Maryland Fishing Report – March 20, 2023

Photo of woman on a kayak with a catfish

Lindsey Straiton may need a larger kayak if she keeps catching blue catfish this large. Photo courtesy of Lindsey Straiton

Anglers have a lot of fishing opportunities to look forward to this week. For our trout anglers under the age of 16, Maryland’s first youth-only trout fishing day occurs this Saturday, March 23. Anglers are still catching white perch in the upper sections of spawning rivers, and largemouth bass, crappie, and blue catfish are providing good fishing.  

Forecast Summary: March 20 – March 26:

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 so anglers may want to scan these areas for other gamefish.

Expect average flows for most Maryland rivers and streams. 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 all week as a result of the upcoming full moon on March 25.

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

Upper Chesapeake Bay

Water clarity is improving in the lower Susquehanna River this week, as large water releases due to heavy rains have subsided at the Conowingo Dam. Anglers are catching flathead catfish in the dam pool on cut bait. A little farther down the river, blue catfish can be found in large numbers in the deeper waters of the river just below the Railroad Bridge and below into the mouth of the river. Channel catfish can be found in the same areas. Fresh cut bait and chicken liver are popular baits. A mix of blue and channel catfish can be found in all the upper Bay region’s tidal rivers this week, they will be holding deep. 

Photo of man holding a fish

Hickory shad, photo by Karl Prinz

Many anglers are scratching their heads over why the catch-and-release hickory shad fishery at the mouth of Deer Creek now seems to be just a distant memory. Maryland DNR fisheries biologist Matthew Jargowsky studies the American shad and hickory shad in the Susquehanna, and he is just as puzzled, noting the Deer Creek hickory shad fishery has been on the decline since 2017. He noted recently an angler that fished the mouth of Deer Creek a dozen times during this past month caught and released only two hickory shad. DNR scientists find this information helpful, so anglers are urged to participate in the volunteer angler surveys which can be found on the department website. 

Fortunately, hickory shad are showing up at the Conowingo Dam pool and Octoraro Creek. Matt says Octoraro has been doing great in recent years though, so anglers still can do well there. “Hickory shad catch has also increased at Conowingo’s Fisherman’s Park (on the Harford County side) in recent years, so at least it seems hickory shad has been a localized decline.” Brightly colored flies, shad darts, jigs, and spoons are popular lures to use for hickory shad.

The lower Susquehanna River area is open to striped bass catch-and-release fishing through March 31. This area 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. Most anglers are fishing with soft plastic swimbaits and crankbaits rigged with single inline hooks. Anglers are urged to release these fish in the water and use heavy tackle.

White perch are providing plenty of fun fishing for anglers in many of the tidal rivers within the upper Bay. Anglers will begin to see these runs in the upper waters of the spawning rivers begin to decline in the next week. The lower Susquehanna River will be the exception due to the cold water flowing from the Conowingo Dam. Casting small shad darts and jigs is the most popular way to fish for them. Adding a piece of bloodworm scented artificial bait strip or pieces of bloodworm usually helps increase the attraction to the white perch. 

Most tidal rivers in the upper Bay have also been providing good fishing for white perch for the past two weeks and anglers will begin to see that success begin to decline and fishing will take place farther down river. The Bush, Sassafras, Magothy, and Chester rivers are just a few of the more popular white perch spawning runs.

Middle Bay

Middle Bay water temperatures are now elevated to 50 degrees and salinity values are predictably low due to rainfall. The measurements of dissolved salts in water in the Gooses is 11 parts per thousand (ppt), and the mouth of the Patapsco River is holding at 2 ppt. By comparison, sea water is normally 35 ppt. 

Currently catch-and-release striped bass fishing is open in the middle Bay through March 31. 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.

Pre-spawn striped bass are moving up the Bay and many have already arrived in the Choptank River. Spawning will begin towards the end of the month if there are suitable water temperatures of 58 degrees or above. Responsible anglers know that all catch-and-release fishing for striped bass in the spawning rivers is strictly forbidden due to the delicate stress balance large striped bass must endure in a mostly freshwater environment.

White perch are at the peak of their spawning activity in the headwaters of the Choptank River and Tuckahoe Creek this week, and activity will decline soon. The white perch will begin to move downriver and head for their summer habitats in the tidal rivers and creeks. Anglers have been enjoying excellent fishing at Red Bridges on the Choptank and above Hillsboro on the Tuckahoe. Many anglers are now fishing farther downriver and using bottom rigs baited with pieces of bloodworm, instead of casting small jigs. 

A mix of blue catfish and channel catfish can be found in the Choptank River this week. The catfish are holding deep in the channel areas near the Dover Bridge. Cut bait fished on circle hooks on fish finder rigs are the most popular way anglers are fishing for them.

Lower Bay

Anglers looking for catch-and-release action for pre-spawn striped bass are finding tough fishing opportunities this week. Finding a few marks on a depth finder and jigging with large 1.5-ounce soft plastic jigs close to the bottom in waters 40’ or deeper has been offering some action. All catch and release of striped bass in Maryland waters will be open through March 31. The main stem of the Potomac River will be open to catch and release fishing for striped bass until May 15 from the Wilson Bridge south. Jigging will be one of the most popular ways to fish for them and those deciding to use cut bait must use circle hooks. 

Photo of man holding a fish

Hickory shad, photo by Eric Packard.

White perch continue to be caught in the upper sections of the region’s tidal rivers. Spawning is almost complete, and the white perch will begin to move downriver. In the skinnier waters in the upper stretches of the tidal rivers, casting small shad darts and jigs is the most popular way to fish. In the deeper waters farther downriver, fishing with bottom rigs baited with pieces of bloodworm will be the best method.

Hickory shad are arriving in the Potomac and Patuxent rivers this week and anglers are catching them in Mattawoman Creek. The Potomac River at Fletcher’s Landing is a very popular area to fish for them but reports of high and stained waters from recent rains have put much of that catch-and-release fishery on hold. Perhaps conditions will improve by the weekend.

Blue catfish are providing plenty of action for anglers this week in the Nanticoke, Patuxent, and Potomac rivers. High water has been making fishing a little tough but adding a little extra weight and scent to baits helps even up the odds.

Freshwater Fishing

The DNR hatchery staff has been very busy in recent weeks. By the end of February, the Albert Powell Hatchery had stocked more than  37,000 brown, golden rainbow, and regular rainbow trout. The Cushwa Hatchery stocked 2,200 brown trout and Bear Creek Hatchery stocked more than 20,000 rainbow trout. Crews will be busy this month and all closure 1 and closure 2 trout management waters will be adequately stocked for the youth trout fishing day on March 23 and the traditional opening day on March 30.

Eric Bittner, manager of Albert Powell trout hatchery, said his team has been “swamped working with a skeleton crew this week and a lot of tasks need to be done. Stocking ramped up in recent weeks with most of the 0 closures getting done, leaving all the 1 and 2 closures scheduled to be completed just before the first ever youth day on March 23 … and we’re expecting a successful opening day, (and hoping for great weather).”

The lowest spring flows in recent history the past year required unprecedented operations at both Albert Powell and Cushwa, Bittner says. “Staff has worked feverishly over the past few months with spring flows finally rebounding and getting the trout to the size needed for stocking. Trout have been going onto the trucks averaging a half pound to 3/4 pound apiece, with a larger percentage of golden trout being added this year increasing the chance for anglers who enjoy catching them or maybe landing one for the first time. Two-year-old trout have been the largest we have had in recent years with many of them almost a pound and a half a piece currently being loaded on stocking trucks. Well over 300 trophy trout ranging in size from 3-6 pounds each with some upwards to 10 pounds will be modestly loaded and sent out to favorite watering holes across the state.”

Photo of man holding a fish

Golden trout, photo by Adam Krauss.

Fisheries biologist Josh Hennesy took time out from stocking trout this week to give us a quick update on the upper Potomac River. “The river has been fishing well for smallmouth. With the elevated flows, shoreline eddies have been best. Prior to this cold front, water temps were in the 50s and crankbaits or spinnerbaits have been working great. Walleye should be actively spawning, or just finishing up. Typically, their bite turns back on post spawn when they become more aggressive to replace expended energy and resources from spawning. Muskies will be next to spawn. They are probably moving into spawning areas at this time.” Hennesy asks anglers to enter their muskie catches on the DNR voluntary angler survey to help keep track.   

Fishing for largemouth bass is presenting many wonderful opportunities this week as water temperatures continue to warm, and the bass are actively feeding through the day. A variety of lures can be used, ranging from crankbaits and craw jigs in deeper waters to spinnerbaits, soft plastics, and jerkbaits in shallower waters. 

Northern snakeheads are beginning to awaken and become more active on sunny afternoons; fishing large minnows under a bobber is a proven tactic during this time of the year but casting paddletails near shoreline structure during the afternoon sun on the sunny sides of creeks is also working for anglers. 

March and April provide some of the best crappie fishing of the year and anglers are finding large crappie holding close to sunken structure in the form of fallen treetops, sunken wood, and marina docks. Small minnows and marabou jigs under a slip bobber are popular ways to fish for them.

Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays

Photo of two fish on a table

Tautog, photo by Robert Greenfeather

The cold weather will knock coastal bay water temperatures back a bit this week, but it will not be long before we hear of the first flounder caught in the back bay waters of Ocean City. In the meantime, anglers are enjoying good fishing for tautog in and around the Ocean City Inlet and Route 50 Bridge area. 

Surf fishing has been quiet this week, except for the occasional clearnose skate, but anglers are anticipating black drum showing up soon. When the black drum arrive, sand fleas will be a favored bait. Inside the inlet, anglers are enjoying some fun catch-and-release fishing for striped bass, which are coming up short of the 28-inch minimum. Casting soft plastic jigs is the most popular way to fish for them. 

The anglers hitching a ride on the charter and party boats heading to the offshore wreck and reef sites are enjoying good fishing for tautog this week. Some of the tautog being caught are quite large and limit catches of four fish are common.

The most indispensable item in any fisherman’s equipment is his hat. This ancient relic, with its battered crown and well-frayed band, preserves not only the memory of every trout he caught, but also the smell.” – Corey Ford, 1952

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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