Thursday, December 18, 2014

Maryland Weekly Fishing Report Overview | December 18, 2014


By: Keith Lockwood

Often as a year begins to come to a close many of us find ourselves remembering or reflecting on the events of the past year. It seems that this usually occurs for most folks around New Year's Eve but for outdoorsman the end of a particular season can stir up memories of the last couple of months such as hunting or fishing seasons or in this case nearly a full year's worth of fishing on the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal rivers. Last Friday I had the opportunity to help move the new research vessel for the Cooperative Oxford Lab from its summer berth in Cambridge to Tolchester where it will be used to sample resident fish populations in the upper bay. It was blowing pretty stiff out of the west on Friday and the long fetch from the western shore down the throat of the Choptank made for some hefty 3' to 4' white caps. It was a good thing to have 40,000 tons of displacement under us as the R5502 plowed through the chop on our way to Knapp's Narrows. It is pretty hard to take a picture of a boat when you are on it but here is an attempt to show the aft and fore sections of the vessel. 

Photo Courtesy of Keith Lockwood

As we headed down the Choptank many of my favorite haunts passed by and I couldn't help reflect on some of the fine fishing I had been able to share in this past season. The time that the summer striped bass season opened and all of the wonderful shallow water fishing we experienced for striped bass and white perch. As we traversed the lower Choptank I thought of the fun bottom fishing we had after work for croakers and large spot on summer evenings and the excellent fall light tackle jigging. 
There certainly wasn't any fishing going on today, just memories. As it turned out though we were not quite alone out here; we passed a skipjack pushing to get back to the safety of Dogwood Harbor on Tilghman Island and we soon came upon a boat rigged for winter striped bass gill netting punching through wave after wave and disappearing in walls of windblown spray. "What mighty men they are" I thought and I hoped the planks of their boat would stay fastened to the bow stem through all that punishment. Popping a plank on a wooden fishing vessel in the winter is a certain one way trip to Davey Jones Locker. 

Photo Courtesy of Keith Lockwood
As we approached Dogwood Harbor a fleet of power dredges could be seen making the most of what they had to deal with on this day. No one makes any money sitting at the dock and the old saying of "a half a loaf of bread is better than none" drifted through my thoughts. The holiday season is one of the most important times of the year to make money for commercial fishermen, be they offshore draggers for ground fish, lobsters or our Chesapeake watermen who are after oysters or striped bass to cash in on the holiday season demand for seafood. 

Photo Courtesy of Keith Lockwood
Poplar Island came into view as we cleared the narrows and although it looked fairly foreboding as waves crashed on her windward shores. A very different scene played in my mind as I thought of the times this past summer that we cast topwater lures to striped bass along the rocks and jigged white perch in places where swift tidal currents swept along submerged rocks on a quiet summer morning or evening. Passing by Buoy 83 caused me to look to starboard and see Buoy 84 to the northeast and the channel edge that has produced such good striped bass fishing for live liners in the past few years. As Bloody Point Light passed to starboard thoughts of that steep channel edge and spring trophy striped bass season filled my head; I could almost hear reel drags screaming. Stories of how Bloody Point got its name also passed through my thoughts; was it because of an Indian Massacre by settlers, the hanging of a pirate or a clash over the Baltimore Clan and the Claiborne's possession of lower Kent Island? The naming of the nearby oyster reef called Hollicutt's Noose gives one pause as to how that name came to be also. At any rate the channel edge at Bloody Point is one of the steepest leading to the deepest part of the Chesapeake Bay at around 170'. 
Several gill net boats were stationed along the eastern edge of the shipping channel as we approached the Bay Bridge tending their nets and commercial shipping traffic was busy passing north and south of us. The Bay Bridge is a massive structure and it is a sight to behold from the water no matter how many times you pass under or fish around it. On this day two small boats were jigging near the center span in about 50' of water which should have put them on where the striped bass are holding now. As we passed by I felt a twinge of jealousy for I suspected they were on the fish.

Photo Courtesy of Keith Lockwood
Sandy Point State Park looked like it was asleep, a far cry from the summer crowds and the day hundreds of fishermen arrived in September for the Maryland Fishing Challenge awards ceremony. The bridge spans were carrying a heavy load of traffic today and I wondered how many were thinking about the bay below them or just about their destinations.
Love Point, Rock Hall, Brewerton Channel, Hodges Bar; familiar sights clicked away until the engines began to slow as Tolchester came into view. The Chesapeake Bay from the southern extremes to the Susquehanna Flats hold a lot of 2014 fishing memories for all of us who love to fish it from spring to fall. Whether we think of those fishing days of 2014 while spying a favorite fishing rod in the corner of the garage, happen to day dream a little while crossing the Bay Bridge or a drive by a favorite pond or trout stream; cherish those memories and start to get excited about what 2015 will bring us. 
Those wishing to get in one last day of striped bass fishing on the Monday December 15th were finally blessed with calm conditions on the bay. In the very upper reaches of the bay a few striped bass were found deep along the channel areas near the mouth of the Elk and Susquehanna Rivers. Trolling deep with bucktails, swim shads and small crankbaits was a good plan for some but most decided to jig over suspended fish located on depth finders. 
Farther down the bay the same scene played out along channel edges in about 50' of water, that tended to be the depth the fish were holding at. There also were some opportunities to drift live eels near bridge structure at the Key Bridge and the Bay Bridge piers. At the Bay Bridge the center span concrete abutment area and the rock piles got the attention of the few small boats that made a last effort to jig or troll up a few of the striped bass that were holding there. It takes some persuading this time of the year since the water is so cold and the fish are holding very deep and close to the bottom.
In the middle bay region the nice weather and calm conditions brought out a few hearty souls that slow trolled along the deep channel edges of the shipping channel. A slow pick of fish was reported. There were also some light tackle jigging to be had at the Calvert Cliff Power Plant warm water discharge. Morgan Connor finished out the 2014 Maryland striped bass season and also entered the Maryland Fishing Challenge with this hefty 43" fish.

Photo Courtesy of Morgan Connor
The lower bay region received considerable attention from those who trailered their boats down to the region's boat ramps or went out on local boats. There was plenty of action reported just north of the Virginia line marked by diving sea gulls and gannets and good marks of fish suspended beneath. Some boats trolled with a mixed spread of large and medium sized lures such as parachutes, bucktails and swim shads with a lot of weight to get them down. A majority of the boats were jigging with soft plastic jigs and most fishermen were able to finish out the season with a limit of striped bass and a lot of catch release action. It turned out to be a very fitting way to finish out the Maryland 2014 striped bass season for many.
Freshwater fishing opportunities although somewhat limited by cold water and winter weather conditions do hold some fishing opportunities. Perhaps no winter fishing is more anticipated than ice fishing at Deep Creek Lake and a few other western region impoundments. Locals have been keeping tabs on the ice that forms and retreats with fluctuations of the weather. One thing is certain though the formation of ice is gaining ground so "hard water" fishing may begin before the 1st of the year.
There is plenty of good trout fishing to be had in the special trout management waters in the western region where catch and release is promoted. Pick your weather, dress warm and enjoy working nymphs in a very quiet and peaceful setting. 
Chain pickerel provide plenty of cold water fun throughout the winter months and usually attack most any kind of lure with abandon. Fishing for channel catfish will remain good for at least the rest of this month in most of the state's tidal rivers and a few select impoundments such as Piney Run Reservoir. Perhaps the most consistent action to be had anywhere would be fishing for blue catfish in the tidal Potomac. There are plenty of them with many going over 50lbs and lots of medium sized ones. Fresh bait is a must and the rest is pretty simple; just make sure you have plenty of cooler space and be careful out there on the open water. 
Largemouth bass will continue to be a popular target for freshwater fishermen when the weather conditions make fishing more favorable. Usually the mantra for cold water largemouth bass fishing is "slow, small and deep". Lisa Hopps holds up a nice largemouth bass she caught and released on an Eastern Shore Pond. Lisa was slow rolling a spinnerbait that was tipped with a grub tail close to the bottom. 

Photo Courtesy of Lisa Hopps
Ocean City area fishing had a very welcomed upswing this past weekend when migrating striped bass moved into area waters off the beaches. Most were trolling large lures such as mojos and Stretch Crankbaits along shoal areas such as Little Gull, Great Gull Fenwick and random stretches of beach front. Surf casters got into some of the action by soaking fresh menhaden baits along the Ocean City and Assateague beaches. 
The sea bass fishing out at the offshore wreck and reef sites continues to be excellent this week and will most likely continue until the December 31st closing date. Jigging and using bait have been equally effective with limit catches being common. Large bluefish continue with their pesky ways of biting off sea bass being reeled to the surface but some revenge can be had by sending a sea bass head back down with a hook on a wire trace. Smoked bluefish is always welcomed at holiday gatherings.


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