Freshwater Fishing Report, March 2024

Freshwater Fishing Report, March 29 Update:

Spring is not off to the fair weather start many of us were hoping for this year. The rain and wind made things tough last weekend, but we heard from a couple hearty anglers who braved the conditions and caught some trout. Stocked ponds and lakes were the best bet to avoid high water conditions but we heard from those having success in some northern Maryland rivers, too. We also heard from FishTalk intern Adam Greenberg, who said the crappie were biting in upper Eastern Shore tribs and on the Miles he caught around 20 (plus a couple of bass) fishing minnow on white marabou jigs under bobbers.

trout fishing in the spring
Luke braved the rain and the trout didn't seem to mind it one bit, either.

Freshwater correspondent Jim Gronaw checked in with a report from his latest adventures chasing freshwater species. Jim said that he has been steadily catching crappie as they advance to their pre-spawn patterns. Most fish are staged outside of the shallows and males have been mixed in with some egg-laden females. They took Z-Man micro finesse baits like the Baby BallerZ and the StingerZ on 1/32 and 1/16th ounce jigheads fished three to four feet below a bobber. Tipping these baits with either a Crappie Nibble or a Trout Magnet Slab Bite can really entice the fish to bite. Jim also said that the sporadic weather has produced sporadic fishing for bass. Wacky-rigged worms have caught fish up to four pounds and smaller crankbaits are working well in shallower areas. The next warm stretch should get these fish back into pre-spawn mode.

Opening day for trout season in Maryland is this weekend on March 30th and in Pennsylvania is April 6 (Virginia remains open). There are plenty of fish to catch throughout the region and it shouldn’t be hard to find some fish willing to bite. Maryland DNR has been busy stocking thousands of hatchery raised brown, golden, and rainbow trout across the start this month with the start time for fishing in Closure 1 and Closure 2 areas is 6:30am. Areas not in the closure locations have remained open to trout fishing and plenty of anglers have found success this week. Virginia is also teeming with trout that can be found all over the state. It is a great time of year to chase these freshwater fish, so take advantage of the abundant opportunities. Visit the Maryland DNR trout stocking website, Pennsylvania trout stocking website, and the Virginia DWR trout stocking website for the most up to date stocking information.

Freshwater Fishing Report, March 22 Update:

Spring has arrived and trout anglers are looking forward to an exciting time of year. State agencies have been out stocking various water bodies, and the warmer temperatures will soon bring hatches to the streams. Mossy Creek gave us the latest from their neck of the woods. They reported that water levels were perfect this week and the fishing has been good from the mountain tops down to the valley. Brook trout fishing was very good thanks to last week’s warm up. Dry dropper rigs with bushy dry flies and attractor nymphs are working very well. They expect caddis and quill Gordons to start popping soon. However, a big rain event is expected this weekend which will raise flows and muddy up the waters for a few days. Luckily there are plenty of stocked lakes and ponds to fish in while stream conditions are tough. Maryland DNR stocked many locations in the southern end of the state last week. There are trout just about everywhere throughout Maryland and Virginia right now. This coming weekend is also the first youth-only trout fishing day in Maryland. If you have time to get the youngsters out this weekend, it is a great opportunity to get them fishing. Make sure to visit the Maryland DNR trout stocking website and the Virginia DWR trout stocking website for the latest trout stocking information.

fishing for shad in the rivers
This Mason Springs shad was one of four caught (on small white/red darts) despite fishing on a chilly afternoon this week. Photo courtesy of Eric Packard.

The spring runs are still happening with shad beginning to appear in numbers and the transition from yellow perch to white perch taking place. Anglers Sport Center let us know that Eastern Shore tributaries like the Choptank, Nanticoke, Tuckahoe, and Marshyhope have been hot spots for perch. They recommend using grass shrimp under a bobber if you are fishing in shallow water and bottom rigs if you are fishing deeper. The white perch are also showing up more consistently in the Patuxent tributaries with anglers reporting success near Jug Bay and the Western Branch. Shad have now showed up to some degree in all the tributaries that get runs, with the best bites reported thus far in the upper Rappahannock and Potomac. This week the action slowed a bit on the chilly days, but it should pick right back up when we get more warm, sunny weather.

The warm weather last week led snakehead enthusiasts to venture out in search of their first fish of the year. We heard successful reports from all over the state and even got reports of fish hitting topwater frogs on the warm and sunny afternoons. Apex Predators guide service let us know the bite was hot last week during the warm spell with snakeheads up to 12 pounds from Potomac River tributaries. Bass also offered good action and were getting into their pre-spawn patterns moving up to shallower water. Unfortunately, the recent colder temperatures slowed the bite down. Topwater can be effective on the warmer days, but you will likely get more bites sticking with subsurface lures like spinners and chatterbaits.

Freshwater Fishing Report, March 15 Update:

FishTalk intern Adam Greenberg hit several ponds plus the Miles River over the weekend and reported a good bite on minnow under bobbers despite the rain. The river produced a nice bunch of crappie, plus a couple of largemouth bass up to 5.5 pounds. He also took a stab at the Potomac but reported chocolate-milk water and was only able to manage one smallmouth that hit a white spinnerbait. Crappie action was hot in various other locations of the state including the lower Eastern Shore tidal rivers, central Maryland, and Virginia reservoirs. Minnows are the hot bait right now, but marabou jigs will work too if you can’t get live bait.

freshwater fishing in maryland
FishTalk intern Adam found plenty of fish willing to bite even in the rain last weekend.

The warm temperatures this week have spurred some early snakehead action, and we heard successful reports from the Blackwater areas and on Potomac tributaries. Afternoons on sunny days typically produce the best bite because water temperatures will be at their warmest during this part of the day. The fish won’t be super shallow yet, but will push into a few feet of water, so chatterbaits and spinnerbaits will be good options to throw. Covering water will be the name of the game. Fishing live minnows under a bobber is also very effective this time of year while the water temperatures are still on the cooler side. It’s time to start chasing those dragons, folks!

This week has also been exciting for trout anglers as stocking crews have been busy. Contributor Eric Packard reports that the day after stocking in some local ponds he had success with his fly rod, though he also noted that anglers using Powerbait on spinning gear were catching fish at a significantly faster rate. The weather is great for trout fishing and with an abundance of fish all around, anglers should make it a point to take advantage of these opportunity. Virginia also is a premiere state for trout fishing and the Blue Ridge Mountains offer some amazing scenery. Visit the Virginia DWR trout stocking website and the Maryland DNR trout stocking website for more information.

Freshwater Fishing Report, March 8 Update:

Warmer and longer days are giving us signs of Spring as Winter comes to an end. Contributor Eric Packard reported a washout in some Western Shore creeks interrupted the perch bite last week, but despite high water there was a good bite on a wide mix of species including pickerel, bass, and crappie at St. Mary’s Lake. The AIC and several readers similarly reported that last weekend was tough on perch anglers, and it was mostly catfish providing the bites in the high, muddy waters. The EIC did note picking up a couple of small white perch on shad darts tipped with grass shrimp. FishTalk’s new intern Adam Greenberg reported hitting the Potomac, the Canal, and some Montgomery County ponds but again, the bite was tough at best. He did note catching some bass in an Eastern Shore pond on minnow under bobbers. Another reader wrote in after fishing a southern Maryland lake and reported that bass and crappie were unwilling to hit artificial lures, but seemed eager to hit minnows fished just above bottom.

smallmouth bass caught in the susquehanna river
Lucy braved the rain, and was justly rewarded with this nice Susky smallmouth.

If you go perch fishing in Maryland waters, note that Natural Resources police officers have been enforcing the striped bass circle hook restrictions on perch anglers, interpreting fishing with minnow as “live lining.” This means that the normal j-hooks, jigheads, and shad darts that just about everyone uses for perch would not be allowed in the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries. It is okay to use j-hooks if you are fishing in non-tidal waters or are using bait other than live finfish. You can read the circle hook regulations here; we are hoping to get more clarification on this matter in the future.

On the trout front, a reader reported great action on stockers on the Patapsco just before all the rain hit. He tangled with five rainbows and had a golden take a swipe at his Panther Martin as well. He noted that using a light, long leader was key. Mossy Creek Fly Fishing let us know that mountain stream temps are in the low to mid 40s and they anticipate that to bump up a few degrees early this week. Dry fly fishing has been fun but until the major hatches like the Quill Gordon kick off, the majority of fish will be caught on nymphs. The spring creeks are full of water and looking great. These conditions are perfect for streamer fishing until the caddis hatches really mature. Several locations are also getting stocked weekly in Virginia and Maryland, so make sure to visit the DWR trout stocking website and the DNR trout stocking website for the latest information.

Freshwater Fishing Report, March 1 Update:

RED ALERT for Perch Anglers: We have received multiple phone calls and emails this week about anglers perch fishing with minnow on bottom rigs (in tidal areas) being issued warnings by the NRP for not “live lining” with circle hooks. Please spread the word, if you fish minnow for perch this weekend with shad darts or standard bottom rigs you are at risk of being cited!!! Even more important, when we reached out to the DNR about this we were told large numbers of floating/dead perch were spotted when and where this occurred. Since this is certainly not the norm we worry something else may be amiss - if you are out there fishing this weekend and see a fish kill occurring it should be reported to the Maryland Department of the Environment hotline, 800/285-8195.

herb with a big yellow perch
Herb enjoyed some excellent action in the Eastern Shore millponds this week.

Erratic weather to end February is a sure sign that Spring is on the way as we enter March. Contributor Eric Packard reported a good bite on pickerel in the Eastern Shore millponds prior to the heavy winds and rain moving in this week; minnow was the best bait. Several reports came in from readers looking to get in on the perch runs in the upper reaches of the tributaries, with mentions of a mix of yellows and whites. However, for every report of success we also heard about a strike-out or a minimal catch and no one area seemed worthy of being called reliable at this point.

Spring is on our doorstep which has trout anglers excited. Conditions are improving and more hatches will be emerging soon. We checked in with Mossy Creek Fly Fishing for the latest updates from the western zones. They said that little black caddis, quill gordons, and a few other little mayflies and midges are hatching now. Once water temps bump up a few more degrees the dry fly fishing will start to be more consistent. They expect nymphing to be the most productive approach in the mountains with size 12 - 14 flies with 5x leaders and tippet. The spring creeks will begin seeing more caddis over the next few weeks popping off as well. If you are an angler who relies on the state stocking programs, the good news is that they have been busy getting fish out there. Many areas in western Maryland were stocked this past week. Both Virginia and Maryland have an abundance of water bodies with stocked fish. March is a great time to get out and target trout as the weather warms up. Make sure to visit the Virginia DWR and Maryland DNR trout stocking web pages for the latest information.