Weekly Fishing Report 4/7/2017

April 7, 2017
Courtesy of Keith Lockwood

Courtesy of Keith Lockwood

The recent warm weather we’ve been experiencing can really raise some excitement 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 I’ve witnessed this year. Warm weather has pushed water temperatures into the upper 50s. 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 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 jacket 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.

Courtesy Don Cosden

Present conditions up at the Susquehanna Flats area do not bode 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°F and water clarity is non-existent. If a trip to this area is in your plans, consider the east side 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. If you take a quick picture, support it 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. As most will find out, the spawning areas are still holding a lot of pre-spawn white perch in the 4-to6-inch size range that 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, but you can find them if you look.

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 Fishing and Boating Services has been working very hard to restore populations of river herring and hickory shad in our 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. According to biologist Matt Baldwin, the upper Patxent got up to 58°F at the Wayson’s Corner (Route 4 Bridge) area. He also mentioned they electro-shocked four large northern snakeheads while surveying for hickory shad.

Grace Ziegler definitely had fun with her dad catching sunfish. Photo by David Ziegler

Deer Creek is of course a popular spot for hickory shad, but it will be a while before this fishery hits high gear. For now, they are in the lower Susquehanna, but cold water has them hunkered down and waiting for warmer water temperatures 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.

The much-anticipated opening of the trophy striped bass season is only two weekends away for the opener on April 15. The minimum size this year is 35 inches, 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. The recent warm weather got things started this past Sunday and it definitely kicked up a notch over the past two days. 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.

Currently, middle bay region water temperatures are about 50°F and steadily rising. On April 15, 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 river. Often the largest female striped bass are the first to spawn, so you may just 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 also traditionally good places to troll. On the other side of the bay, the Cove Point and Cedar Point channel edges are known hot spots., especially the steep channel edges in the lower Potomac near Piney Point and St. George’s Island.

Courtesy of Ryan Jones

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. 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’s 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, though it will make your 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 who will try chumming; 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. If you are on your own boat or a friend’s, 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’s 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.

Trout stocking crews are working very hard moving fish from the hatcheries to a 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 they take place, usually by 3:00 p.m., on the trout stocking website or through our email 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 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 also listed on the trout stocking website. Local ponds offer some great opportunities as well. 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.

The upper Potomac River is running pretty stiff this week, so be careful out there and remember your best friend is a life jacket 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 Maryland’s tidal portion of the Potomac, fishing for largemouth bass is picking up. There are reports of quite a few males staging in slightly deeper water near the spawning areas. Soon they will be making nests to lure spawning females 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 gets good results.

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 action.

Nearshore water temperatures are slowly rising in the Ocean City area and have hit the 45°F 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.

Offshore fishing is focused mostly on tautog 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 I expect those rumors will turn into solid reports shortly. In the back bay areas there is some striped bass action for those casting swimbaits, jigs and jerkbaits. Most all of the striped bass are just shy of 28 inches, but they make for some fun catch-and-release.