Monday, April 10, 2017

Maryland Fishing Report - April 05, 2017


By: Keith Lockwood

The recent warm spring weather we've been experiencing can really get one excited about fishing and the forecast for the weekend looks good. Trout stocking crews are busy this week and warming waters have many local fish in a very active feeding mood.

Last night I had the opportunity to set out in my canoe and drift down the Choptank River through the first substantial striped bass spawning that I've witnessed this year. Warm weather has pushed water temperatures into the upper 50's and that along with a very strong ebbing tide was all it took to get things going. Looking back at my choices, it was probably not a good idea to take my dog with me since she loves fishing and fooling with released fish in shallow water. She was all over it, moving from side to side of the canoe as spawning fish rolled and splashed on both sides of us. I made sure I had my life vest on, just in case we ran into any trouble. All in all she was actually very well behaved despite all the action around us. It was a beautiful evening, bald eagles were patrolling hoping for an easy snack, a turkey was gobbling in the nearby woods and even an otter was enjoying a good swim along the shoreline. I hope that all of you can find a little down time for yourselves, wherever it might be, to enjoy the bounty of nature that we are so fortunate to share here in Maryland. 

Photos by Keith Lockwood

Present conditions up at the Susquehanna Flats area do not bid well for striped bass catch and release fishing. There are several gates open at the Conowingo Dam dumping loads of cold stained water into the lower Susquehanna River. Water temperatures are about 46° and water clarity is non-existent. If a trip up to the area is in your plans, consider the east side of the flats where water clarity might be a little better and afternoon sun may warm up the water a few degrees. Crankbaits and jerkbaits with rattles may be a good choice for attracting a strike, swimbaits are often a good choice also. If you go, be prepared ahead of time with all of the optimism an angler can muster so you are ready for a quick and gentle release of these large fish. Lip fish with a glove if you can and keep the fish in the water and if you take a quick picture, support the fish horizontally. If you choose to use bait, circle hooks are mandatory and you most likely will land some nice channel catfish in the process. 

The tidal rivers of the Chesapeake are still holding white perch in the upper reaches of the tributaries. Many of the larger white perch have already spawned and can be found holding in some of the deeper holes slightly down river of the spawning areas. As most will find out, the spawning areas are still holding a lot of pre-spawn white perch that are 4" to 6" size range who seem to have arrived late for the annual party. Shad darts and small jigs are perhaps two of the better choices for lures and it doesn't hurt to tip them with a piece of cut minnow, nightcrawler or Fishbites. Anglers will also find a mix of chain pickerel, crappie and various sunfish when fishing these areas. The yellow perch have descended into the middle areas of the spawning tidal rivers and can be found if one looks for them. 

A number of tidal rivers have spawning populations of alewife and blueback herring as well as hickory shad. The Anadromous Restoration Program of the Maryland Fisheries and Boating Services has been working very hard to restore populations of river herring and hickory shad in Maryland's tidal rivers. Hickory shad are arriving in several tidal rivers and the first are being caught at this time. The Choptank River above Greensboro, the Marshyhope near Federalsburg, the upper Patuxent and the Potomac River below Great Falls are a few rivers that are providing catch and release fishing for hickory shad this week. . I received a phone call from the field from biologist Matt Baldwin on the upper Patuxent yesterday concerning water temperatures. They recorded 58° at the Wayson's Corner (Route 4 Bridge) area and also mentioned that they electro-shocked four large northern snakeheads while surveying for hickory shad. 

Deer Creek is of course a very popular spot for hickory shad but it will be a while before this fishery hits high gear. The hickory shad are in the lower Susquehanna at this time but cold water has them hunkered down and waiting for warmer water temperatures in the mid- 50's before getting excited about spawning. Attractive lures such as shad darts and spoons or colorful sinking flies are good choices for lures. Don Cosden dug into his tackle box and shared with us some of his favorite hickory shad lures and flies. 

Photo courtesy Don Cosden

The much anticipated opening of the Trophy Striped bass season is only two weekends away for the opener on April 15th. The minimum size this year is 35" and the bag limit is one fish per person per day. Of course everyone wants to get out on opening day but the real action for post-spawn striped bass will not really kick in until about the last weekend of April. The striped bass are at the spawning reaches for the Potomac, Patuxent, Nanticoke and Choptank Rivers and are still arriving at the Susquehanna Flats/River area. There is a minor spawn going on at this time in the upper Choptank River. The recent warm weather got things started this past Sunday and it definitely kicked up a notch on Tuesday and today. The Nanticoke, Patuxent and Potomac usually follow closely to this same schedule so there is good promise for some post spawn striped bass on opening day in the middle and lower bay regions. 
At present middle bay region water temperatures are about 50° and steadily rising. On April 15th it might be a good idea for anyone trolling to stick to the steep shipping channel edges in the middle and lower bay regions. Bloody Point Light, Thomas Point and close to the Buoy 84 and 84A will certainly be good places to troll. The False Channel edges and the steep edge out in front of the Little Choptank down to the inside edge of the CP Buoy may be a good place to intercept post-spawn striped bass exiting the Choptank. Often the largest female striped bass are the first to spawn so you might find that fish of a lifetime. Out in front of the mouth of the Nanticoke River, the Hooper Island Straits, Tangier Sound channel edges and just a little north at the steep edges at Buoys 74, 72B and 72A are good traditional places to troll. On the other side of the bay, the Cove Point and Cedar Point channel edges are known hot spots. The steep channel edges in the lower Potomac near Piney Point and St. George's Island will be good places to troll. 

Chilly bottom water temperatures will cause large striped bass to be cruising close to the surface as they use the strong currents near the channel edges. Striped bass do not like engine noise so the mass of boats expected on opening day will drive them down quickly. This is definitely a case of the early bird getting the worm. You should plan to be out there at daybreak and if part of your crew is late, apologize later. Planer boards are the name of the game for this type of fishing and crews are forewarned to bring plenty of rubber bands and slide rings when using planer boards. The same stiff currents that attract the large striped bass along the steep channel edges are also carrying the spring migration of lion's mane jellyfish that are headed for the mouth of the bay. This is the time of the year that they drift in the currents and they easily are swept up in current breaks, which is right where you should be trolling. There will be a lot of grumbling in regard to constantly clearing lines but if you're serious that is what you're going to need to do. The old saying that a busy cockpit catches the most fish could not be more on the mark in regard to this situation. 

For those without planer boards sending flat lines way back will be the best option but will make you hair stand on end with crossing boat traffic. Large parachutes and bucktails in white or chartreuse will be the most popular colors, both dressed with filleting size sassy shads. Stinger hooks are often popular with these large baits and tandem rigged baits will dominate most trolling spreads. Light tackle fishermen will find some jigging action at the Calvert Cliffs Power Plant discharge and if you can find some good marks on your depth finder, there is no reason why jigging won't catch you your fish. There may even be a few souls out there that will try chumming and they will most likely catch a few fish also. 

Last but not least there will be pre-spawn striped bass caught on opening day that is a fact. How you deal with it is your own personal decision and yours alone. If you are on your own boat or a friends, there is a good chance you be out fishing later on after most fish have spawned. If you've booked your "once this season" charter, that is a whole different story. Most will say "a fish is a fish' and certainly no one should be throwing rocks at another fisherman's decision. It does pay to be prepared though if you might release a fish. Rubber mesh landing nets, gloves and a quick release go a long way to reducing stress if a fish is going to be released. 

April and trout fishing just seem to be a natural and as the month starts off this fact is true. Stocking crews are working very hard moving trout from the hatcheries to a trout management water near you. This is hard work lifting thousands of trout a day, out of tank trucks and down slippery stream banks. I suspect a bottle of Advil is standard equipment on the dashboard of every stocking truck. The stockings are posted every day that stockings take place and the news is out usually by 3:00 pm the day of the stocking on the trout stocking website or through our email news subscription service. 

This a wonderful time of the year to introduce kids to fishing. One does not have to travel far to find a good local fishing spot for either the abundant trout stockings or pan fish. There are a number of trout stocked ponds and streams that are set aside for young children so the odds can be greatly stacked in a child's favor. These sites are listed on the trout stocking website. Local ponds offer some great opportunities also. A Barbie or Spiderman child's fishing outfit, a bobber, hook and a few garden worms and you're all set for some great fun. Grace Ziegler definitely had fun with her dad catching sunfish. 

Photo by David Ziegler

The upper Potomac River is running pretty stiff this week so be careful out there and remember your best friend is a PFD that is on your body. The current flows are strong and waters are a bit stained but there is good smallmouth bass fishing in the mid- river current breaks. Tubes are the number one choice for lures. Farther down river in the tidal portion of the Potomac in Maryland waters fishing for largemouth bass is picking up. There are reports of quite a few male largemouth bass staging in slightly deeper water near the spawning areas. Soon they will be making nests to lure spawning female largemouth bass to set up a nursery. Targeting these transition areas and covering a lot of water near emerging grass is a good tactic with lures such as spinnerbaits. If you can find sunken wood or rocks, soft plastics worked slowly near the bottom often works. 

In the tidal Potomac the fishing for crappie could hardly be any better right now. Casting small jigs or minnows under a slip bobber near sunken structure has been very productive. Drifting around in a boat with spider rig poles is also a proven way to fill up an ice chest with slab sized crappie. The spoils against the north side of the Wilson Bridge on the Maryland side is a great place to fish as is marina docks in the Fort Washington area. There are plenty of blue catfish in the river and it is not hard to fill up ice chests with some good eating fish. Simple bottom rigs with fresh cut bait will do the job every time. 

Over on the Eastern Shore fishing for crappie has been excellent in many areas. The crappie are schooled up near sunken structure such as fallen tree tops or similar sunken wood. The tidal rivers hold good crappie fishing as do lakes such as Wye Mills, Tuckahoe Lake, Smithville Lake and the lakes in Salisbury. Largemouth bass fishing in the tidal rivers has been good and the Wicomico, Pocomoke and upper Nanticoke are great places to fish. Northern snakeheads are more and more part of the mix when fishing in these tidal rivers and they certainly provide some exciting fishing action. Angelina Watts enjoys fishing some of the backwater areas in Dorchester County for them and holds up a whopper for the camera. 

Photo courtesy of Ryan Jones

Nearshore water temperatures are slowly rising in the Ocean City area and have hit the 45° mark this week. Surf casters are enjoying some beach time watching lines set with bottom rigs and bait and catching a few striped bass and a whole lot of clear-nosed skates. Out at the wreck and reef sites fishing for tautog has kicked up a notch with some nice fish being caught. 

Photo courtesy of Monty Hawkins

Offshore fishing is focused mostly on tautog fishing near the wreck and reef sites. The charter and head boats are reporting fair to good catches on most days.

There has been rumor of a few tautog caught at the Ocean City Inlet area recently and it is expected that those rumors will turn into solid reports shortly. In the back bay area's there is some striped bass action for those casting swimbaits, jigs and jerkbaits. Most all of the striped bass are just shy of 28" but they make for some fun catch and release fishing.


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