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Bill May: Putting together some fall fishing plans

A small, single-barbless hook jigging spoon can be cast, trolled and deep jigged and is ideal for taking a variety of Bay species.
A small, single-barbless hook jigging spoon can be cast, trolled and deep jigged and is ideal for taking a variety of Bay species. (Bill May photo)

Lord Ronald said nothing; he … flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.” — Stephen Leacock

The next few months offer so many fishing and other outdoor options, it’s hard to decide what to do.

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A good starting point is visiting the Maryland Department of Natural Resources websites for “Fishing,” which includes regulations, a weekly fishing report and trout stockings, “Fall Foliage and Festival Reports” and “Click Before You Cast.”

All are packed with information. Then you can plan according to availability.

Near Term

Water temperatures, oxygen levels and weed and algae conditions are key factors in Chesapeake Bay.

With all fishing circle hooks and single hook or single treble hook lures are preferred, in most cases, and circle hooks are mandated in some. Many stripers, bluefish and sea trout are undersized and should be released quickly and carefully.

The incredible number of species available, particularly in the upper and middle Bay won’t last for long. The great striper, bluefish, redfish, and Spanish mackerel fishing available now in the upper and middle Chesapeake will decline within the next few weeks as these species migrate south down the Bay with dropping water temperatures. Likewise spot, the premier bait for live-lining, will leave.

This fly angler took trout on small nymphs in the Patapsco in winter.
This fly angler took trout on small nymphs in the Patapsco in winter. (Bill May photo)

In fresh water snakehead fishing will also decline, at least for lure fishing, but live bait can still work. Trout in put-and-take streams will likely be decimated within a few weeks of stocking. However, with drought-induced low water levels in many streams, we can expect more trout stockings in lakes and reservoirs, and these fish could well survive through winter into spring stockings.

Fall Through the End of the Year

In salt water and brackish water fishing for stripers and white perch will generally be expected to be available through the end of the year but many of these fish too will migrate down the Bay. Hardheads and sea trout will leave a bit earlier.

White perch fishing at the “Upper Bay Lumps” and many Bay tributaries can be very good and provide tasty fillets for the freezer.

In fresh water carp, blue catfish, flathead catfish and channel catfish activity increases at least through November and may last longer. This is a good time for big carp and blue catfish. Crappie school up over deeper water, and big catches are possible.

Largemouth and smallmouth bass also become more active through November. After that fishing becomes more difficult. Some specialists take big smallmouths in rivers in cold weather, and some Delmarva pond fishermen target big largemouths.

Continuing Fishing Action

Pickerel can be taken in ponds and rivers from fall through spring where water temperatures are above 40 degrees. As waters cool, fly fishing with suspending streamer flies becomes more effective than conventional lures and later fishing with minnows on small jigheads or below floats becomes the most effective technique.

Trout in delayed harvest and catch-and-release waters can likewise continue through spring. Again this fishing is for specialists, who score during these times with tiny nymph, midge and trico patterns. Some trout in put-and-take waters survive the onslaught of opening weeks stockings and can be taken on the above flies or bait.

In salt water trophy striper fishing can be found at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel in Virginia and offshore in Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina waters. Check the regulations.

Warm water discharges can provide good cold weather striper fishing at times. Usually the best fishing occurs during periods of prolonged cold weather so that the fish are concentrated in the relatively small areas of warmer water near the discharge. The sewer pipe above the Bay Bridge on the Eastern Shore side is good at times.

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The discharge at the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant is usually one of the more reliable spots. In the Patapsco River, Brandon Shores Power Plant can be excellent at times, the discharge from Baltimore Medstar Hospital and another spot above the Hanover Bridge can be good at times.

The power plant near the Md. 301 Bridge is usually too hectic to recommend.

The discharge from the Dickerson Power Plant on the Potomac is a spot that can be fished from shore for smallmouths, catfish and panfish, but again only seems to be productive with the plant operating and with prolonged cold weather.

All these places tend to be ‘iffy.”

Safety

Fishing in cold weather demands extreme caution. Boats larger than 20 feet are needed in most Chesapeake waters. Canoe, kayak and small boat fishermen in ponds and Bay tributaries should proceed with caution: Fish with a companion and wear a PFD, preferably one with solid filling, already inflated or automatically inflating, with a light and whistle attached.

Hypothermia quickly inhibits one’s ability to swim or take any actions to save oneself from cold water.

Birding

A safer alternative to winter fishing is birding, and this is the time of great migrations. Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge near Cambridge is probably the best-known spot for viewing eagles and waterfowl. Make sure to check their website to see if prime birding areas are closed due to hunting, weather or maintenance.

The fall/winter gathering of eagles at Conowingo Dam, several hundred at times, is a spectacle for viewing both the birds and the many photographers.

But there are plenty of other, less crowded spots including some as nearby as Piney Run Park. See The Ornithological Society of Maryland website at https://mdbirds.org and Ornithological Society of Delaware at https://www.dosbirds.org.

The Bay Bridge

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge will likely be an adventure for the next couple of years, so you’ll need to factor this into plans for trips to Delmarva spots.

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