Middle Chesapeake Bay fishing Report, March 2024

Middle Chesapeake Bay Fishing Report, March 29 Update:

Spring is still off to a slow start as cold temperatures and rain have been the theme this week. The white perch are currently running up the Patuxent for their spawning run. The colder weather still has the bite slowed down some and it seems as though the fish haven’t run all the way up the creeks yet. One angler reported fishing the way upper portion of Western Branch near Upper Marlboro last week with no luck. Shad darts tipped with grass shrimp did produce a few creek chubs, but the perch were not around. Catfish have been reliable on the Patuxent with channel catfish and blue catfish biting throughout river. Any deep hole or channel should be holding catfish this time of year and the bite will only pick up as we head into April. There was a successful perch report from a shore angler fishing near the West River who said that a few perch are moving in. Fishing with bloodworms in the evening and at night has provided the best bite, though fishing is still on the slower side.

big rock fish in the bay
The bite's been slow for many anglers, but Ryan managed to enjoy some big-time tugging aboard the Prime Time.

Open water trollers have been battling some true beasts this past week in the Middle Bay, with one reader reporting that lures pulled down deep in 80’ to 90’ of water did the trick for two trophies brought up to the boat. He also noted there was lots of bait in the area. Another boat trolling near the anchored shipping vessels south of the Bay Bridge reported catching a 48-inch striper. We got word of a few trophy fish battled in the Eastern Bay area as well, but just a few, and we heard from two boats who skunked (one trolling near Bloody Point and the other unspecified in the Middle Bay). This weekend will be the last chance to get out and target the trophy fish before the closure.

The striped bass catch-and-release season will close for the entire portion of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland waters starting April 1st. Trophy season was eliminated this year due to emergency regulations submitted by DNR to protect the spawning stock of striped bass. Anglers will not be allowed to target striped bass until after May 15th. Once the season reopens, the creel limit will be one striped bass per day between 19 and 24 inches. We encourage you to view the striped bass regulation maps on the Maryland Department of Natural Resources website to get familiar with the open and closed areas throughout the year. It has been an incredible few months of fishing for trophy striped bass on the Bay. Now let’s hope for a successful spawn this spring.

Middle Chesapeake Bay Fishing Report, March 22 Update:

Winter has finally passed, and spring has made its arrival, but temperatures this week felt more like winter at times as overnight lows in the 30s and strong winds made for less-than-ideal fishing conditions. With last week’s warmup we had detected a definite boost in the rockfish catch-and-release bite over the weekend, with several readers reporting big fish caught on the troll including one hitting the 50” mark in the vicinity of Bloody Point. Jiggers reported finding some large fish in the shallows in the late afternoon and evening, and the Angler in Chief said a run way up Eastern Bay led to three potential trophies hooked but just one 43-incher landed (d’oh!), plus a 20-something. All of the fish hit five-inch white or pearl paddletails on three-quarter-ounce heads in four to six feet of water. He also noted that the fish seemed to prefer a surprisingly fast retrieve. A reader also reported catching a monster on the jig at Thomas Point just off the lighthouse, where a huge shoal of bait has been holding recently.

rockfish in eastern bay
Vadim enjoyed the tug of some rockfish in the shallows of Eastern Bay.

In perch territory it seems the yellows have pretty much cleared out, and the AIC says a run up the Patuxent near Jug Bay produced dozens of white perch but no yellows last weekend. Grass shrimp on shad darts bounced along bottom in six to eight feet of water got them biting and the throwback ratio was five to one, but it wasn’t tough to fill the livewell with eating-sized fish of eight to 10 inches. Other anglers on the river reported success on white perch, catfish, and crappie. Further down the river near the Chalk Point Generating Station, we had a report from a boat that found a hot bite for blue catfish on the opposite side of the river from the warm water discharge. The Patuxent River is a good option to fish this time of year as perch are making their spawning runs and blue catfish are getting more active. White perch should continue running in the river and its tributaries for a few more weeks, but everything this year has been ahead of schedule, so they may depart sooner than normal. Take advantage of them while they are here now.

Middle Chesapeake Bay Fishing Report, March 15 Update:

Spring is in the air and the fish are biting! Contributor Eric Packard hit the Tuckahoe for perch last weekend and despite very high water, discovered a red-hot bite on white perch. Zero yellows were found, but he reported a frantic bite for white perch with both grass shrimp and bloodworms proving effective (minnow got just one perch and one blue catfish), and the action was so fast he “lost track of how many as we neared the 100 mark.” Another angler fishing from a pier near Deale at night reported steady pickings of white perch while fishing with grass shrimp on bottom rigs. He managed to catch a dozen keeper-sized fish worthy of going in the frying pan. Perch reports from the Patuxent also picked up this week and anglers at Waysons Corner are seeing more white perch show up. The tidal creeks off the main stem of the upper Patuxent should be productive through the middle of the month. A pair of reports from Patuxent River anglers looking for catfish also showed plenty of success. White and blue cats were reported up to 35”, with cut bunker named as productive.

white perch run
The white perch run is going strong in many areas. Photo courtesy of Eric Packard.

FishTalk Production Manager Zach Ditmars was on the scene last weekend for a 50-incher wrangled up off Bloody Point. He reports that the bite was very slow and it was the only rockfish landed (from 70-plus feet of water), but that’s one heck of a fish!! The open water bite for rockfish right now consists of covering a lot of water and searching for bait. There have been reports of scattered fish and bait from Buoy 82 up to the mouth of Eastern Bay. Long drifts while jigging large soft plastics are producing a few fish per trip for most boats. The Angler in Chief reports finding mass stacks of bait at Thomas Point and some smaller schools in Eastern Bay, but being unable to locate and rockfish willing to bite among it. Captain Pete Dahlberg of Four Seasons Guide Service reported searching many areas to find fish this week, but had some very high quality stripers in the net. Side imaging was key for locating small groups of fish. The right electronics can make a world of difference for this type of fishing.

Middle Chesapeake Bay Fishing Report, March 8 Update:

The Angler in Chief reported a lackluster perch trip on the Patuxent near Jug Bay thanks to very high, very muddy water. A pair of whites plus some small catfish were all that grabbed shad darts tipped with grass shrimp. He did note that a kayak angler had a couple of monster-sized blue catfish on the stringer. The high/muddy water was problematic in many areas during the past week, and we had reports of tough trips from Mason Springs, Hillsboro, and the upper Choptank, as well. We did get a report from an angler fishing near the West River that they are starting to catch a few white perch while fishing with grass shrimp at night. The bite isn’t hot but some fish are moving into the area and should continue to do so as water temperatures rise. We need to note that Natural Resources police officers have been enforcing the striped bass circle hook restrictions on perch anglers, interpreting fishing with minnow as “live lining.” This means that the normal j-hooks, jigheads, and shad darts that just about everyone uses for perch would not be allowed in the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries. It is okay to use j-hooks if you are fishing in non-tidal waters or are using bait other than live finfish. You can read the circle hook regulations here; we are hoping to get more clarification on this matter in the future.

rockfish in the middle chesapeake
Reports have been mixed, but there are still big fish in the Middle Bay. (Photo not current).

A reader report came in from Eastern Bay that the bait is still thick out there, but the rockfish weren’t very anxious to eat early this week between rainstorms; jigging produced just a couple of fish in the mid-20s, which hit pearl paddletails. Another reader confirmed that there is a lot of bait on the western side of the shipping channel near Poplar Island and just inside Eastern Bay, but rockfish are very scattered. The best approach seems to be searching for bait with sidescan, then setting up for long drifts in those areas to try and catch the small groups of fish coming through. Big migratory fish that wintered in the Bay may have begun to push into the tidal rivers. As water temperatures warm, we should see more fish move up the Bay towards spawning grounds. March is the last month to catch and release striped bass before the April and May closure, so get out soon if you want to catch them before they leave. Some areas are closed to targeting right now and you can view the maps of open and closed areas on the Maryland DNR website.

Middle Chesapeake Bay Fishing Report, March 1 Update:

RED ALERT for Perch Anglers: We have received multiple phone calls and emails this week about anglers perch fishing with minnow on bottom rigs (in tidal areas) being issued warnings by the NRP for not “live lining” with circle hooks. Please spread the word, if you fish minnow for perch this weekend with shad darts or standard bottom rigs you are at risk of being cited!!! Even more important, when we reached out to the DNR about this we were told large numbers of floating/dead perch were spotted when and where this occurred. Since this is certainly not the norm we worry something else may be amiss - if you are out there fishing this weekend and see a fish kill occurring it should be reported to the Maryland Department of the Environment hotline, 800/285-8195.

white perch showing up early
White perch already? We had readers check in this week with reports of them showing up on the spawning grounds.

Both yellow and white perch have begun showing signs of spawning, and are beginning to show up in shallow areas upriver of their pre-spawn wintering grounds. Minnow on tiny bucktails and darts were doing the trick, but we don’t know that there are any with circle hooks which would satisfy this new form of rule interpretation/enforcement. One reader mentioned that the whites he’s beginning to see are hammers in the 12-plus inch range. Contributor Eric Packard hit the Patuxent near Jug Bay early this week but didn’t have minnow, and said he caught blue cats up to 28” on cut menhaden. He also spoke with several other boats but only one had found a lone perch and the other’s catches were all catfish.

The striped bass action in the Middle Bay picked back up this week with many light tackle anglers finding success. Fish have been found anywhere from Chesapeake Beach to the Choptank and down to the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant. Open water jigging in 40 to 70 feet of water has produced the best results. There were even reports of bird shows picking back up giving away the location of the fish. One reader wrote in to let us know they got out for the stripers last weekend and found schools of fish in the lower Middle Bay. They mentioned that fish were glued to the bottom and preferred a subtle jigging technique over more aggressive retrieves. They didn’t catch any giants, but fish ranged from 18 to 32 inches. Certainly, a good day of striper fishing for February.

The catch and release striped bass fishing regulations are getting stricter as we head into March. The main stem of the Bay is still open for catch and release fishing, but many of the rivers will be closed to targeting striped bass. In the middle Bay, the Choptank River and Patuxent River are closed to targeting. The main stem of the Bay will remain open to catch and release fishing from the Brewerton Channel to the Virginia line, including the Tangier and Pocomoke Sounds. Maps of the open and closed areas can be found on the Maryland DNR website.