May: The most wonderful time of the year

May: The most wonderful time of the year
This Casselman rainbow took my dry fly in late fall. (Bill May photo)

It was a smorgasbord kind of a day with my cousin, Chuck Thompson, stripers to 26" on poppers, 3-lb pickerel, yellow perch to 12" and white perch to 11" for the dinner table. I love the fall.

I was nearly through writing this column Wednesday morning when the above Facebook note, with pictures, came in from Joe Bruce.


So, as I was saying ...

For outdoor folks, this is the most wonderful time of the year — weather permitting, and until Thanksgiving and Christmas, that is.

Chesapeake Bay and Tributaries

Locals often refer to October as “Rocktober” because of the reawakening of striper activity in the in the Chesapeake watershed. With cooler temperatures fly and light tackle fishing opportunities increase as the baitfish and predators move toward the shallows, and breaking fish become more common. Though bluefish depart cooler waters, gray trout and speckled trout become more accessible along with white perch, yellow perch and brackish water pickerel.

In my experience, Rocktober is just the beginning. I’ve usually done better on the above species in November. Later the big stripers arrive as they migrate down the coast and enter the Bay or come through the C & D canal. So fishing can be very good through the end of the year.

The Severn and Magothy Rivers and other tributaries offer good white and yellow perch fishing through the end of the year, and pickerel can be taken as long as waters aren’t iced over. (See above.)

Local Reservoirs

In a similar situation, bass and pickerel feed more actively and in more shallow water with falling temperatures. Jerkbaits and even surface lures are often more effective than deep jigs and deep diving crankbaits as bass and pickerel move toward shore and shallower breaklines and structure. In heavily pressured reservoirs finesse fishing techniques with small jigs like “float and fly” rigs take panfish, bass and pickerel. I’ve had some great fishing on sunny afternoons in late fall as baitfish and predators move toward warming shallows.

I took this largemouth on a hollow frog in Piney Run in late October two years ago working openings in the pad fields.
I took this largemouth on a hollow frog in Piney Run in late October two years ago working openings in the pad fields. (Bill May photo)

Fall is also the time of year for big catches of schooling crappies and white perch. Trolling with small jigs while watching the depth finder is the technique for finding fish, then casting to the schools is the more enjoyable technique for catching them.


Not only are bass, pickerel, and a variety of panfish more active, they’re often more accessible as weeds die down and holes begin to appear in pad fields. This also applies to reservoirs like Loch Raven and Piney Run and rivers like the tidal Potomac.

Work the holes with frog lures and flies and swim flukes, weedless spoons and small spinnerbaits through longer openings in the pads and over grass beds.

Upper Potomac and Susquehanna Rivers

If water levels continue to drop and finally get to safe wading and boating levels, October can be a great time for smallmouth bass surface action. My favorite lures are fly rod poppers and sliders and Tiny Torpedoes and Pop-R’s with spin tackle. Plastic crayfish imitations bounced along bottom are always good. Some of the best fishing comes on quiet mornings before the fog burns off the river.


Steam-bred trout become more active, and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources resumes stocking local streams. (See

My favorite trout fishing method is swinging a pair of wet flies, but fishing is often complicated by leaves on the water (as is true to varying degrees for all waters listed). Short, precise casts with dry flies and terrestrials can solve some of these problems. I often fish bushy attractor flies like size 12 or 14 Humpy patterns with a wet fly dropper this time of year, and, it seems trout hit the Humpy as often as the dropper.

A mid-size striper taken on medium fly tackle in typical blustery fall weather in the shallows off Crisfield.
A mid-size striper taken on medium fly tackle in typical blustery fall weather in the shallows off Crisfield. (Bill May photo)

Streamers, like size 10 black wooly buggers, come into their own in the fall, and small spinners, like the size 1 Mepps, work early in the stocking period.

Foliage and wildlife

Western Maryland is usually the best place for fall foliage in Maryland, so I always try to get to the Casselman River in Garrett County in the fall for delayed harvest trout fishing and scenery.


I often quote cartoonist Walt Kelly who said by way of Pogo, Ain’t nothin’ better’n fishing and bird watchin’.” Fall may be the best time for seeing songbirds, waterfowl and migrating birds of all kinds. Snow geese and Canada geese may be the most noteworthy, but even huge flocks of starlings are interesting to watch. Around Thanksgiving, the gathering of eagles at Conowingo begins.

On the Bay, pelicans, osprey, and loons join the multiple species of gulls, terns and other species diving on baitfish and tipping off anglers. Big, dive-bombing gannets are exciting to watch and often indicate big baits, like large menhaden, and big stripers.

At water’s edge squirrels and beavers are busier with winter preparations, and deer are in the rut and on the move.

Wildlife Refuges

Late fall is prime time to visit National Wildlife Refuges. Blackwater is arguably the star attraction in our area, but there are three others in Maryland. Besides Blackwater, the Delmarva Peninsula offers additional great wildlife viewing opportunities at Prime Hook and Bombay Hook in Delaware. (See


As stated earlier, weather is a major factor in the fall. Hurricane season is well underway, but “normal” fall weather sometimes includes temperature swings, windy or foggy conditions, so plan and monitor.


This is just a fishing-oriented snapshot. In addition to hunting for deer, turkey and other species many other opportunities and activities can be found at outdoor fall fairs and in nearby local, state and national parks, such as the Piney Run, Patapsco Valley, and Catoctin Mountain parks.