The Coming Season Is Now
Our new angling year on the Tidewater is rich with possibilities. But if you don’t plan to take advantage of what’s happening now, some good times may slip past. A number of particularly great fisheries have already started.
The yellow perch spring run, always the first to grace our calendar, is in full blossom. These beautiful and tasty rascals can be found in many Bay tributary headwaters. With a minimum size of nine inches and a limit of 10 fish a day, they represent the first opportunity of the year for that great Bay tradition: the perch fry.
Fish Are Biting ...
Both yellow and white perch are the hot items right now. Fishing up in the headwaters of our tributaries with grass shrimp, minnows or a piece of worm on a shad dart suspended under a small bobber is traditional and very effective. Sandy Point, Matapeake and Ft. Smallwood are producing some big stripers for catch-and-release, particularly at nighttime and very early morning. The Bill Burton Fishing Pier over the Choptank River in Cambridge is turning up some nice catfish for anglers fishing with night crawlers and shrimp; they’re getting some white perch as well.
The Susquehanna Flats catch-and-release season for rockfish opened on March 1, though action has been slow. The first stripers of the season were caught only a few days ago. The bite has been irregular, with fish responding only to live or cut bait, but that will change. Take this opportunity to tangle with a striped monster on light tackle.
The white perch run has started early this year, with smaller fish already arriving at the traditional perch spawning grounds in tributary headwaters. Mixed in with the little bucks have been some awesome fish. Recently 13-inchers have been reported, as well as one or two that breached the 14-inch mark. Those are enormous white perch and good predictors of an even better season to come.
Calico bass or crappie are on the bite in March as well. Found mostly in our freshwater impoundments and the sweet-water reaches of tributaries, these hard-fighting panfish are such good eating that information on likely locations and hot bites is shared only among intimate relations. You’ll have to ferret out runs of these particularly tasty fish on your own.
Any day now, hickory shad will be arriving up the Bay from their ocean-wide sojourn. A large-mouthed silvery fish reaching up to 23 inches, this member of the herring family can be a great catch on ultra-light spin or fly tackle. Emulating its larger cousin, the tarpon, the hickories like to take to the air when hooked.
Before their numbers were devastated by silt, stormwater runoff and agricultural chemicals, hickories were prized for their roe, which is gourmet quality. Now limited to catch-and-release fishing, the hard fighting speedsters can still provide a mean tango for any early season angler who cares for a dance.
The arrival of April will coincide with initiation of courting activities by largemouth bass as well as of their smaller cousin, the bluegill, in most non-tidal waters as well as the fresher parts of the Bay. This means they will be moving out of their winter deep-water holes and arriving in the shallows searching for prospective mates and rooting out their nesting sites. They will be aggressive and eager to attack anything that comes near their territory, such as a soft plastic salamander or crank bait, or for bluegill, small spinners, popping bugs and flies.
The possession of largemouth bass is prohibited until June 15, but catching is okay. The spectacular show these renown battlers provide make a memorable encounter. As to the ’gills, there is no more eager or furious fighter than these miniature freshwater bass. On the dinner table, a crispy bluegill and a cold lager welcomes in any fishing season.
On April 15, the spring trophy season begins for the king of Chesapeake fishing, rockfish. Kicked off by the superb opening day party in Boatyard Bar and Grill’s Annual Rockfish Tournament, the trophy season is the best opportunity to catch and keep a striped bass after it has matured and left its Chesapeake birthplace for a life cruising the Atlantic seaboard. They return for only a short visit this time each spring.
The spring trophy season is primarily a trolling affair, with big lures, planer boards and lots of rigs in the water, but jumbo rockfish can also be targeted by fresh and cut baits. Fishing big bloodworms or menhaden on the bottom at Sandy Point State Park, Matapeake State Park or Fort Smallwood Park can often turn up some humongous stripers for a shore-bound angler armed with persistence.