By: Keith Lockwood
After a spurt of warm weather last week, cooler air temperatures have returned and water temperatures continue their decline. Fish are feeling the urge to pack on as much as they can to prepare for the winter months so it is an ideal time to get out and fish, whether freshwater or saltwater fish are your target.
At the very top of the bay there continues to be some striped bass action near the mouths of the Elk and Susquehanna Rivers by jigging over suspended fish. Many of the fish are sub-legal but there are enough legal-sized ones to make it worthwhile to jig with metal or soft plastic jigs. There is also some topwater action near shoreline structure and the deeper edges of the Susquehanna Flats for a better grade of striped bass. The Conowingo Dam has had some substantial water releases lately creating strong currents in the river and dropping water temperatures to the 60° mark. Farther south there are schools of striped bass to be found suspended along channel edges or up on the surface chasing bait. Light tackle jigging is usually a favorite way to fish and metal jigs in the 2-ounce size range tend to be just the ticket for action. Soft plastic jigs can be cast to surface fish but the best grade of striped bass often tends to come from the depths beneath the surface action. Trolling is another option with bucktails, spoons and swim shads behind inline weights and often can put one onto a better grade of fish.
Dropping water temperatures are pushing white perch into deeper waters this week and some of the better white perch fish will be found in 20' of water or more. Small jigs or flies above a sinker or heavier jigs can be used when perch can be spotted on a depth finder. In the very top of the bay and the region's tidal rivers yellow perch can also be found along with channel catfish. White perch are also starting to school up near the rock piles at the Bay Bridge.
In the middle bay region fishing for striped bass has picked up once again after last week's warm weather raised water temperatures and put a damper on fishing success. Water temperatures rose to about 70° last Thursday but have dropped back to 62° this week. This is the time of the year to be watching for birds and slicks; jigging is what fall striped bass fishing is all about on the Chesapeake. There have been a lot of sub-legal striped bass in the tidal rivers but often a better grade of fish can be found out towards the bay. The mouth of Eastern Bay near Poplar Island, Thomas Point, outside of the West River, Little Choptank and the False Channel at the mouth of the Choptank have been good places to check. A few sea trout have also been part of the mix when jigging lately. A good running tide is very important.
Trolling can be a good option along channel edges and anywhere slicks can be spotted. Bucktails dressed with twister tails, spoons and swim shads are good choices behind inline weights. Umbrella rigs are also productive but of course add to the weight of gear that must be reeled in with a fish. Greg French holds up a chunky striped bass he caught while trolling in the lower Choptank River near Tilghman Island.
photo by Dr. Sandy McClinton
The striped bass seem to have moved from the shallower shoreline areas now that water temperatures approach the 60° mark so the topwater fishing will have to take a back seat to jigging until next year. In some areas where the shoreline waters are deeper; casting crankbaits, jerkbaits or soft plastic swim shads can produce a couple of legal-sized striped bass in the early morning or evening hours. White perch have also moved to deeper waters and can be found holding over oyster bottom.
In the lower bay region striped bass are being found chasing schools of bay anchovies and small menhaden throughout the region from the Potomac River to Tangier Sound. Many of the fish on the surface tend to be sub-legal but larger fish can often be found suspended near channel edges or below the surface feeding smaller fish. The channel edges in the lower Potomac have been a good place to jig as have channel edges along the western shore of the bay and Tangier Sound up to Hooper's Island. Trolling can be very effective in these same areas or anywhere slicks can been found. Bucktails dressed with twister tails, spoons and swim shads are all good choices to troll behind inline weights.
The spot and croaker have departed the region for the most part but fishing for white perch has been excellent in the tidal rivers over oyster bottom in 20' to 35' of water. There are also some sea trout being caught also. It is pretty hard to beat pieces of bloodworms placed on bottom rig hooks or small jigs.
If you find yourself looking into a freezer and wondering if you packed enough fish away for the winter months, you might think of filling up those spaces with some blue catfish fillets. The bottom of the Potomac River from the mouth of the Wicomico north seems to be paved with medium-sized blue catfish this time of the year. They are easy to catch and the white meat is mild and freezes very well.
There are still crabs to be caught in the lower sections of the tidal rivers in all regions of the bay this week. You will have to go deep for them and many are saying using collapsible crab traps makes it easy and you can go out later in the day when it is warmer.
Freshwater fishing could hardly be any better this week as most fish species feel the urge to actively feed throughout most of the day due to cool water temperatures. Smallmouth and largemouth bass can be found in Deep Creek Lake near grass beds and rocky points. Yellow perch are active near deep grass.
There is good smallmouth bass fishing in the upper Potomac River this week. Water levels are low and clear but the smallmouth bass are active. There is also good fishing for smallmouth bass and walleye in the lower Susquehanna River.
The October trout stocking program is still going strong and although many western region areas are a little sparse on water flows the trout are being stocked in the deeper pools. Be sure to check the stocking updates for areas near you at the following link.
Cooler water temperatures in Rocky Gorge and Liberty Reservoirs have the landlocked striped bass active and moving into shallower waters. Trolling jerkbaits, crankbaits or casting are a popular way to fish. Largemouth bass can now feel comfortable moving about in all areas of ponds, lakes and tidal rivers due to cooler water temperatures. Casting a variety of lures near grass, sunken wood or creek mouths is a good tactic. Crankbaits and grubs or other plastics are good options near sunken structure, topwater lures are always fun near shallow areas. Twelve year old Mark Rapson Jr. is all smiles with this nice largemouth bass he caught at a Hartford County pond.
photo by Mark Rapson
The tidal rivers of the Eastern Shore offer some added peace and quiet to already excellent fishing for largemouth bass with the added bonus of northern snakeheads when fishing shallow near grass and wood. Crappie will begin to school up in the tidal rivers of the Eastern Shore and also in the tidal Potomac near marina docks and fallen tree tops.
Ocean City area fishing is entering an exciting window of time near the channels leading towards the inlet this week. Cooler water temperatures will start the annual migration of flounder through the inlet as they head to offshore wintering grounds. Live spot or live finger mullet along with Gulp baits are the best baits to target the largest of the flounder. Small bluefish are also in the area as well as puppy drum and striped bass. Water temperatures at the inlet and surf areas are about 66° this week.
The boats headed out to the inshore shoal areas and the wreck and reef sites are catching limits of flounder this week. The sea bass season opened up again on October 22nd and some very nice sea bass are now being landed as a nice addition to the flounder catches. Windy conditions have made it tough for boats to venture out to the canyon areas but there are still some yellowfin tuna in the 25lb to 30 lb class out there to be caught.