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 firstname.lastname@example.org to share updates and photographs of your recent catches for potential inclusion in next week’s column. The leading photograph (above): This chain pickerel smacked the inline spinner/paddletail combo during a Saturday morning session on the Severn River. Photo by yours truly.
We’re in the thick of December fishing and with the Christmas holiday approaching, it seems anglers in the middle Chesapeake Bay have already been given an exceptional gift. A massive school of ocean migrating striped bass have made their way far up the Bay, which is a bit early. But more unexpected is that they’ve made their way as far north as the Annapolis area already.
We’re talking about 40-plus-inch fish being jigged up from the channel edges in droves this past week. The charter fleet and recs have lit up social media feeds with their catches. Though not apt to give exact locations, captains are generally reporting from as close to home as the Severn River’s mouth down to the Chesapeake Beach area. Your best bet at locating these fish is to seek living, hard bottom (oyster beds), wrecks, and major depth changes near main-stem points, river mouths, and, as mentioned, the shipping channel edges. Jigging with 1–3-ounce heads tipped with 5–10-inch soft plastics (white/chartreuse!), diamond jigs, or large ‘n heavy flutter spoons, is working. The fish are usually holding deep near bottom, but some reports have spoken of a sub-surface bite when the bunker wash through an area, so keep some SP minnows in your bag or, for a fun challenge, your 9wt fly rod with sizable sinking Clousers handy. Keep an eye on your electronics for baitfish, another eye on your binoculars for any remaining birds, and good luck at getting your catch-and-release trophy striper.
Many anglers have also turned their attention to areas even further south—the Solomons and Point Lookout areas to target the migrating stripers. This is the time of year to intercept the larger fish well ahead of their spawn. The fish are still feeding on the bunker moving down the Bay to the ocean. During an extreme cooldown, like we’ve had this week, the bite can be a bit more challenging. So, look forward to the weather warming slightly next week, as well as the full moon on Tuesday, to kick-start the bite again.
Chain pickerel are active and several anglers—myself included—are seeing more fish in shallow grass beds than around deep structure (e.g. laydowns). Seems the pickerel are holding in the dying weeds and picking off the yellow perch and minnows that also congregate there. The best rivers are the Patapsco, Magothy, Severn, and Choptank/Tuckahoe. If you find the bite difficult, absolutely change your presentation to something wholly unique. Example: last Saturday I worked a jerkbait around a shallow cove to no avail, only having a couple chasing fish. I switched to an inline spinner/paddletail combo and scored two nice pickerel on back-to-back casts. Throwing them a different look can make all the difference between getting chased and connecting.
Jumbo yellow perch are also very active. If you can find a school, hang on and have fun. I’ve had success finding the perch around the same grassbeds as pickerel, but also in the water just ahead of shallow, creek-end coves. In other words, some fish will hold in water that’s 5–7 feet ahead of the 2–3 foot flats. Micropaddletails on 1/8oz jigheads or #3 Mepps have been two excellent options for me this season, so far.
In many of the Baltimore-region rivers and those on the middle Eastern Shore, you also have a shot at good crappie fishing right now. Target deeper sitting wood cover. The Marshyhope near Federalsburg is a good option to try for them. One angler we know fishes the creek almost daily and rarely goes home without a full stringer.
I also gave fallfish a targeted approach this week, just for giggles. Unfortunately, I believe the overnight freeze we’ve had the past three nights, shut down anything biting in the way upper Patuxent. At least for me.
And we continue to hear and see reports of blue catfish being caught in the Potomac watershed from D.C. south and the Jug Bay area of the Patuxent, although the species should be starting to hunker down in the deepest holes now, making shore-bound fishing a bit more difficult. Heavy bottom rigs do cast far and hold deep though, and as long as you have fresh bait on stout 7/0 to 10/0 hooks, you have a shot at hooking into a behemoth. Good luck!