Upper Chesapeake Bay Fishing Report, March 2024

Upper Chesapeake Bay Fishing Report, March 29 Update:

White perch are still moving up the tidal rivers and into the creeks for their spawning runs in the Upper Bay. The weather was not great for fishing this week and we didn’t get any confirmed perch reports, but the fish should be out there. Live bait is usually best this time of year with grass shrimp and minnows being the most popular. Chesapeake Sabiki rigs work great in deeper water, so if the perch aren’t biting in the shallows, bumping out near oyster bottom is a good strategy. Blue catfish have been a reliable target this week and there are fish up to 40 pounds being caught from the Magothy up to Pooles Island. Any major channel edge is a good place to anchor up and toss out fresh cut bait on fish finder rigs. Water depths of 15 to 25 feet are usually a sweet spot, but anglers have been catching fish as shallow as five feet on recent trips.

fishing for white perch in the chesapeake tributaries
This week's reports of perch were dashed by the weather (out of area photo) but these fish should be biting strong when it warms back up a bit.

Pickerel fishing in the Upper Bay is still a great option in the early spring, but the fishing will start to slow down once water temperatures rise in the coming months. Tidal tributaries in the Magothy and Baltimore area creeks are prime locations for pickerel fishing. Focus on structure in the form of docks, fallen trees, and rock jetties as these fish will be sitting close by waiting to ambush bait. Anglers should note that pickerel fishing is catch-and-release only from March 15th though April 30th.

This weekend will be the last chance to target striped bass until mid-May in the Upper Bay. Most of the action has been south of the Bay Bridge, but anywhere along the main shipping channel could have fish moving up the Bay for the spawn. We did get a report from an angler shore fishing on Gibson Island who caught two striped bass over 40 inches this week. They didn’t give any details about what bait they were using to catch the fish, but it just goes to show these fish can be anywhere from the deep channels up into the shallows right now. 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. 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.

Upper Chesapeake Bay Fishing Report, March 22 Update:

This week it has been cold with wind, wind, and more wind. Not the best fishing conditions to start the season. The yellow perch run up the tidal tributaries in the Upper Bay has all but come and gone. The white perch have now taken their place, but as colder weather has moved back into the region, the bite has slowed down a bit. Perch reports were slim this week, but they had been offering a steady bite in the traditional spawning areas prior to the chill. Fishing during the warmer parts of the day will likely offer the best chance at a steady bite during this cooler stretch. Grass shrimp and minnows have been the preferred bait. The strategy has been to fish them on a jighead under a bobber in shallow water and on bottom rigs in deeper water.

fishing for white perch during the spring run
White perch have mostly replaced yellows in the spawning areas.

The blue catfish bite in the Upper Bay has really started to pick up in the tidal tributaries. We got a report from a boat fishing near Gibson Island that found fish in five to eight feet of water last weekend. They were using chunks of gizzard shad and bunker on fish finder rigs. The bites on gizzard shad far outnumbered the bites on bunker. Blue catfish up to 15 pounds were caught along with a channel catfish and a white catfish. There were other reports from boats fishing in the Magothy River who caught blue catfish up to 40 pounds along the main channel this week. Fishing for catfish should remain good in the Upper Bay throughout the spring, especially as warmer weather moves in. Anchoring up near channel edges or areas with clam bottom should put you in a good area to find them.

There is still a week and some change left to get out and target the big striped bass that are in the main-stem Bay right now. The no targeting closure will begin on April 1st and run through May 15th. The strong winds kept most boats off the water this week, and those that did venture out reported a much tougher bite. Boats running to south of the Bridge reported the most action with the Bloody Point area mentioned as productive. Fish have been holding in deeper water along channel edges and transition points chasing bait. It has mostly been small clusters of fish, but the chance at a 50 incher makes the effort of finding them worth it.

Upper Chesapeake Bay Fishing Report, March 15 Update:

It is feeling like spring more and more with the warm temperatures this week. FishTalk intern Adam Greenberg visited Beechwood Park on the Magothy in search of perch but reported seeing nothing more exciting than a river otter swimming by. While the yellow perch run can be very hard to time, the white perch run is usually more reliable. Warm air temperatures this week will have water temperatures on the rise and the perch should be running up to their spawning grounds. They will stack up in deeper holes at the mouths of creeks with a freshwater influence. If the perch are giving you trouble, pickerel should another reliable target right now. Warming water temperatures will have them cruising around looking to feed on baitfish. Southern shorelines will have the most sun exposure and warmest water temperatures by the end of the day, so searching these areas can be productive. The Magothy and Baltimore area tidal creeks all offer good opportunities for pickerel fishing.

minnow fishing for pickerel
If the perch aren't biting, pickerel should be willing to munch in many of the creeks and tribs.

There is an interesting opportunity that has been announced by the Environmental Justice Journal Initiative. They are conducting a program where anglers can turn in invasive fish species which includes snakeheads, blue catfish, and flathead catfish for $30 per head. The fish must be caught in the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River and can only be dropped off on specific days. Fish can be caught from land or by boat and there is no size limit. Anglers must fill out a registration form to participate which can be found on their website. This sound like a good initiative, but they may be surprised at the turnout and number of fish they get. The first drop off day is April 15th. Catching fish and getting paid sounds like a good gig but we will see how this goes.

Upper Chesapeake Bay Fishing Report, March 8 Update:

Many anglers are eagerly awaiting the arrival of Spring and each week we are seeing more signs of the season changing. Temperatures are warming up and fish are getting more active. Striped bass will be moving up the Bay to stage near their spawning grounds over the coming weeks. Although not much spawning takes place in many of the Western Shore rivers, you can still catch fish along main channel edges where they will be feeding on bait. One angler reported finding schoolie-sized rockfish around the 20-inch mark while he was out jigging in the Patapsco this week. Finding bait is very important this time of year, so using fish finders and covering lots of water will help you be more productive in your catch and release efforts. Some areas are closed to targeting right now and you can view the maps of open and closed areas on the Maryland DNR website.

upper bay perch run
Yellow perch have been making their runs, though weather conditions have not been overly cooperative. Photo by Eric Packard.

Perch runs have kicked off in the Upper Bay tidal tributaries, but reports have been mixed. FishTalk’s new intern Adam Greenberg visited Beechwood Park on the Magothy last weekend in search of perch but reported seeing just a few catfish caught, which jibes with reader reports that came in after the weekend from perch areas all around the dial, most of which were put on hold by high, muddy water after all the rainfall. More rain is in the forecast this weekend which may prolong the less-than-ideal water conditions in the Upper Bay. Fish will still bite, but they may be harder to locate. If you can get live minnows, they usually outperform artificial lures, but make sure you are using circle hooks. 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.

Upper 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.

magothy river pickerel
Pickerel are on the feed in the Upper Bay tribs.

Just like that February has gone and March is here. One step closer to spring. Readers checking in from the Baltimore area creeks this week noted an uptick in the pickerel action, including a 25-incher that was reported. We also heard that the pickerel bite in the Magothy had hit its stride, and a few accidental stripers were being caught in the river as well. Along with the pickerel, yellow perch action has picked up. Anglers are starting to catch more fish in the upper Magothy as the fish head towards their spawning creeks. They haven’t made it all the way up to the spawning grounds, but searching for them in the tidal creeks will likely yield decent results. We had one report from a kayaker who caught around a dozen on an afternoon trip. Minnows have been the hot bait (see above!!), but grass shrimp work well too. Anglers Sport Center recommends floating minnows under a bobber while casting them towards nearshore structure like docks or fallen trees. Be ready for the perch to really start moving as milder temperatures are in the forecast.

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 Upper Bay, the Chester, Sassafras, Bohemia, and Elk rivers 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.