Keith Lockwood: Summer is officially here and so is the good fishing

The summer season officially started Monday, but for most, schools are out and it is time for family vacations and spending more family time together.

Traveling the highways linking vacation destinations, family vehicles can be seen loaded down with all kinds of fun gear ranging from bicycles of all sizes to kayaks and pulling campers.

On the Eastern Shore, where I live, most of the traffic is on Route 50 headed toward Ocean City or returning. Last Saturday I happened to take stock of some of the traffic headed east and had fun guessing where families were headed by what gear they had packed.

Some were headed to camp grounds and some to rental properties; one particular pickup truck from West Virginia was stuffed with mom, dad, the kids, and a pickup bed full of bikes, with a surf rod sticking out and a camper being towed behind. I suspect they were headed for Assateague State Park.

When I was checking out of a discount department store familiar to all; a guy in front of me had a collection of hooks with wire leaders, a Got-Cha lure and a spool of new monofilament. I knew he was headed to Ocean City and wondered how he heard about the good fishing for bluefish there.

I thought maybe, just maybe, he had read the fishing report?

As I headed out the door a 12 year old girl in pigtails was proudly walking with her parents with a flashy metallic red spinning rod and reel and I surmised they were headed to do some local freshwater or tidal river fishing.

Out on the waters, trolling has been good along the channel edges on the western side of the bay from Thomas Point south. Umbrella rigs, tandem bucktails or swim shads along with spoons have been popular and trolled with inline weights and planers to get them down to the fish.

Ballast stone piles are not to be overlooked either and if you find a bump out at the mouth of the Choptank for example; mark it because these are valuable spots to look for “rockfish”. To those who might be wondering, these ballast stone piles are where 17th and 18th century sailing ships tossed the rocks over the side that were in the bilges of sailing vessels.

The rocks helped to keep the ships upright in weather when coming across the Atlantic from England with a light cargo load. Once the ships were ready to enter ports at Oxford, Cambridge or Annapolis the ship crews set up a relay to dump the rocks over the side to make room for a full cargo load leaving the Americas and heading back to England. Cargo ships returning from the Caribbean often did the same thing but used coral for ballast.

The shallower water fishing for striped bass continues to be good in most areas despite cloudy water conditions due to severe weekend winds and our little friends the cow-nosed rays. The tides this week are not exactly ideal in the middle bay area with low tide occurring in the evening. In many areas the grass is fairly thick so topwater lures such as poppers or skipping bugs is the way to go and certainly provides the greatest entertainment factor.

Perhaps the most exciting fishing going on in the lower bay region right now is the welcomed arrival of substantial numbers of croakers. The croakers are now moving into the region in large enough numbers that it is not difficult to catch a daily limit of 25 croakers. The croakers are relatively small compared to what we experienced 10 to 15 years ago with most falling in the size range of 10- to-12-inches. The minimum size for croakers is 9 inches.

The croaker are moving up the Patuxent River and fishing is hot and heavy at the mouth of the river. Other areas where excellent fishing is occurring are the lower Potomac River, Point Lookout, the Buoy 72 area, the Middle Grounds and Tangier Sound.

The best fishing is at night when the croakers move into shallow areas. Peeler crab is perhaps the best and most economical bait to use on a bottom rig but bloodworms are great and wild domestic shrimp and squid can also work. Generally a number 4 hook is about right and little spinner blades can help attract croakers to the bait. Fortunately you can find them already snelled and ready to go on a two hook bottom rig with just enough sinker to hold bottom. No spot have been reported anywhere in the lower bay region yet. There are plenty of blue catfish in the lower Potomac River and channel catfish in the Patuxent.

Recreational crabbing continues to be very good in the most all of the tidal rivers in the middle and lower bay regions. The crabs from the season’s first molt are filling out nicely and it is not uncommon for recreational crabbers to catch a full bushel of heavy crabs per outing. Most crabbers are now using chicken necks since the cow-nosed rays have moved into the Maryland portion of the bay in force.

Ocean City is starting to look more and more like summer as water temperatures reach 64 degrees in and around the Inlet. Surf fishing has been good for a mix of bluefish and a few large striped bass and a whole lot of skates and sting rays. Cut menhaden has been one of the more popular baits, but finger mullet and sand fleas are also being used. Those targeting kingfish are using bloodworms for bait.

At the Inlet bluefish continue to move in and out of the inlet and are being caught mostly on Got-Cha lures but they can also be caught on bucktails, spoons and chunk baits. Striped bass are being caught on swim shads, bucktails and by drifting live eels. There are still some nice tautog being caught near the jetties, bulkheads and bridge piers in the area. Sand fleas and pieces of crab have been favored baits.

Bluefish have invaded the back bay areas and are providing some fun action. The flounder fishing has not been so good lately due to cloudy water conditions brought on by strong winds earlier this week.

Outside the inlet the boats heading out to the wreck and reef sites are still finding good sea bass fishing but limit catches are not as common as they were last month. Flounder are now being caught and help add to the mix. Farther offshore the boats trolling at the canyons are finding a mix of yellowfin tuna, dolphin and bigeye tuna. Rigged ballyhoo has been the most productive offering.

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