Welcome to Reel Chesapeake’s Weekly Fishing Report, our interpretation of what’s biting and where throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Please email us directly at email@example.com to share updates and photographs of your recent catches for potential inclusion in next week’s column. The leading photograph (above): Gorgeous chain pickerel pulled from the bank of Annapolis Waterworks Park impoundment on 12/1. This fish hit a jerkbait on a long pause. Photo by yours truly.
Very active week in middle Chesapeake Bay waters. Though a couple days of heavy fog made for dicey-but-doable fishing trips, the weather has been mostly stable with cold overnight temperatures in the 30s Fahrenheit and daytime temps reaching upwards of 45. The water has cooled down into the mid-40s. Anglers have taken advantage of these conditions. Winds persist but are manageable with Thursday, Friday, and Saturday looking favorable to get on the water.
Sunday will see a frontal system move into the region with gales. Small craft advisories will likely be in effect early next week. On Tuesday, the waning moon becomes new and the tidal currents will be relatively strong later into the week, with the most movement occurring afternoons into early evening.
The charter fishing fleet has been finding an excellent grade of striped bass in the middle Bay. A 15–20 minute ride from marinas and ramps on either side of the Bay (Annapolis or Kent Island) into the main stem has put anglers on schools of bass; sometimes large and working deep under masses of feeding birds. Other times, wolf packs roaming a bit deeper. Depth transitions and ambush points along the shipping channel, from the mouth of the Patapsco River southward to the Potomac River, are alive with fish.
It’s an expansive area, but with fish feeding heavily on the bunker, you should be able to find them on your electronics. Target areas include river mouths and their junction with deep water, especially major points such as Love, Sandy, Hackett, Tolley, Thomas, Bloody, Cove, and Cedar. Also the lower-80 channel buoys and those marking the deeper water at the Choptank River mouth.
With the colder water temperatures, fish will be closer to bottom, so jigging lead heads with plastics, large flutter spoons, or rain minnow style jigs to get down deep is key—anything 1 to 3 ounces should get to the fish. Trolling heavy umbrella or tandem rigs is also popular, but with only a couple days left of keeper-season, expect trolling traffic on the Bay to curtail significantly.
After December 10th, striped bass fishing becomes a catch-and-release affair until next summer. And that’s okay because the light tackle game for stripers moving back into the Bay from the Atlantic migration should be excellent this winter.
Some Bay anglers are also targeting the new black sea bass fishery that seems to have developed this season in the middle Chesapeake. Bottom rigs baited with fishbites has been a preferred tactic we’re seeing. The fish have been hugging structure (Bay Bridge pilings) or reef sites. The same can be said for white perch, as the species continues to congregate for wintering in deep water.
Chain pickerel are on many anglers’ minds, myself included. Kayak and small craft folks that can’t access the larger Bay for stripers are having a ball in the region’s rivers, small creeks, and impoundments targeting these feisty fish. Light to medium tackle and a variety of lures can catch the aggressive pickerel. Right now, with the water temps in the 40s, jerkbaits worked slowly with pauses upwards of five seconds can be deadly. As the water gets a bit colder, work them even slower (10 second pauses). And if you get a pickerel to chase your lure to the boat but not commit, try changing it up and casting something different right away to the same fish. An inline spinner or small jig/plastic perhaps. The best waters for pickerel include the Severn, Magothy, and Patapsco rivers, and the Eastern Shore millponds.
Yellow perch are increasingly in the mix—same waters, but also in the upper Tuckahoe, Marshyhope, and Patuxent systems. Small micropaddletails or stingers on 1/16 to 1/8-ounce jigs, or beetlespins should get bites. Try the back ends of creeks or around any grassbeds. You may also find crappie in the mix, especially around laydowns with crowns in water deeper >6’.
I think we’ll also see an uptick in blue catfish reports as more and more anglers turn on to them. There’s been excellent fishing this week for the invasive species in the Potomac River, from D.C. south; in the Patuxent River, from Jug Bay south; and the Nanticoke River system on the Shore. Try fish finder rigs weighted appropriately for the depths and currents you’re fishing (it could take anywhere from 1-ounce to 10!), and baited with the freshest chunk you can get your hands on. Good luck!