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The Rain’s Silver Lining

Cold, oxygenated fresh water follows in the wake of murk and logs

Torrential rains have complicated fishing. The muddy plume now spreading from the Conowingo Dam to well below the Bay Bridge has not been pretty, and the accompanying debris field is dangerous and ugly. Whatever bite was going on before the rains has been disrupted. But there may be a silver lining. 

That vast surge of cold, oxygenated freshwater pouring down from the rivers has dropped the previously high water temperature in the mainstem Chesapeake by as much as three and sometimes four degrees. The drop has dissipated many of the large dead zones that were oxygen-deprived and incapable of sustaining life for any Bay species. 

In late June and throughout July, many rockfish moved well north of the Bay Bridge, whether from pressure from marauding dolphins, excess temperatures or other, more mysterious factors. Now fish seem to be reorienting themselves in the middle Bay. 

The primary areas attracting and holding rockfish are those experiencing the cleansing currents from the larger tributaries. That includes the mouths and the down-current areas of the Chester, Choptank, Patapsco, Magothy, Severn and on down to the South River. 

Though angling prospects look positive, the most important rule in exploring the Bay these days is to be careful. Many of the timbers washed down from the Conowingo’s floodgates are still afloat. Lots of them are large and waterlogged. That means they may not be visible above the surface, and if you’re running your boat at speed, there’s a good chance you won’t see them until it’s too late. 

Go cautiously no matter how placid the surface appears. Striking a large submerged timber sideways can mean extensive and expensive damage to your hull or lower units. An end-on strike can sink you. 

Consider exploring for fish up the tributaries, which will have less debris plus the many baitfish schools and stripers that have sought refuge there from the muddy waters. The mouths of even the lesser feeder tribs and creeks can be likely places for marauding rock on a falling tide in low light. 

Rockfish that have been attracted to the cleaner waters of all of these smaller waterways can be tempted by chumming, jigging, plug-casting, throwing spinner baits, live-lining around structure and channel edges or fishing cut bait on the bottom. A falling tide and an outgoing current are best conditions. 

As the Bay cleanup continues and waters become clear of debris, our fishing fortunes should improve as well. In the meantime, be careful out there. 


Fish Finder 

Rockfish are moving around quite a bit. Using fresh baits such as menhaden (alewife), soft crab and spot, chumming, chunking, drifting and just plain bottom fishing have been catching limits. Closer in to the shoreline in the earliest and latest hours, jerk baits, crankbaits and top-water plugs will bring rock. Small Norfolk spot are good for live-lining; Rockfish will also take small white perch, but they are much more likely to commit to the spot. 

Some bluefish up to 20 inches have reached the Bay Bridge. Beware of cutoffs, and have some wire leaders handy. 

White perch fishing has been disturbed by the heavy rainfalls. 

Crabbing is good in the cleaner water of the tributaries but goes cold wherever dirty water settles in.