The Atlantic Croaker that is also locally known as a Hardhead is one of the most fun to catch and good to eat migratory fishes that move up the Chesapeake Bay and into rivers in Maryland each spring.
Right now, on our Potomac border, you can expect to catch the larger two or three pound croakers in the Wicomico River from one of three public landings in St. Mary’s County. A phone call to Quade’s Store confirmed that the croakers have indeed arrived at Bushwood Wharf as well as good numbers of Blue and Channel Catfish. Further up the river, croakers can also be caught at Chaptico Wharf and the Wicomico Shores Public Landing. These are three of the finest fishing piers that you will find in May and early June. The price cannot be beat. Free to the public is a very good deal.
On the Patuxent side, there is a shore fishing croaker hot spot off the beach at Myrtle Point Park. You can surf cast into water that is over a hundred feet deep right from the point of the beach. However, the best fishing is usually found along the upper slope of the drop-off where fish position for food during a moving tide. During the week, there is no charge to enter the park. Remember, to release Striped Bass until the river season opens on June 1.
Though most people use cut squid for bait, fresh shrimp or steamed cocktail shrimp is killer bait for croakers. The steamed cocktail shrimp stay on the hook well and seem to attract more croaker bites than any bait I have thus far tried. I have to thank Paulie Thompson at Thompson’s Seafood in Mechanicsville for this tip. I can’t think of a better place to pick up both bait and dinner.
The trusty old double hook bottom rig with 1/0 hooks and an ounce of lead is the standard rig for hooking croakers. In the Wicomico, I’d probably put a bigger hook on the top wire hanger baited with cut fresh alewife. That combo of shrimp and alewife will tempt bites from either croaker, perch, or catfish.
Croaker fishing from a pier is quite productive. But, you can increase your odds by taking a boat to the edge of a channel and fishing along that edge. Also, oyster beds are particularly good feeding grounds for croakers to dine upon. Drift fishing will help you cover a lot of bottom till you find a good area to anchor.
The croaker limit of 25 per angler is quite generous. Make sure you keep those noisy fish chilled or iced down well. No sense spoiling that delectable salt water taste that croakers are known for. Fresh fried croaker is fine eating. Freezing the fillets diminishes the flavor greatly.
Also, make sure you learn the difference between an Atlantic Croaker and a Red Drum. A croaker 9 inches long is legal to keep but a Red Drum under 18 inches long or over 27 inches will earn you a costly citation from the DNR officer tasked with checking out your catch.
However, should you catch a jumbo croaker 18 inches or over, you can check it in at the Tackle Box in Lexington Park for a better kind of citation that you can frame and put on your wall. The Fishing in Maryland Citation is issued at no cost to you and proclaims to all that you caught a big fish.
And, you can still eat the one that did not get away. Catch ‘em up!
Larry Jarboe – firstname.lastname@example.org