In Part 1 of our "Gone Fishin'" A Maryland Road Trip" we headed to Cambridge with the crew from Fish & Hunt Maryland to hunt for northern snakeheads. For Part 2, we took a trip west to Mountain Maryland to go fly fishing for trout in the Savage and Casselman Rivers. Part 3 took us to Ocean City in pursuit of clams and flounder.
Like many people who grew up in the region I’ve been going on summer family vacations to Ocean City for my entire life. Unlike many, my fascination with the beach ended the moment I had to reel in my line. I get it — a zillion people splashing around in the water isn’t a great place to sling hooks — but before long I realized it didn’t matter, because when surf fishing is verboten there’s still a ton of angling to be done in the inlet and nearby back-bays.
Knowing that countless anglers consider heading for OC during the summertime, we decided to make it the last stop on our epic triple-destination Fish & Hunt Maryland whirlwind tour of the state. And to boost our chances of success we teamed up with the sharpies from Fish in OC to target flounder in the back bays of OC.
Despite a high level of confidence in our ability to catch those flatties, we opted to start this adventure by clinching success right from the start. So, we began the trip by hauling my 16’ crabbing skiff to the public ramp, launching, and spending the afternoon clamming.
You don’t have to wait for clams to bite and they can’t exactly dart off as you approach, so catching clams is pretty darn close to a sure thing. True, finding them can take some hunting, but if you stay on the move and try multiple areas it usually doesn’t take long before you stumble onto a productive bed and start filling the bucket. We simply cruised along behind Assateague Island until we saw a creek mouth in the marsh, pulled in, dropped anchor, and jumped off the boat into knee-deep water. Then we wiggled our toes into the bottom of the bay, feeling around for those nuggets of culinary nirvana. Within seconds the cry “got one!” rang out, and in an hour we had plenty of clams for an all-you-can-eat feast.
For more detailed information on clamming check out Shellfish Behavior: How to Go Clamming. Or, if you want guaranteed success you can hire a guide — there are several charter operations in Ocean City which run clamming trips and will even outfit you with clamming rakes if you’d rather not wiggle your toes in the benthos.
With our buckets full of bivalves and several hours of daylight left, we decided to get a jump start on the fishing. After making the short run to the Route 50 bridge we started slinging jigs, and capped off the day by reeling in some beautiful stripers in the 20- to 24-inch class. Before it got too late, however, we packed it in and pulled the boat. Steaming up those clams is as easy as boiling a pot of water and we had a serious seafood fest to enjoy, capped off by a clam toast creation prepared by our team’s chef-turned-videographer, Patrick.
Fighting for Flounder
At zero-dark-early the next morning we loaded up and met Scott from Fish in OC at the boat ramp. There was a hint of trepidation in the air. What, us worry? Well yes, at least one of us. On the first leg of our journey, Maryland Spring Snakeheads, although bass, blue cats, and crappie had all struck, an angler (who shall remain nameless to protect his reputation) had skunked. Then on leg two in Fly Fishing in Western Maryland: Free State on the Fly, that same angler managed to strike out again even as other people caught rainbow trout on the fly to his left and to his right. So yea, I was… um, I mean he was feeling a little pressure to produce.
The weather was less than ideal: cloudy with a blustery 20-knot northeast wind. Scott outfitted the crew with Deadly Double rigs from Deadly Tackle (based right here in Maryland), clued us in to the fact that the orange-salmon red spinner rig had been producing best lately, and our two boats ran for the Thorofare.
On the very first drift: miracle of miracles, lo and behold, holy cow, that same fisherman who had struck out on the earlier gigs felt a little jiggle, slammed the hook home, and reeled a 17-inch flatfish to the surface.
Oops — someone forgot to grab the landing net out of the truck.
For miracle number-two, the fish somehow remained attached to the hook as I swung it over the gunwale. Victory!
Unfortunately, it would be the only victory aboard the skiff the rest of the morning. On Scott’s boat, meanwhile, the Deadly Doubles (tipped with Gulp!s and minnow) fooled a keeper and two throwbacks into biting. By 11 o’clock the wind picked up even more and the tide shifted, making for an uber-rapid drift and churned waters. We threw in the towel, and decided to hit Crabs to Go for a land-based lunch. The soft crab sandwich and the clam strips were both hands-down magnificent.
How-to/Where-to Fishing in Ocean City
Fishing for Flounder
Flounder is by far the most popular fish to go after in Isle of Wight Bay and the Thorofare is the most popular spot to go after them. But sometimes (particularly on midsummer weekends) there are so many boats and so many baits in the Thorofare that it gets tough to find keeper fish. So, how will you enjoy success? Often the trick is simply getting away from the crowd. The channel edges behind Assateague may produce better fishing, and sometimes probing the edges of the main channel will do the trick. The bottom line is that when hordes of boats are in the “best” fishing spot, it can be so darn crowded that any keeper flounder who dares swim by is plucked from the water in short order. Get away from all those competing hooks and baits, however, and you can improve your chances of enjoying a fresh flounder dinner.
You can catch plenty of flatties from the Route 50 bridge, Stinky Beach, and the bulkhead running down to the Ninth Street Pier. An area that sees a bit less traffic is the pier behind the Convention Center at 41st Street. The water isn’t very deep here so fishing an incoming or high tide will be the best bet; cast straight off the end or at an angle off to the left where the water’s slightly deeper.
Pounding on Panfish
Toss out a bottom rig baited with bloodworms and you never know what you’ll hook into in the BBOC. Some summers schools of nice croaker move into the back bays. Others, weakfish take up residence. Spot are generally prolific as are juvenile sea bass, sea robins, and sometimes puffer fish. Flounder, kingfish, specks, snapper blues — heck there’s just no telling what will bite. It’s a mixed bag for sure, but it’s often a full bag.
For fast panfishing action you’ll want to focus on either structure or channels. Rip-rapped shoreline, piers, and bridge pilings can all be fish-attractors throughout these waters. As for fishing the channels, drift along the edges with your baits right on bottom.
Stinky Beach is a great spot to try casting from, and you can also try hitting the Oceanic Pier. Sometimes long casts will work but also try dropping right next to the pilings, because fish regularly stick close by the structure. Dittos for dropping bloodworms from the Route 50 bridge or the OC bulkhead.
Shooting for Sheepshead
In recent years the sheepshead bite has gone from an oddity to a consistent way to hook up with your future dinner. Most are caught in or close to the inlet, and almost always very close to hard structure like inlet rocks and bridge pilings. You’ll want to rig up with a sinker heavy enough to hold bottom without getting swept into the snaggy rocks but cast as close to those snags as possible, because that’s where the fish are. The best baits are commonly crab chunks or sand fleas.
The best place to try to catch sheepshead from shore is the north jetty side of the inlet, where you can park and walk to the rocks. Remember that the currents blast through this area and the rocks are as snaggy as it gets; you have to expect to lose a lot of rigs here. Don’t get frustrated when it happens, and bring plenty of extras.
Singin’ the Bluefish Blues
Although the heat of summer isn’t peak action for bluefish in the back bays, you can usually catch snappers and larger fish do unexpectedly pop up. As for where you’ll find them, there’s just no telling. That said, the inlet and near the Route 50 bridge are excellent areas to try. Fresh cut fish is a top offering, and you’ll also get ‘em throwing bucktails or spoons.
You can toss out a chunk of fish at just about any location and have a shot at catching a bluefish, but if you want to focus on them this is a good chance to return to those surf fishing roots. Snapper blues are one of the most common catches from the beach (send out a doodlebug rig with cut spot or mullet), and you can fish before the bathers arrive or after they leave. Up to 10 a.m. and after 5:30 p.m. you’re in the clear. Or, you can head south to Assateague, which has fewer restrictions on anglers in designated areas.
Rent a Fishing Boat
If you didn’t bring your boat on vacation, rather than fishing with your feet on terra firma you could always rent a boat. It’s vacation time, so why not splurge? There are several operations in Ocean City and West Ocean City which offer skiffs and/or pontoon boat rentals. There are also guided adventures with captained boats available for bay angling, plus a few headboats that focus on flounder and/or panfish. Visit the Fish in OC Boat Rentals page to see local listings.
Travelling to OC
Ocean City has hotels, restaurants, and amenities of all types from the Delaware line clear down to the boardwalk. The most important thing to remember is that in the height of summer they fill up fast. If you want your choice of hotels make the bookings well in advance, and note that showing up here without reservations is a risky move.
Oceancity.com has an excellent lodging guide that divides the town into different sections so you can find a place in the area you like most. There’s also an extensive listing of restaurants and bars, plus guides to all the stuff you may be forced into doing when you’d rather be fishing, like golf, sailing, and sand-sculpture competitions.
If you’re hauling your own boat to Ocean City, trailer parking is something you need to plan ahead for. Some hotels and campgrounds near the city have space for boats, but most inside Ocean City proper do not. Trailer parking is not allowed on the street in OC, but there’s a public parking lot for boats and trailers at 100th Street on the bayside ($10/day or $50/week; see Ocean City's Trailer Ordinance webpage for more info).
So: Have you spent torturous hours wiggling your toes in the sandy beach when you’d really rather be wiggling a bait and waiting for bites? Don’t despair, dear anglers — the fish are ready and waiting for you in the back bays of OC.