The black locust trees are blooming and for many old timers this heralds the first blue crab shed of the year – starting many to think about getting their gear ready and enjoying some recreational crabbing and the bounty it provides.
There is good news for all wishing to enjoy a crab feast. The results of the 2019 blue crab winter dredge survey show populations in the Chesapeake Bay are up approximately 60 percent!
Forecast Summary: May 8 – 14
More warm weather and possible rains are expected, and will continue to warm Chesapeake Bay waters to the upper 60s and low 70s. In most Maryland bay waters, anglers will find adequate oxygen from surface to bottom for gamefish. However, to avoid low oxygen conditions in the deep channel waters from the Bay Bridge down to the Virginia state line, avoid fishing deeper than 35 feet. Bay water temperatures continue to rise as recorded at the real-time National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Maryland Department of Natural Resources buoys. For the middle-to-upper bay, from Annapolis north, water temperatures are holding near the upper 6’s. For the middle-to-lower bay, the NOAA Gooses buoy surface temperature is holding in the mid 60’s while the bottom temperatures have increased to the high 50s. Choptank River area water temperatures have risen to the upper 60s. For the Potomac River, from Little Falls to the mouth of the river, surface water temperatures holding around 70 degrees. Surface waters are warmer than most bottom waters.
Expect reduced water clarity in the upper bay from the Susquehanna Flats down to Tolchester from recent rains, and also in Eastern Bay and the Choptank River due to algal blooms. Expect elevated flows for the Susquehanna and Potomac rivers due to recent rains farther up in the watershed. Flows in the Potomac River and the smaller rivers and streams entering Maryland’s portion of the bay will be normal but likely rising due to predicted rains this weekend. There will be above average tidal currents through Friday as a result of the new moon May 5.
Upper Chesapeake Bay
The Susquehanna Flats catch-and-release fishery for striped bass is now closed and when the area opens up to striped bass fishing on May 16, fishermen will be allowed to keep one striped bass per day between 19 inches and 29 inches. Remember to follow our regulations concerning use of circle hooks. There are plenty of smaller male striped bass up there, so this should be a great opportunity for locals.
There have been reports from the lower Susquehanna concerning catch-and-release fishing for hickory shad and most of them have spoken of hit and miss type of fishing success. Flows at the Conowingo Dam have increased as large amounts of water have arrived from the upper watershed. Spawning runs at Deer Creek and Octoraro Creek have been fickle and it is now getting late. If you’re going to give it a try, your best odds are on sunny and warm days with no rain events in the past day or so. The large amounts of cold water being released from the dam has also held back the white perch spawning runs in the river.
There are plenty of catfish ready and willing to take fresh cut baits in the lower Susquehanna and surrounding areas. Flathead catfish can be found in the dam pool and channel catfish in the lower river and nearby tidal rivers. Northern snakeheads are also being caught in the regions tidal rivers. Smallmouth bass are being caught in the lower Susquehanna and largemouth bass out on the Susquehanna flats.
Those trolling in the upper bay region below the Brewerton Channel line are finding very slow fishing for larger striped bass. The west side of the bay tends to be stained, the east side is showing clearer conditions. White and chartreuse parachutes and bucktails have been the most common lures being used rigged in tandem or behind umbrella rigs. The channel edge at Love Point has been the most popular place to troll this week.
Salinity values on the surface waters remain very low this week with higher values on the bottom. Water clarity is fair to good with the clearer waters tending to be on the eastern side of the bay. Trolling for post-spawn striped bass improved as expected this week as the large female striped bass exit the Choptank River and head south. Some will take their time and can be found wandering as far north as the Bloody Point area.
Some traditional channel edges that produce success include, Bloody Point, Gum Thickets, Buoy 84, Breezy Point, the False Channel and the steep edge from R2 south past the inside of the CP Buoy. White and chartreuse parachutes and bucktails dressed with large sassy shads rigged in tandem or behind umbrella rigs have been the most popular items to troll off planer boards or flat lines. If trolling flat lines, be sure to allow them to be far behind your boat.
Quite a few anglers out on the bay are choosing for a little more action and targeting smaller striped bass for some catch-and-release action. Striped bass this size will not be a legal catch until May 16, so until then catch-and-release fishing fun is in order. Suspended striped bass can be spotted on depth finders holding along channel edges and light tackle jigging with large soft plastic jigs will get you in on the action. These fish will put a significant bend in your rod and offer exciting and fun fishing opportunities.
Fishing for white perch is good in the tidal rivers and creeks throughout the region. The white perch are now holding in their normal summer habitat. Fishing with grass shrimp or pieces of bloodworms near docks and piers or sunken structure is one of the better ways to catch them. In the early morning and evening hours casting small spinners, spinnerbaits or small rattle traps near shoreline structure is a fun way to catch them. Fallen tree tops, submerged rocks or prominent points are all good places to fish.
Channel catfish can be found in all of the tidal rivers and they can provide plenty of entertainment for shore bound anglers or those with small boats. Salinity values are so low in the bay that they are being caught out in the bay also. Fresh cut bait such as white perch makes a good bait, but chicken breast, chicken livers or nightcrawlers work well also. Northern snakeheads are showing up in the upper reaches of the region’s tidal rivers and creeks with increasing abundance and can be caught on live minnows under a bobber or a variety of lures.
There are several fishing piers in the middle bay region that offer good fishing for catfish and white perch. Bill Burton Fishing Pier State Park along with the the Matapeake and Romancoke piers on Kent Island are three popular ones on the Eastern Shore. On the western shore, the fishing pier at North Point State Park is popular.
This remains one of the best regions to intercept post-spawn striped bass headed down the bay and out into the Atlantic Ocean for their northward travels. Post-spawn striped bass are moving out of the Choptank, Nanticoke, Patuxent and Potomac rivers. Now is the right time to fish the peak of this exodus.
The western and eastern sides of the shipping channel are traditional locations to troll alone the steeper edges. Cove Point and the HS Buoy are two of the most popular places to troll. At the mouth of the Potomac River, the steep channel edge between Piney Point and St. Georges Island and Smith Point have been excellent places to fish.
Trolling tandem rigged parachutes and bucktails dressed with sassy shads off of planer boards continues to be extremely popular but trolling flat lines can work well also if allowed to be far distant behind the stern of the boat. Umbrella rigs offer an option when trolling flat lines.
Many are enjoying great light tackle jigging for smaller striped bass along channel edges this week which offer plenty of action. Others have been fishing the shallower areas along the lower Eastern Shore for smaller striped bass and have also caught a few speckled trout in the process.
The catch-and-release fishing for a mix of hickory shad and American shad is still offering some exciting fishing this week at Fletchers Landing on the Potomac River. Anglers report that the hickory shad fishing is slowing down but more American shad are being caught now than previously.
The boat ramp underneath the Route 4 Bridge on the north side of the Patuxent River in Solomons is now open after extensive repairs and improvements. The adjacent pier is a popular and productive place to fish.
Fishing for blue catfish in the tidal Potomac stretches from the St. Marys River north to the Wilson Bridge. They can be found in most any location in the Potomac as well as tidal creeks. Fresh cut bait of gizzard shad, white perch or bluegills perform well on a simple bottom rig. The medium sized catfish make for the best eating and with no creel limit or minimum size, they make for an excellent choice to fill one’s freezer. If a trophy blue catfish is on your mind, the channel near Fort Washington offers the best opportunity to wrestle with a brute of a catfish that can weigh 80 pounds or larger at this time and they keep getting larger. Every state record for blue catfish has come from that one area of the river.
Northern snakeheads have been established in the tidal Potomac and the creeks that feed into it for several years now and like the blue catfish there are great numbers of them to be found. There is substantial evidence that the northern snakehead has passed through the C&D Canal locks and is established in the upper Potomac River. They are caught while fishing for largemouth bass and bow fishermen are out at night hunting them under lights. The lower Eastern Shore is quickly catching up with abundance and size and if someone would catch it on rod and reel, there is a world record swimming out there somewhere in the tidal Potomac or lower Eastern Shore creeks. The department has an updated northern snakehead website offering a lot of information.
A new chapter in regards to fishing for northern snakeheads occurred with the advent of fishing with bobbers or popping corks and a trailing minnow. Now that water temperatures are warming and grass beds expanding, noisy surface lures are catching northern snakeheads. Baits such as weedless frogs, buzzbaits and chatterbaits demand the attention of aggressive fish where they lurk in thick grass.
It’s Crabbing Season!
The locust trees are blooming near the Chesapeake Bay shores and this event traditionally heralds the first blue crab shed of the year. It’s also appropriately timed with the 2019 blue crab winter dredge survey that shows an estimated 60 percent increase in the available blue crab population in the bay.
More than a few recreational crabbers were out over the weekend looking for the first crabs of the season. Traditionally the lower Eastern Shore tidal creeks and rivers offer the best opportunity due to higher salinity values. Most recreational crabbers reported up to a dozen keeper-sized crabs per outing.
Department stocking crews are busy this week bringing quality trout to water near you. So far this week, crews have stocked more than 9,000 trout on top of about 18,000 trout last week. The weather could hardly be more pleasant so don’t miss out enjoying trout fishing with family and friends this week.
The fishing action at Deep Creek Lake is providing plenty of great fishing this week for a variety of species. Smallmouth bass can be found on rocky points and near sunken structure. A variety of soft baits and small crankbaits are good choices to use. More floating docks are being deployed each week, providing cover for largemouth bass. Largemouth bass can also be found near coves and transition areas outside the shallower waters. Spinnerbaits, crankbaits and jerkbaits will entice them to strike. Yellow perch, crappie and walleye are being caught by drifting live minnows.
The upper Potomac is running strong but fishable from shore or, if one is careful, from a boat. Smallmouth bass are active in the deeper regions of the river near submerged ledges and current breaks. Small soft plastic jigs and crankbaits are popular baits when worked close to the bottom.
The tidal Potomac River is offering a wide variety of fishing opportunities this week. There are still hickory and American shad to be caught near Fletchers Landing on shad darts. Largemouth bass are being found near milfoil beds and sunken wood. Soft plastics, grubs and jigs work well in these locations. Spinnerbaits and crankbaits work well in the transition areas near dropoffs. A falling tide is a good time to target the outside edges of milfoil beds with spinnerbaits.
Crappie are moving into shallower areas and are in a pre-spawn or are actually spawning in the tidal Potomac and tidal and nontidal waters throughout the state. Minnows or small jigs under a slip bobber are a good way to catch them. A mix of white perch and yellow perch are also being caught in the tidal Potomac and other tidal rivers on tiny crankbaits and spinners.
The many freshwater impoundments and tidal rivers in Maryland offer good fishing for largemouth bass. Except those in the far western region, largemouth bass are in post-spawn activity. The females are actively feeding to build up lost body stores from the spawning process. Transition areas of slightly deeper water outside the shallower spawning beds are a good place to look for them. Casting soft plastics, small crankbaits, jerkbaits and grubs in these areas near sunken cover is a good bet. Largemouth bass will be moving in the shallower grassy areas also in the mornings and evenings; a variety of topwater baits are a good choice when fishing there. When fishing these shallower grassy areas in tidal rivers don’t be surprised if a northern snakehead crashes one of your topwater baits.
Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays
Along the beaches of Ocean City and Assateague Island black drum continue to be caught on bottom rigs baited with clams and sand fleas. The medium sized black drum are a perfect eating size if one choices to take one home. Striped bass measuring under the 28-inch minimum are being caught and released in the surf, most are being caught on cut bait and clams. Clear nosed skates are part of the mix also. Bluefish have been moving in and out of the surf line recently and can be caught on cut bait or finger mullet. A few kingfish are also being caught on bloodworm baits.
At the Ocean City Inlet, bluefish have been offing a lot of exciting fishing as they move through the inlet. Casting Got-Cha plugs has been one of the most popular ways to target them. They can also be caught by casting bucktails or drifting cut bait. Sub-legal striped bass are also part of the mix. Tautog fishing has been good near the South Jetty and the bulkheads and Route 50 Bridge areas. Sand fleas and pieces of green crab make good baits. The last of the ebbing tide and the transition to flood tide often produces the best fishing.
Flounder continue to move through the inlet area and spread out into the back bays. The channels leading from the inlet such as the Thorofare have been offering some of the best fishing. There tend to be a fair percentage of throwbacks so many are using Gulp white mullet baits to target the larger flounder. Current flounder regulations are 16.5-inch minimum size, creel limit is four fish per day.
Fishing for tautog on the wreck and reef sites off Ocean City remains good this week. The tautog are now being caught on the sites closer to shore. The 2019 sea bass season opens on May 15 and many are anxiously awaiting. The minimum size for black sea bass is 12.5 inches with a 15 fish per day creel limit.
Farther offshore a few dolphin were caught out near the canyons last weekend and the first bluefin tuna was caught yesterday! For offshore anglers looking for bluefin tuna, NOAA has posted adjusted regulations. In the angling category for private boats (HMS Angling category-permitted vessels), the adjusted limit per vessel per Day/Trip, is two school bluefin tuna 27 inches to just under 47 inches, and one large school bluefin tuna 47 inches to just under 73 inches, and the effective period for the adjusted retention limit will be May 11 through Dec. 31. For more info, including charter and headboat categories, check our website. Finally, anglers are reminded to turn in their catch cards for bluefin tuna ().
“There is no substitute for fishing sense and if a man doesn’t have it, verily, he may cast like an angel and still use his creel largely to transport sandwiches and beer.” –Robert Traver
Maryland Fishing Report is written and compiled by Keith Lockwood, Maryland Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist.