobber is a good way to fish for them.
Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays
This past week, northeast winds created rough ocean conditions with pounding surf and higher-than-normal tides, and churned up bay waters. The first northeaster of September usually brings changing conditions for most summer fisheries. As water temperatures cool, many summer species will start to get the hint of moving offshore or south.
Surf fishing was a bust over the weekend and those same conditions will prevail through the week. Once the surf calms down, kingfish and bluefish should still be present to entertain anglers.
The inlet jetties and Route 50 Bridge area has been getting a lot of attention from anglers fishing for sheepshead using sand fleas and peeler crab for bait.
It will take a while for flounder fishing in the back bay areas to return to pre-storm conditions, but water clarity will steadily improve when winds calm down. The best tactic for flounder anglers might be to fish near the inlet on incoming tides where water clarity might be better.
Sea bass season closes September 30 and will not reopen until October 10, with a daily limit of 15 fish per angler and a 13-inch minimum length. The offshore canyon waters will certainly see some changes this week– there is hope of yellowfin tuna passing through from northern waters, white marlin fishing should be very good, and hopefully the small dolphin will stick around a little longer.
“From birth to death, anyone can fish. I just think it’s fantastic to see old people going fishing with young people and teaching them things. I’m very, very critical.” – Rex Hunt
Click Before You Cast is written by Tidewater Ecosystem Assessment Director Tom Parham.
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