Maryland DNR Fishing Reports- by Keith Lockwood

Courtesy of MD DNR Fisheries Service

Mid-Winter Fishing Report

It is not hard to notice that the weather this winter has been like a Yo-Yo in regard to air temperatures. This is great for those who have a hard time staring at their fishing tackle as they pass through the garage every day. Fortunately for those who enjoy an hour or so of light spin tackle fishing there are fishing opportunities close to home in the upper reaches of the bay’s tidal rivers and creeks or lakes and ponds.

This is of course the time of the year where fishing shows and flea markets abound. It is a great time to browse and pick up a few bargains and get out with family and friends and make a day of it. It is also a time to spend evenings or rainy weekends going over tackle; swapping out line, and checking ceramic guides and reels. Check your tackle now, while there is still time to get professional help at a local tackle shop (if you can’t fix it yourself). In regards to fishing line, if you don’t swap out last year’s line, at least pull off the first 20 feet and discard of it properly. No one likes to see a little curl at the end of their line where a knot failed on the largest fish you ever lost.

At the very top of the Bay there have been some limited fishing opportunities for yellow perch in the lower Susquehanna River. The fish are reported to be as deep as 40′ which is normal for this time of the year. The action tends to be a bit unreliable but most likely will be more stable later on in February. Due to the current in the river and sometimes a steady wind; it will take some weight to get down to the perch. Often a sinker with two dropper flies, small soft plastic jigs or similar soft plastics are employed. A drop shot rig with a small soft plastic bait or a live minnow is also a good choice. Tipping jigs or flies with a piece of worm or cut minnow never hurts to help attract the attention of yellow perch that are in a lazy mood close to the bottom. The area below the Route 40 Bridge and in front of the condos in Perryville has always been a popular spot.

There is other action to be found in the lower Susquehanna River up closer to the dam. The flathead and channel catfish are active and can be caught on cut bait below the dam pool. The water releases from the dam have been variable with afternoon releases and extremely low flows during the morning periods.

Farther down the bay there is action to be found in the tidal rivers and creeks on both sides of the bay for a mix of chain pickerel, yellow perch and a scattering of white perch, crappie and largemouth bass. The yellow perch in these protected and relatively shallower areas can be targeted from shore or small craft such as kayaks. This type of fishing is perfect for ultra-light spinning tackle. A small streamer fly such as a Mickey Finn or similar pattern in purple is a great choice with a split shot or two about 3 feet in front. The retrieve is slow once you feel you’re on the bottom and often there is no telling what might pick up the fly. A minnow can also be fished this way when hooked through the lips. Small soft plastic jigs are also a good choice if fished slow and close to the bottom. There has been spotty action in regards to yellow perch in a variety of tidal rivers such as the Choptank River, the Nanticoke near Marshyhope Creek and the upper Patuxent. Most of the perch being caught are males. John Hogan braved some chilly temperatures on the upper Gunpowder and shows off a nice yellow perch caught on a minnow.

Chain pickerel love cold water and are very active this time of the year. The aquatic vegetation is down, which means that pickerel will often be holding near sunken wood structure such as fallen tree tops. They are an ambush predator and lash out at anything that comes by them. Jerkbaits, crankbaits, spinnerbaits, spoons, spinners and soft plastics will all get their attention. They often attack with abandon so try to be careful with treble hooks and have pliers handy. Torn and bloody gills are usually the kiss of death for these entertaining fish.

Many who live and fish in the Gunpowder River area are well aware of the fish kill that occurred in Late December. Images of dead carp and other species was not a very welcomed way to finish out 2016. The Maryland Department of the Environment was the primary investigator into the fish kill and they have recently published a report on their findings. The report makes for some interesting reading.

The tidal rivers of the middle and lower bay hold much of the same action focused around a mix of chain pickerel, yellow perch, crappie and channel catfish. Sunny and mild days will tickle most fidgety anglers into heading out to local fishing spots to have a little fun. For those looking for a little action out on the bay there has been some talk of a little catch and release jigging action for striped bass in the channels between Cedar Point and the Buoy 72 area as well as the mouth of the Potomac. The Calvert Cliffs Power Plant warm water discharge always holds some manner of striped bass during these cold months. Drifting in the discharge wash and jigging with soft plastic or butterfly jigs is the ticket to this catch and release show. Anglers on the lower Potomac can give the Morgantown Power Plant warm water discharge a try for some of the striped bass that have their noses in that warm water.

Freshwater anglers at Deep Creek Lake are wishing for colder weather so they can have some hard water fishing opportunities. They came close earlier in the month with some coves freezing up with marginal ice but that is all gone now and the lake is completely open. The state boat ramp is usually open when temperatures are above freezing but anglers should check ahead of time by calling the Deep Creek Lake State Park office or the Discovery Center. As one can imagine, dripping water from boat trailers being hauled out can turn the ramp into a one way icy slide into the lake. Yellow perch fishing has been good off of main point drop-offs in about 25′ of water and the hump out in front of the state boat ramp is always a go to place. The perch are right on the bottom and offerings of small jig/minnow combos should be worked very slowly. Silver Buddy blade lures are also a good choice and walleye can often be part of the mix.

John Mullican sent in the following report from the upper Potomac River. “Recent steady rain is causing significant rises on the Potomac River and tributaries. Most gauging stations will show crests Wednesday and Thursday, but levels will still be well above safe levels into the weekend. The mild beginning to 2017 has Potomac temperatures near 42°F and fishing has been good. Unless severe winter temperatures return, experienced river anglers can expect a mixed bag of smallmouth bass, walleye, and muskie when the river returns to normal levels. Winter is a great time to catch trophy sized fish, but anglers will need to take precautions to stay safe and slow down, way down, to be successful. In general, lightweight jigs presented very slowly along the bottom will elicit that slight “tap” through the rod that signals the offering was inhaled. Dress warm, wear your PFD, and don’t forget to get your fishing license!” Steve Peperak holds up a beautiful upper Potomac Smallmouth bass before slipping it back into the river.

Pre-season trout stocking will begin soon in many of the trout management waters slated for such stockings. Once they begin, they will be a great incentive to get out and fish. Trout hatchery staff have been working hard to supply fishermen with the best trout possible. Recently I made a stop at the Albert Powell Trout Hatchery and I can tell you there are some amazing trophy sized trout being held for the spring stockings.

Warmer temperatures have caused ponds and lakes throughout Maryland to be open except for a few small ponds that might ice over in the next couple of days in the far western region. Largemouth bass are hunkered down in the deeper waters waiting out winter. Small lures such as blade lures and jigs worked close to deep structure can entice them to pick up a lure but those pickups will be very subtle. Crappie can also be found close to deeper structure and can be caught on small jig/minnow combinations. This young angle takes a last look at a nice largemouth bass he caught in Bear Creek before releasing it.

Ocean City area fishing has been focused mostly on offshore tautog fishing, and the action has been described as fair at best. When you factor in the rough conditions, the picture is not too inviting, except for the more hardcore “tog” or “blackfish” anglers. It takes some sand for sure to venture out on cold and often rough seas to try entice a few tautog to bite on a piece of green crab. Keep checking in with the party boats and other coastal contacts, since there is potential for a fair to good winter tautog bite off Ocean City if the wind and sea conditions calm down and stabilize during improved weather windows over the next few weeks.

“Life isn’t a box of chocolates…life is a jar of jalapeno peppers. What you do today is sure to burn you tomorrow.” – Dan Minar

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Please support your local independent bait and tackle shops. Maryland tackle shops are a slowly vanishing breed and need your business. Make a point to visit one before your next fishing trip they offer many years worth of knowledge on their local water plus are up to date on local techniques/bait and conditions.