So, you haven’t been fishing in a while. Maybe you used to fish and you remember the fun—especially the actual catching fish part of it—but it’s been a long time. Maybe you’re new around here, or you just haven’t fished in this area, this state, the Chesapeake Bay. Maybe you hadn’t heard that we don’t talk about “fresh-” versus “salt-” water licenses here, but “tidal and “non-tidal,” since the fish and the waters are all mixed together anyway. How can you get hip to the rules and back into a pastime you once loved?
Well, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) puts out a handy guide for Maryland anglers, summarizing the rules, license fees, “creel limits,” gear prohibitions, and other important info you’ll need to know in order to not unnecessarily deplete this most important natural resource. It is 68 pages.
You really should read it all, some day. But if right now you just want to grab a rod and some bait or lures and try your luck, just follow this handy abbreviated guide to get your line in the water with all speed.
STEP 1 Are You Licensed?
NO - Go to Step 2
YES - Go to Step 4
STEP 2 Do you wish to be licensed?
NOT YET - Go to Step 3
YES - Go to dnr.state.md.us.
Click “Fishing” and then “Fishing License Information” on the left side of the screen. If you’re into lakes and rivers, you want “non-tidal” and if you’re in the bay, you want “tidal.” You can also purchase a license at the tackle shops listed below. Now Proceed to Step 4.
STEP 3: Fishing Without a LicenseI want to fish for free! It is possible.* There are several locations in and around Baltimore where you can fish without a license, and there are several dates and times when you can fish anywhere in the state license-free:
*No license doesn’t mean just go fish: You are required to observe all other fishing laws and regulations. A free Maryland/Potomac River Fisheries Commission (MD/PRFC) angler registration is also required for anglers fishing without a license in designated license-free fishing areas. You may register online through dnr.maryland.gov/service/fishing_license.asp.
Free Fishing Places:For a full list go to dnr.maryland.gov/fisheries/recreational/freefi.html.
Canton Recreational Pier Go to Canton, look for the big pier on Boston Street across from Starbucks. “I almost hate to say this, but the Inner Harbor is one of the best striper spots in the state,” DNR spokesman Joe Evans says. “Stripers like a little urban warfare. There’s often good stuff up in there.”
Hull Street Recreational Pier Take Key Highway east. Don’t cross Fort Avenue. Instead go left through the sweeping S-turn and take a left on Hull Street. There’s a park and pier a few hundred feet up.
Middle Branch Park Pier Go south across the Hanover Street Bridge and right on Waterford Avenue. The park is on your right. It’s also bikeable via the Gwynns Falls Trail.
Cox’s Point It’s between Back River and Deep Creek in Essex. Take Eastern Avenue (Rt. 150) to Riverside Drive, hang a right and go all the way to the end.
Free Fishing Days:On the first two Saturdays in June and July 4 you can fish license-free in Maryland waters.
The first Thursday of every month, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., is family fishing night at the boat lake in Patterson Park during which anyone, licensed or not, is allowed to fish. “We’ll lend you a rod and bait,” says Bob Wall, division chief of the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks. Also on June 9, from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. is the Family Fishing Festival—same deal. These tend to get a little crowded though.
What Can I Catch?Always be sure to check DNR for creel limits at your fishing location.
Bluefish: Rare in these parts, but this great fighting fish could be around the upper bay if the weather stays dry and salinity increases. Minimum size for keepers is eight inches. You can keep up to 10 per day. They grow over 12 pounds and fight harder than rockfish. Sharp teeth too. If you see a boiling school of something, try casting any lure into the middle of it. If you get a big strike and then your line is cut, you’re dealing with blues. Repeat the process with a new lure on a wire leader.
Bluegills (aka breem, sunfish): No minimum size and 15 max per person. Found in non-tidal waters. Ultimate kid fish—can be caught using corn or bits of processed cheese food product (as well as little crankbaits, worms, flies, etc.). Cook ’em up with cornbread.
Catfish: Can be lurking near the bottom whether you’re fishing in the bay, a pond, or a river. Ten-inch minimum size, no limit to take. They’ll eat anything (chicken livers are popular) and, though they won’t win any beauty contests, they will fry up pretty tasty—especially the little ones.
Chain Pickerel (aka pike): Torpedo-like fish that grabs fast-moving bait and lures and then fights hard. Or use live minnows or little sunfish for bait. Use a wire leader as they have sharp teeth. Minimum keeper-size is 14 inches; they get to three feet. You can take up to 10 per day.
Crappie: One of the best-tasting fresh-water pan fish. No minimum size; 15 max per day. They eat worms, shiny lures, and lots of stinky bait.
Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass: Two of your gold-standard fish. Catch and release in the park, but can be found all over the state, in the bay and the rivers. Season is closed from March 2 to June 15. After that, keeper size is 12 inches in non-tidal areas and 15 in the bay. No more than five per customer, please. Use bloodworms or shiny lures, rubber worms, artificial bait, minnows, etc.
Rockfish: The state fish. Grows to 50 pounds or more, fights like a monster. And there are lots around. Devilishly complex rules during spring spawning season with restricted takes, forbidden zones, and months of catch and release only. After the third weekend in April you can have at it though, with a minimum keeper size of 28 inches and up to two killed per day—which is a lot more than you’ll want to eat (see “Can I Eat What I Catch?”). Lots of guys troll for them from boats in the central and lower bay but they also like shallow water and can be taken from both the Canton and Hull Street rec piers when the water’s got oxygen in it. Use swimming plugs, spoons, bucktails, worms, grass shrimp, synthetic crabs (“Berkley Gulp”). We hear white perch fished live can work too.
Trout: The king of pan fish. No minimum size but a two-per-day limit. You also need a special “trout stamp” from DNR. Season is all year but much hotter during the just passed spring stocking season than in mid-summer. Light spinning tackles work well in most places. Fly fishing is really fun but kind of a whole other sport in itself. Do not wear felt-soled boots if you wade into a stream; they’re banned. Clean all your gear to keep “rock snot” from taking over the state’s streams and rivers.
White Perch: “You’d call them everyman’s fish except not enough people know about them,” says DNR spokesman and avid angler Joe Evans. There’s an 8-inch minimum but you don’t have to worry about number limits with white perch. There are plenty of them. They can get over 18 inches but you’ll be proud if you catch one over 12. They’re tasty and not too finicky, and can be taken from the shore or on boats. They also give a pretty good fight for their size. You can get them in the bay or in the lakes and reservoirs.
Yellow Perch: Need to be 9 inches and you can take only 10 of them. They’re pretty different looking from white perch, what with the yellow sides and dark vertical bars. Found in the bay and some rivers.
What About the Salt-Water Fishing Registry?If you are over 16 and fish in the bay, even if you’re on a boat that’s licensed or fishing on a “free” day, you are supposed to register with the federal government as a salt-water angler. It’s part of the fisheries protection program so the scientists can get a good idea about what is being taken. The feds charge $15 for you to register, but if you do it through the state’s Compass program, it’s free. (If you buy a tidal fishing license your national registration is included.) To register follow the steps at the DNR web site or make them do it for you by calling (855) 855-3906 daily between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Registering means you might be called by a survey researcher and asked to recall how many times you went fishing and what-all you got.
STEP 4:Fishing With a License
Non-Tidal Hot Spots In and Near Baltimore:
Loch Raven Reservoir (12101 Dulaney Valley Road, Timonium, baltimorecountymd.gov/Agencies/recreation/countyparks/fishingcenter/): Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, bluegill, white perch, crappie, chain pickerel, catfish, yellow perch, and northern pike. Boat rentals available. For boat permits and information call (410) 887-7692.
Gunpowder Falls (Numerous locations—the marina and fishing area is located at the end of Graces Quarters Road. More information and driving directions at dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/central/gunpowderhereford.asp): From Prettyboy Reservoir in northern Baltimore County downstream to Loch Raven Reservoir is 10 miles of “world class” trout fishery, including put-and-take areas, as well as catch and release.
Some restrictions apply: Presently, about 5 miles of the Gunpowder Falls between Prettyboy Dam and Blue Mount Road are managed for wild trout under catch-and-return, flies, and artificial-lures-only regulations. Statewide wild trout regulations (two trout/day, no size or bait restrictions) apply from Blue Mount Road downstream 4.2 miles to Corbett Road. The remaining 6.1 miles from Corbett Road downstream to a hiker/biker trail approximately one mile below Phoenix Road are stocked with hatchery rainbow trout. This stream section is stocked in the spring and fall weather permitting and provides a popular put-and-take fishery with a five trout/day limit and no bait restrictions. There are closed periods during the spring to allow for stocking. Call (410) 592-2897 for more information.
Prettyboy Reservoir (Spooks Hill Road west of Frog Hollow, Parkton): Largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappie, channel catfish, yellow perch, and bluegill sunfish. For boat permits and information call (410) 795-6150.
Patterson Park (27 S. Patterson Park Ave., pattersonpark.com/places-in-the-park/boat-lake/): Yes, you can fish in the lake in Patterson Park, and you can eat the trout you catch (they tend to die off in early summer and aren’t re-stocked until the fall). The statewide trout rule is two fish per person, but if there’s any still around now, it’s a good bet the “warden” will overlook it if you take three or four, since they’re going to go belly-up anyway in the warming water.
You can fish the three-acre pond anytime from dawn until dusk. It’s safe, usually not crowded (except for the family fishing events), and very kid-friendly. Spinners, powerbaits, and blood worms will get you into largemouth bass or bluegill, both of which are catch and release only. Bob Wall, who manages the lake for the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks, says he puts about 100 new fish in there every year to make up for the ones that sneak out. “I’ve seen a five-pound and a three-pound bass taken out of there,” he says. Call him with questions at (410) 396-6136.
In the Bay (Tidal):
Sandy Point State Park (1100 E. College Parkway, Annapolis, dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/southern/sandypoint.asp): Bit of a haul, yes, but there’s a beach and jetty here with a fishing area that’s pretty good for rockfish and other big game. There’s also a boat-rental stall, but you ought to come early ’cause they go fast. The park allows night fishing; however, only people who are actively fishing can be in the park after it closes. Bait and fishing supplies are available in the marina store. For store hours call the marina at (410) 974-2772. There is a $5 entrance fee for the park.
Can I Eat What I Catch?Surprisingly, maybe. The Department of the Environment has its own suitably Byzantine chart of species, sizes, and places where people of various sizes, ages, and conditions should/should not consume more (or less) than two meals per month of said finfish (tinyurl.com/6wcsvh8 ).
Tackle ShopsYou can get geared up for what you’re likely to encounter and get friendly advice on how to go about it. Just walk in and admit you’re a fishing idiot. They won’t even laugh because they like new customers.
Tochterman’s Fishing Tackle
1919-25 Eastern Ave., (410) 327-6942
With 96 years in the business, at the same location, Tochterman’s is the granddaddy of tackle shops. It’s a big room packed full of gear. No guns, just fishing poles, reels, lures, baits, corny jokes, laments about the state of the world, and good advice about what’s biting and where. Proprietor Tony Tochterman and “worm girl” Dee Tochterman will rig you up to fish for about $25.
Clyde’s Sport Shop
2307 Hammonds Ferry Road, Lansdowne, (410) 242-6108, clydessports.com
From crossbows and rifles to bait and tackle, Clyde’s has what you need to kill some wildlife. These guys have been at it since 1957, so they know what they’re talking about. Ask for Bill.
Clark’s Bait and Tackle
3724 S. Hanover St., (410) 355-4190
What you need to get in the water—license, bait, rods, reels, lures, and hooks. Clark has been there 43 years, so ask him if you don’t know.
Set’s Sport Shop
509 York Road, (410) 823-1367
Open since 1950, this shop offers fishing stuff, hunting stuff, and fishing and hunting knowledge courtesy of owner Harry Leister.
Bluefin’s Bait and Tackle
700-b Wise Ave., (410) 477-9244, bluefinsbait.com
They do rod and reel repair and maintenance and have a mobile “crabulance” full of bait and tackle to bring what you need direct to your fishing hole as long as you’re on shore.
Bass Pro Shops
7000 Arundel Mills Circle, Hanover, (410) 689-2500, basspro.com
Big-box stores have everything. Also Jerry Sauter, a fisherman’s fisherman, lectures every weekend.