Maryland DNR Fishing Reports- by Keith Lockwood

Courtesy of MD DNR Fisheries Service

Fishing Reports for December 7th, 2016 – Overview

Although most recognize December 7th as a historical date that thrust the United States into World War II, for those of the Baby Boomer generation and the few remaining veterans of that era it held a special significance. For my generation it was fathers who would not utter a word about their combat experiences, especially those who fought in the Pacific. All they wanted to do was try to live a normal life and raise a family. It was obvious to even a youngster that they would immerse themselves in past time activities such as fishing to help with the mental healing process. Fishing has a way of soothing the soul and can have the same mental healing effect for anyone. A quiet personal fishing experience or fishing with family and friends can have a wonderfully positive effect on one’s life priorities.

Maryland’s striped bass season for the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal rivers will be closing on December 20th, December 31st for the tidal Potomac River and does not close along the Atlantic coast line. This link to the recreational fisheries home page will help to answer any questions on the striped bass regulations. (“Recreational Chesapeake Bay Striped Bass Season Runs Through December 20, 2016”).

At the very top of the Chesapeake, anglers are now seeing daily power generation water releases at the Conowingo Dam in the early afternoons. There has been some limited topwater action for striped bass as well as some being caught on swim shads and soft plastic jigs. Water temperatures are now around 48° so the striped bass action is steadily slowing down.

Farther down the bay there is still some limited striped bass action in the tidal rivers on both sides of the bay. Most of the striped bass that are being caught are sub-legal and they are being caught on a variety of lures including crankbaits, jigs and topwater lures. Although it is a sub-legal fish this angler was happy for a little local action in the Patapsco River.

Colder water temperatures are basically putting the fishery to sleep as striped bass and white perch hunker down in many of the deepest areas to sit out the winter. Most of the bait has left the tidal rivers and they too are seeing warmer water temperatures in either deeper waters or farther south. There is still some trolling action to be found in the deeper channel areas but the action can best be described as a slow pick. Heavy inline weights ahead of tandem- rigged bucktails or umbrella rigs have been the most common choices for trolling.

At the Bay Bridge there are striped bass to be found holding close to the bottom near some of the deeper bridge piers, rock piles and concrete abutments. The only way to get to them is to jig with soft plastics or metal. Depth finders will show them packed in fairly tight and it may be tough to get them to bite due to cold water temperatures. It is not uncommon at this time of year and in this situation to foul hook a fair percentage of the fish.

Water temperatures in the middle bay region are now in the upper 40’s and the fishing action is quickly slowing down. The salinity in the middle bay region continues to be high for this time of the year. There is of course more than a few reasons to venture out on the bay when weather conditions are favorable and give it one more try before wrapping it up for the season. Most of the action being found now is in the deeper channel areas in the main stem of the bay or at the mouths of some of the major tidal rivers. The shipping channel edges along Kent Island and the western shore are good places to look for striped bass and white perch hugging the bottom. The False Channel, the Buoy 83 edge and down to the inner edge of the CP Buoy have also been offering some limited action. Jigging with large soft plastics or trolling deep are the best options. It will take a lot of weight to get tandem-rigged bucktails or umbrella rigs down to where the striped bass are holding. Large plastic jigs are good choice for striped bass and metal jigs with a dropper fly or a sinker rig with two dropper flies is a good bet for white perch. A small piece of bloodworm on those dropper flies will go a long way to enticing sluggish white perch to bite.

The lower bay region offers some of the best fishing opportunities this week as the 2016 Chesapeake Bay striped bass season approaches the last two weeks of the season. Those fishing the lower Potomac River will be able to fish additional days until December 31st. The shallow water action in the Tangier/Pocomoke Sound area seems to have ended as cold water temperatures push the striped bass to deeper waters. Most are now focusing on targeting the deeper channel areas where striped bass are holding deep. The deeper channels on the eastern side of the bay, places like the HS Buoy have been good places to either troll deep or jig. On the western side of the bay the mouth of the Potomac has been offering the best fishing. These two bundled up anglers are all smiles with these striped bass they caught at the mouth of the Potomac.

The mouth of the Patuxent River and the deeper channel edge off of Cove Point have also been good places to look for suspended fish. Fishing for white perch in the lower Patuxent River continues to be very good at depths of 50′ over hard bottom.

Freshwater stream and river water levels in the western region of the state are still below normal but have improved with better water levels and anglers may see even more improvement by the weekend. There is plenty of good trout fishing to be found in many of the trout management waters and smallmouth bass and walleye fishing in the upper Potomac River.

Largemouth bass fishing has settled into winter type techniques of fishing close to deep structure and placing small lures close to the bottom and working them extremely slow. Small grubs and similar soft plastics like craws, as well as jigs, small crankbaits and blade lures are all good choices.

This week, a crew from Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Fishing and Boating Services deployed concrete reef balls to create new habitat for largemouth bass in the Smoots Bay area of the Potomac River, near National Harbor. The crew included staff from Inland Fisheries (Tidal Bass Division), MARI Artificial Reef Program, and Hydrographic Operations. Because of a variety of reasons, much of the submerged grasses in Smoots Bay died and have failed to re-emerge in the past 10 years. This habitat loss likely lessened population growth for largemouth bass on Potomac River, considered once as a world class fishery. This project aims to re-establish habitat to Smoots Bay and couple monitoring and periodic stocking to help improve the river-wide fishery. More information about the Smoots Bay project.

Crappie fishing continues to be good near deep structure such as bridge piers, marina piers, brush, fallen treetops or other types of sunken wood. Live minnows or small jigs under a slip bobber are excellent ways to target them. Blue catfish are very active in the tidal Potomac River below the Wilson Bridge and fishing for channel catfish in the bay’s tidal rivers and selected impoundments is very good this time of the year. Ronnie Alder holds up a whopper of a channel catfish he caught recently on the Nicodemus Fishing Bridge at the top of Liberty Reservoir

One of the good things about colder water temperatures is the fact that we do have a few freshwater fish in Maryland that prefer colder temperatures. Chain pickerel thrive in colder waters and are very active this time of the year. Aquatic vegetation has died back making for easier fishing in the tidal waters and freshwater impoundments where chain pickerel are found. Walleye love cold water and they can be found in the upper Potomac River, the lower Susquehanna and also in Deep Creek Lake. Yellow perch are also more tolerant of colder water and that fishery is developing in the tidal rivers of the upper bay and at Deep Creek Lake.

Anyone who has fished Deep Creek Lake lately cannot help but notice that the water levels are at historic lows. Apparently the lake has been lowered to additional lows due to a large sewer system trunk line that will be running near the breast of the dam and lower water levels are aiding construction.

The big news in the Ocean City area is that the long awaited arrival of the fall migration of striped bass has finally arrived off Maryland shores. Recently striped bass were found off Delaware and Maryland in about 50′ of water. The boats that are trolling are pulling large bucktails, Stretch 25 lures and Mojos and others are having good success by jigging or drifting live eels.

Surf fishermen are beginning to enjoy some of the action and the action may hit high gear by the weekend. Casting plugs such as Red Fins or swimming Creek Chubs is a good bet or fishing with cut bait and circle hooks.

A reminder to all coastal anglers that the tautog fishery is closed from November 27 – December 31 in state waters. Catch-and-release tautog fishing is also illegal, and you are not allowed to catch tautog on a vessel in Federal or out-of-state waters and transport them to Maryland.

The sea bass fishing at the offshore wreck and reef sites has been excellent with limit catches being common. Spiny dogfish are becoming pesky at some of the sea bass fishing sites and so far the large bluefish have not intruded on the sea bass fishing.

“Fly casters have long been judged by smoothness of line flow and easy grace of movement… An angler’s form in casting may be important to himself and other anglers. To the fish, who will be the final judge of his prowess, form matters not at all.” – Lee Wulff

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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.