Maryland Fishing Report – March 13

Photo of young boy holding a fish

Angler Talen Scott Vrablic holds a chain pickerel. Photo by Raymond Vrablic III

As we inch closer to spring, anglers are enjoying fishing for a variety of species this week. The white perch spawning runs are in high gear, the preseason stocking of trout is taking place, blue catfish are abundant, and our resident species such as the beautiful chain pickerel are providing plenty of fun fishing opportunities.

Catch and release opportunities for striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay begin below the Brewerton Channel and extend south to the Virginia Line. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources website includes maps and information on areas open to catch and release until March 31. All catch and release of striped bass will be prohibited from April 1 until May 15

Forecast Summary: March 13 – March 19:

With a string of warm March days, Chesapeake Bay waters will continue to slowly warm up for gamefish activity, like the ongoing white perch spawning run, and the upcoming shad run in Maryland’s lower salinity waters. Main Bay surface water temperatures have risen to the upper 40s, although smaller streams and downwind areas will warm faster on a sunny day and can hold temperatures in the low 50s. For example, Little Falls on the Potomac River has water temperatures that have already reached 54 degrees, so the hickory and American shad should be spawning very soon. Also, there are still slightly warmer bottom waters in the main Bay waters so anglers may want to scan these areas for other gamefish.

Expect average flows for most Maryland rivers and streams, but high and dropping conditions on the Potomac and Susquehanna Rivers. Expect average clarity for most Maryland portions of the Bay and rivers except the Potomac River above St. George’s Island and the Bay mainstem down to the Patapsco River. To see the latest water clarity conditions, check Eyes on the Bay Satellite Maps. There will be above average tidal currents conditions through Friday as a result of the recent new moon on March 10.

For more detailed and up-to-date fishing conditions in your area of the bay, continue to check out Click Before You Cast.

Upper Chesapeake Bay

In the lower Susquehanna River, white perch are beginning to make an appearance and anglers are targeting them with bottom rigs baited with grass shrimp or pieces of bloodworm. Casting shad darts with a piece of bloodworm or artificial bloodworm baits is another fun light-tackle way to catch them. In the Northeast River, yellow perch are still being caught near the town of North East community piers and farther upriver.

Flathead catfish can be found in and near the Conowingo Dam pool this week. Anglers are fishing with heavy spinning gear and casting cut bait into the dam pool near the turbine wash. Fishing slightly below the dam pool with cut or live bait is another productive way to catch flatheads. 

Moving farther down the Susquehanna to the deeper waters of the channel and the deep hole below the railroad bridge, blue catfish are in abundance and providing plenty of action. Blue catfish and channel catfish can be found in all the tidal rivers of the upper Bay region in varying abundance. The Chester River holds some of the greatest numbers of large blue catfish. Fresh cut gizzard shad, menhaden, white perch, or chicken parts work well for bait. Many anglers soak their baits in strong scents for added attraction. A simple egg sinker or fish finder rig with a 2-inch cork float near a circle hook is a very popular rig.

The area of the lower Susquehanna River is open to striped bass catch-and-release fishing until March 31. Most anglers are fishing with soft plastic swimbaits and crankbaits rigged with single inline hooks. The area open to catch and release is bordered by a southern line from Turkey Point to Sandy Point and a northern line from the Susquehanna State Park boat ramp at Lapidum to Twin Rocks to Tomes Wharf in Port Deposit. Anglers are urged to release these fish in the water and use heavy tackle.

Spawning runs of white perch are reaching their peak this week in many of the tidal rivers within the upper Bay. A few of the more popular locations include the upper Bush, Magothy and Chester rivers. Casting small shad darts and jigs tipped with a piece of bloodworm, cut minnow or bloodworm scented artificial bait strips.

Middle Bay

Photo of woman pouring fish from a bucket into a cooler

Photo by Sarah Thomas

Fishing for white perch in the Choptank River and Tuckahoe Creek is some of the biggest news in the middle Bay. Water temperatures are 52 degrees in most spawning reaches, which is perfect for white perch spawning. The boat ramps at Denton, Greensboro, and Hillsboro can be seen with all kinds of activity as anglers launch their boats to fish for white perch and post-spawn yellow perch this week. Shoreline anglers are also getting into the action at Red Bridges on the upper Choptank, and Stoney Point, Hillsboro on the Tuckahoe, as well as the riverbanks along both rivers. Angelina Watts consolidates a day’s catch of white perch destined for future tasty meals.

Casting small shad darts and tiny jigs is one of the most popular ways to fish with light spinning tackle. Anglers are advised to bring plenty of shad darts and jigs since sunken logs and branches can cause snags. Other anglers can be seen drifting grass shrimp or pieces of bloodworm under a slip bobber or fishing with a high low bottom rig.

Currently catch-and-release striped bass fishing is open in the middle Bay and will close at the end of March. If anglers choose to jig for striped bass, they are urged to be prepared for catch and release before beginning to fish. Fish should be released in the water and if a picture is to be taken use wet hands or gloves, hold the fish horizontally, and a cameraman should be ready before the fish is removed from the water. All of this should be accomplished quickly to ensure the survival of the fish.

Water temperatures in the middle Bay are about 46 degrees this week and anglers report the striped bass are holding tight to the bottom in 40 feet of water or more. Anglers can expect that smaller striped bass may show little feeding activity due to cold water conditions. Larger striped bass will be more active. The most popular way to fish is jigging with 1.5-ounce jig heads with 6-inch to 8-inch soft plastic bodies in chartreuse. 

Fishing for a mix of blue catfish and channel catfish is good this week in the deeper channel waters of the Choptank River. Anglers are also reporting white catfish in the mix. Cut bait in the form of gizzard shad, menhaden, or white perch are popular baits on a fish finder type rig with a 2-inch cork near a circle hook. The cork helps keep the bait off the bottom. The section of the river from Denton to the town of Choptank offers the best fishing opportunities.

Lower Bay

Photo of boy holding two fish on a line

White perch, photo by Eric Packard

White perch fishing is at the top of the list for many lower Bay anglers this week in the tributaries of the Potomac and Patuxent river on the western side of the Bay, and the Nanticoke, Pocomoke, and Wicomico rivers on the Eastern Shore. Fisheries biologist Chuck Stence reported that the upper Patuxent River above Wayson’s Corner was packed with spawning white perch. The Wicomico at Allen’s Fresh and Mattawoman Creek are just two of the tributaries to the Potomac offering good white perch fishing this week. The Marshyhope Creek area off the Nanticoke River is providing good fishing for white perch this week as is the Wicomico River and the Nanticoke itself. 

Casting small shad darts and jigs are the most popular way to fish for white perch in the narrow waters of the spawning reaches. Others may choose grass shrimp under a slip bobber or pieces of bloodworm on a bottom rig. Anglers often must cull through a lot of small male white perch during these spawning runs and one can go through a lot of bait quickly, so small shad darts and jigs offer speeding releases of small perch.

Catch-and-release fishing for striped bass in the Bay is an option for some anglers through March 31. Most anglers are using soft plastic jigs of 1.5 ounces to 2 ounces with large chartreuse soft plastics, which attracts the attention of large pre-spawn striped bass moving up the Bay. 

Blue catfish can be found in good numbers in the deeper channel waters of the Potomac, Patuxent, and Nanticoke rivers. Once located, the fishing success can be very good. Cut bait of gizzard shad, menhaden, white perch, chicken liver or chicken breast all work well, especially when enhanced with strong scent products. Large circle hooks in front of a 2-inch cork float and a sliding egg sinker or fishing finder rig are excellent bottom rigs to catch them.

Freshwater Fishing

In far western Maryland, locals often refer to March as the month of mud due to repetitive freezing and thawing. Regional biologist Matt Sell observed about Deep Creek Lake that “water temps warmed quickly with the recent warm weather, but the current snow, cold and wind are likely going to cool it back down a bit. Walleyes are moving into shallow areas, and most are ready to spawn. Yellow perch won’t be far behind.  Northern pike should still be shallow and either spawning or just post-spawn.” 

Trout anglers are enjoying the generous pre-season stocking that are taking place each week. Mark Harman, manager of DNR’s Bear Creek Trout Hatchery, says the outlook for the 2024 trout season is looking very good. “We are stocking some of the nicest fish we have stocked in several years. Our fish are above normal size. While the central and eastern part of the state was warm and extremely dry, we had a good growing season and were able to get good fish growth. We also were able to raise golden trout again this year, which did extremely well. They are about one pound each on average.  We are stocking about 1,000 trophy fish (3 to 5 pounds each) this year as well. Spring weather has been mild so far, I’m not sure what opening day will bring due to possible cold temperatures, but the preseason and open season stocking is going well.”

We are approaching some exciting times for trout anglers of all ages in the put-and-take trout management waters. The Closure 1 trout waters are now closed and the Closure 2 areas will close on March 24. All waters will open to the public on March 30, for the traditional opening day of trout season. On opening day trout fishing can begin at 6:30 a.m. and waters close at 10 p.m.; all other days fishing will be open 5:30 until 10 p.m. Those hours do not apply to nontidal impoundments of 5 acres or more that contain trout.

This year we have a special treat for our trout anglers under the age of 16, with a special youth day on March 23. These youngsters will be able to fish for trout without the competition of adults. The daily creel limit will be two trout on that day. It is hoped that many parents, relatives, readers of this fishing report, or even neighbors of our youngest anglers take them trout fishing on this special day set aside for them. If they’ve never fished before, buy them a 5-foot closed-faced push button casting outfit and take them out to practice casting on the lawn. Often you will find the monofilament line on these outfits is stiff and of poor quality, so take the time to put a better line on to reduce snarls and headaches at the fishing site.

Photo of man holding two fish

Herb Floyd braved the recent rains to go fishing and was rewarded with these two crappie. Photo by Herb Floyd

A jar of bright artificial dough bait works well, or if you’re brave you can dig earthworms together in the yard to make it even more special. A No. 8 or No. 10 hook is usually a good choice, and a split shot if you’re fishing in a creek and a bobber if fishing in a pond. Check the trout stocking website to find the waters that are stocked. The effort one puts into this endeavor of taking a child fishing will be rewarded many times over, and be sure to take plenty of pictures. 

This month is an extraordinary time of the year to fish for crappie. Small marabou jigs or minnows worked near deep structure under a slip bobber is a tried-and-true way to fish for them. If slab-sized crappie are on your list, this is the best time of the year to fish for them. Sunken wood, fallen treetops, marina docks, and piers are all good places to look for crappie.

The early spring months offer a great time to fish for chain pickerel. The heavy grass beds where they enjoy lurking during the summer months have yet to emerge so they will be holding near any kind of structure they can find. This usually comes in the form of sunken wood along shorelines. Chain pickerel are an ambush predator so they will hover near this type of structure waiting for a baitfish to swim by. Spinners, spoons, and swimbaits rigged with single inline hooks are excellent lures to use when fishing for them.

Largemouth bass are becoming active and have come up from the depths where they spent most of the winter. They can be found in areas between the deeper waters and the shallower shoreline waters. Most grass beds have yet to develop so largemouth bass will be holding near structure. Spinnerbaits, crankbaits, jerkbaits, and craw jigs are currently all good choices. Checking out the sunny side of a pond or river might reveal largemouth bass basking in the warmer water.

Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays

The weather is slowly improving and milder weather offers a taste of things to come. Anglers fishing around the jetty rocks and bulkheads near Ocean City are catching a few tautog on frozen sand fleas and pieces of green crab. Most are below the 16-inch minimum but it only takes one or two legal-sized tautog to make a good fishing trip if dinner is on your mind. 

Striped bass are being caught around the Ocean City Inlet and Route 50 Bridge area and around the Route 90 Bridge piers. Casting skirted soft plastic jigs or paddletails up against the bridge piers and jetty rocks is providing some fun action. Most of the striped bass fall short of the 28-inch minimum. Fishing has been slow along the beaches, clearnose skates keep those soaking baits busy, and the beach is a great place to relax whether the fish are biting or not. 

Offshore, the boats headed out to the wreck and reef sites are finding good fishing for tautog this week. Limit catches of chunky tautog are common for most anglers. Pieces of crab tend to be the most popular bait. The tautog season is open until May 15 with a limit of four fish per day. Tautog fishing will reopen July 1 until October 2 with a two-fish daily limit, then it closes until November 1. The final season segment then is open through December 31 with a daily limit of four fish and minimum size of 16 inches.

“The spirit of the boy lies dormant in many of us, and only needs to be released by just going fishing.” – Theodore Gordon

Maryland Fishing Report is written and compiled by Keith Lockwood, fisheries biologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources

Click Before You Cast is written by Tidewater Ecosystem Assessment Director Tom Parham.

This report is now available on your Amazon Echo device — just ask Alexa to “open Maryland Fishing Report.” 

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