Believe it or not, there is no reason for a fisherman (or woman) in the Chesapeake watershed to hang up the rods to wait for the Spring fish runs. Though trophy Striped Bass season won’t be open till April 18, there are plenty of opportunities for catch and release of big rockfish in the warm discharge outlets of power plants. On any mild day in the winter, many recreational fishermen will be found drifting in the churning current of the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant offshore of Calvert County, Maryland. Heavy jig heads armed with 10 inch Bass Kandy Delights (BKD) will catch fat Striped Bass from the rocky bottom. However, remember that this is catch and release fishing. A Striped Bass in the boat will net you a hefty fine in January, February, March, and much of April.
Forget fishing in the creeks. Those White Perch that were so willing to bite at the edge of the grass in warmer weather are hunkered down in deep holes out in the river. They will bite on a slowly moved small jig or fresh bait but you must put it right under their chins, often eighty to a hundred feet down on the bottom.
The pickerel bite well in the ponds during cold weather and expect to catch Largemouth Bass as well if ice has not capped the pond. Rarely, does the ice in the Mid-Atlantic Region get thick enough to safely stand upon. I don’t know of many fishermen foolish enough to travel north to auger holes in the ice when a migration south in the winter will provide warm weather and good fishing further down the coast.
For those of us who must stay through the winter, there is an excellent opportunity to catch fish that are both good to eat and will bite in the coldest of weather. Blue Catfish are prowling the fresher portion of the Potomac River above the Rt. 301 bridge and most of the other rivers that feed into the Chesapeake. Fresh cut bait is the ticket to guarantee a cooler full of these fish that have no limit or season placed upon them. White or Mud Shad and Alewives are my favorite baits for big Blue Cats. However, getting these baits fresh this time of year has proven challenging. Forget about using these baits if they have been frozen. If you’re going to brave the chill, you want to fill the cooler. That means you must have a bait the brutes are willing to bite on.
If you know a fish house that deals with the wholesale fish supply in Jessup, Maryland, you can order fresh mullet prior to your fishing trip. Ice those oily fish down in the cooler and they will last for a few days. After anchoring at your catfish hole, fillet the mullet into strips, chunk the backbone for chum, toss the milt sacs or eggs over as chum, but save the guts and gizzard for a choice bait.
Now, if you really want to catch a mess of catfish, here’s the plan: A day prior to the trip, cut up a wide mouth pint or quart jar full of mullet strips and pour in enough Menhaden oil to fill the spaces. Then, refrigerate the bait in the capped jar. During your fishing trip, designate one person to be bait handler. Outfitted with surgical gloves, the master baiter gets to pull out the congealed strips and bait all the hooks. Even with such protection and a good wipe rag, the bait handler will carry the aroma home with him or her. A hot shower and hand washing a sink full of dishes in steaming soapy water generally erases most of the stench.
Though catching a cooler of cool cats on the occasional relatively mild day in January or February is a fine way to survive the winter, I am enjoying the warm benefits of my own annual migration south to continue fishing on a most regular basis.
The temperature here in Key Largo is in the mid-70’s. No, I will not be hanging up my rods for the winter. Instead, they have been transported south along with my stinky carcass. My e-mail address is posted at the end of every article that I write. Drop me a line if you want to drop a line in warm water this winter.