Friday, May 6, 2016

Maryland Weekly Fishing Report Overview | May 05, 2016


By: Keith Lockwood

The weather has been a bit wet and cloudy for this week, but the fish don't seem to care much. I remember my grandfather telling me as a little kid "that the fish are already wet". Of course he did not know all of the things we know now about barometric pressure and such but if we had time to go, we'd go fishing in the rain. I should add that he would sit in his car and read the newspaper while I fished and when it was time to go I still ask for "one more cast", even in the rain. The weather will clear up shortly and sunny skies will prevail and spring is a wonderful time to go fishing with family and friends. There are youth fishing events being held around the state that are just the thing to get anyone fired up about fishing, especially kids. There is a schedule of these events on our website.
First Youth fishing photo courtesy of Christopher Peters, second youth fishing photo courtesy of David Jackson
First Youth fishing photo courtesy of Christopher Peters, second youth fishing photo courtesy of David Jackson

The water flows coming through the Conowingo Dam have been fluctuating for the past couple of weeks, with very low flows at times. After Monday night's heavy downpours and forecasts for additional rain this week, that may change. There could be considerable amounts of stained and cold water coming through the dam's gates. The predicted cool weather combined with cold water may knock back the hickory shad fishery in the lower Susquehanna and Deer Creek this week. Earlier this week water temperatures were about 60° in the lower river, and time will tell how this fishery develops. 
The striped bass catch and release fishery near the Susquehanna Flats has undergone some changes in the past week. There are still some larger striped bass to be caught but the fishery now is mostly dominated by striped bass less than 30" in length. The really good news is that there are lots of them and it is not uncommon for fishermen to catch and release fish in the high double digit category. Topwater lures, suspended jerkbaits, spoons and soft plastic jigs are all good baits to use when casting. Water temperatures around the Susquehanna Flats area have varied from 59° to 63° earlier this week.
The upper bay trophy striped bass fishery has fallen back to what might be best described as a slow pick after last week's excellent catches. There are still some large striped bass making their way down from the Susquehanna Flats area so there are some large fish to be caught in the upper bay region. If one is trolling in the upper bay; the Triple Buoys, Love Point and Dumping Grounds are the channel edges to be working with 8 ounce bucktails dressed with sassy shads in chartreuse or white. Many are seeing better results when trolling tandem lures deeper behind heavy inline weights or planers this week rather than higher in the water column off planer boards. Water temperatures in the upper bay are about 60° this week. 
Trolling along the shipping channel edges in about 30' to 90' tends to be the name of the game this week in the middle bay region. A lot of fish are coming off of deeper lines that are being trolled behind planers or inline weights to get 8 ounce bucktails and parachutes down to 25" or more. All are of course dressed with sassy shads and due to water clarity and bright sun white had been a popular choice. Cloudy weather will prevail much of this week so chartreuse may very well edge out white for productivity this week. Everyone is noting a lot of bait on their depth finders and "menhaden is what's for dinner" so spoons can be a great option for trolling also. The steeper channel edges tend to sweep these schools of bait along and large striped bass have no difficulty navigating these currents so that is the best place to troll. No one likes to swim against strong currents so if large striped bass are moving south; a falling tide might be a good option. Nine year old Ryley McCardell got to go fishing with his dad on a charter boat out of Chesapeake Beach and was able to wrestle in this 40.5" striped bass; his personal best to date. 
Striped bass photo courtesy of Shawn McCardell
Striped bass photo courtesy of Shawn McCardell

There is a little bit of spawning going on in the spawning rivers by late comers to the annual party but it is over for the most part for any of the larger striped bass who know what they are doing. Last week catches in the middle and lower bay were exceptional for large striped bass and with a little luck that will continue into the following week as more fish pour out of the rivers and into the bay. The western edge of the shipping channel from Thomas Point south to below the power plant has been an excellent place to troll as well as Bloody Point Light, Buoy 83, the False Channel, RN2 off the Little Choptank and the inside edge of the CP Buoy off Taylor's Island. Grass in the form of Ulva lactuca continues to foul lines this week and if a big striped bass is your goal you are urged to keep things hopping in the cockpit and check those lines frequently because big striped bass are not vegetarians looking for salad. Adult menhaden is what is on the menu for these large fish that are hungry after the laborious job of procreating. 
The "happy times" continue this week after last week's absolutely amazing successful trolling action in the lower bay region. There should be continued action this week along the western edge of the shipping channel above and below Cove Point, Point Lookout, the lower Potomac, Buoy 72, the HS Buoy and the Middle grounds. All of these locations are great producers of large striped bass cruising along in the swift currents caused by these edges. A lot of bait in the form of menhaden is being spotted on depth finders in these areas and eating is surely on the minds of these big striped bass since they have hardly eaten since ascending the spawning rivers in March. White bucktails and parachutes dressed with sassy shads has been a top producer for the past week or so but of course no one in their right mind would leave chartreuse colored offerings out of a trolling spread. Also, many captains are seeing baits sent deeper on heavy inline weights and planers producing, so it is a good idea to cover various water depths. All onboard are also urged to not sit by for hours wondering "why don't those fish bite"? One needs to check lines often for fouling sea weed that has a habit of blowing along in the swift current formed by the steep channel edges where everyone is trolling. 
Photo courtesy of Paul Stuart
Photo courtesy of Paul Stuart

Although everyone is focused on striped bass right now; there are some who are anxious to hear when our little buddies the croaker or hardhead might be showing up in the lower bay region. The first croakers of the season can be counted on to show up in the Point Lookout area and the lower Potomac. There have been some rumors but the first was checked in at a local tackle shop in Lexington Park earlier this week. In another couple of weeks croaker fishing should begin to develop in the lower bay and Potomac River areas. In the mean time there has been excellent blue catfish action at the mouth of the Wicomico River at Bushwood Wharf for shore bound anglers and of course out in the mouth of the river and general area for small boat anglers. Fresh cut bait such as menhaden is the ticket to filling a cooler with some hard fighting catfish and tasty meals.
Deep Creek Lake fishing continues to undergo a shift in fishing strategies as smallmouth bass begin to think about spawning on rocky bottom. They have been staging near one of their favorite types of structure lately, floating docks. The docks are going in everyday as vacation home owners begin to prepare for the upcoming season of boating on the lake. Smallmouth bass can be seen holding near these docks in slightly deeper water and can be targeted with jigs, tubes and stick worms. Largemouth bass are a couple of weeks behind the spawning activities of their cousins but can be found holding near structure in the deeper transition edges leading to the spawning shallows in adjacent coves. Yellow perch and walleye are being caught along deep grass edges on minnows, northern pike and chain pickerel are in the coves. Trout can be found most anywhere right now but down by the dam face is one of the more popular places to find them. 
Fisheries biologist John Mullican sent in this short report from the upper Potomac River. The upper Potomac River flows had been running well below normal for this time of year. That has changed dramatically with the recent rainfall. By the weekend, flows are predicted to be well above safe levels for boating or fishing. The timing of the high water is unfortunate as many smallmouth bass had just begun to make nests and spawn. Spawning activities interrupted by the high flows will resume when the river recedes to favorable levels.
Trout fishing continues to be very popular this month especially in the western region. Water temperatures will stay cooler out there for a longer period of time as the warmer months approach and the very nature of the landscape offers good trout habitat. The other regions of the state still are experiencing suitable water temperatures for trout to survive and will continue to receive additional trout stockings in the put and take management areas for a few weeks longer. Fisheries stocking crews used a bit of ingenuity to stock the North Branch of the Potomac recently using a modified rail car to spread trout out over a wide distance along the river. You can read the entire story on Alan Klotz's angler's log. 
Railroad Trout Stocking Photo Courtesy of Alan Klotz
Railroad Trout Stocking Photo Courtesy of Alan Klotz

In the central, eastern and southern regions of Maryland; female largemouth bass are moving up into the shallower spawning areas and selecting spawning nest sites that the males have made for them. A variety of soft plastics are good choices for fishing the shallows as are topwater lures. In many of these shallow areas in tidal waters northern snakeheads have the same spawning aspirations and can be found near thick grass. Noisy lures such as chatterbaits and buzzbaits as well as other topwater lures will get their attention.
At the Ocean City beaches, surf casters are catching some large bluefish on finger mullet and cut menhaden baits along with a few black drum and striped bass. There are also northern puffers or blowfish in the surf to be caught by those using smaller baits and hooks. Most of the striped bass being caught are falling short of the minimum 28" and the northern migration of large striped bass exiting the Chesapeake Bay will be more apparent in another week or so.
Tautog are being caught at the inlet, with the south jetty being the most productive, The Route 50 Bridge and the bulkhead from 2nd to 4th Street are also popular places to fish for tautog. Sand fleas and pieces of crab are good baits to use and slack ebb tends to be one of the better times to fish. Water temperatures are still in the mid-50's, so no one is expecting a flounder invasion any time soon, but a few have been caught.
Offshore the fishing for tautog at the wreck and reef sites has been very good with limit catches being common. Everyone is looking forward to the recreational sea bass season opening on May 15th. Water temperatures are rising and the summer months are not too far away; before anyone knows it, Memorial Day Weekend will be here. The summer months bring other visitors here besides fish. Sea turtles, dolphin and whales frequent the waters in and around Ocean City. The Maryland DNR has a marine mammal stranding program to deal with sick, injured or dead sea turtles and marine mammals.


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