Fishing the Chesapeake Bay in April

The Chesapeake Bay and its many tributaries offer a plethora of angling opportunities in April, from specks and snakehead to bass and blue catfish.

Anglers have a plethora of opportunities when fishing the Chesapeake Bay in April, as most fish species are in the midst of their annual spawning runs up the headwaters of connecting tributaries. The most challenging decision anglers face in April is determining what to fish for and where to go in the region.  

Some anglers, particularly those in Maryland, don’t eagerly anticipate April. The implementation of new emergency regulations has completely shut down striped bass fishing in Maryland waters, even for catch-and-release anglers. This marks the second year Maryland has closed the month of April for targeting striped bass. Previously, anglers could fish for them in the main body of the Chesapeake Bay, but all tributaries were closed to striped bass fishing due to spawning activities during April. However, in Virginia, catch-and-release fishing is permitted during April, as is fishing on the Potomac River, which operates under different regulations. These regulatory changes have altered the fishing culture in Maryland, compelling individuals to explore alternative opportunities. Fortunately, April offers a multitude of other options.  Many anglers target blue catfish in the Potomac River and upper bay areas, while others pursue hickory and American shad in rivers, and even engage in speckled trout and puppy drum fishing in the lower Chesapeake Bay. 

Speckled Trout and Red Drum

Early April brings increased activity along the shorelines of the lower Chesapeake, from Virginia to the lower eastern shore of Maryland, where anglers begin encountering speckled trout and puppy drum around western shore tributaries and lower eastern shore islands. Mobjack Bay, lower James River, and Lynnhaven Bay are prime areas for these species. Anglers focus on shoreline structures such as docks, rocks, and oyster bars, employing techniques like trolling small 3- to 4-inch paddletails on ¼- to 3/8-ounce jigheads near these structures or along drop-offs close to shore. Similarly, the lower eastern shore also offers promising early-spring fishing for those in search of puppy drum, speckled trout, and even black drum. Key areas such as the lower Tangier Sound, Pocomoke Sound, and around Watts Island are characterized by grass flats and oyster bars teeming with crabs and baitfish. A popping cork with a 3- to 4-inch paddletail, or a suspending twitchbait like the Mirrolure, are popular lure choices for fishing in the grass flats. Fishing around marsh edges can also yield fruitful results, as these areas often harbor deeper sections where trout and drum lie in wait to ambush baitfish or feed on crabs. 

Northern Snakehead

Moving north in the Chesapeake to the middle section of the bay in Maryland waters is Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, situated just north of Tangier Sound. April marks the eagerly awaited start of another snakehead season for anglers in this region, when warmer temperatures activate snakeheads and prompt them into pre-spawn behavior. The refuge has emerged as a world-class fishery for Northern snakeheads, with the world-record catch occurring in the Blackwater region last year. The habitat, characterized by shallow marshes and rivers with ample hard cover and lily pads, is ideal for snakeheads.

fishing the Chesapeake Bay in April
Warming temperatures will activate snakeheads in the tributaries of Chesapeake Bay in April and prompt them into pre-spawn behavior.

Anglers typically carry a variety of lures to cover different scenarios, with chatterbaits being a popular choice for fishing open water or around hard cover. White-colored lures are favored in this area, and lure weights ranging from ¼ to 3/8-ounce are recommended due to the shallow depths. April is the best time to land a personal-best snakehead since these voracious predators feed heavily during this time, with many reaching weights of 10 to 13 pounds, and occasionally larger. 

Big Bass and Blue Cats

Fishing in the middle to upper parts of the Chesapeake Bay in April also involves targeting blue catfish around channel edges near Annapolis. Popular locations include just outside the Severn River at Hackett’s Point, where anglers anchor in 15- to 30-foot depths and bottom fish with cut bait such as bunker or gizzard shad. Others opt to explore local reservoirs, looking for largemouth bass while striped bass fishing is suspended. 

fishing the Chesapeake Bay in April
In April, bass are typically in pre-spawn mode, making them susceptible to baits placed at the mouths of shallow coves with hard bottoms and transition points from deep to shallow water.

Reservoirs like Loch Raven, Rocky Gorge, Liberty, Pretty Boy, and Triadelphia offer excellent bass-fishing opportunities, along with other species such as pickerel, crappie, northern pike, striped bass, and even muskie in some cases. Glide baits ranging from 5 to 9 inches are popular choices for larger gamefish like muskie, striped bass, and northern pike. Shad-colored baits with realistic profiles work exceptionally well during this time because bass are actively seeking easy meals in the form of shad. Casting large, colorful spinnerbaits and jigging rattle traps around drop-offs can also entice strikes from big bass.  

White Perch and the Shad run

Additionally, April offers opportunities to target hickory and American shad in the Susquehanna River, Potomac River, and smaller rivers like the Choptank  and Pocomoke. White perch usually conclude their spawn in mid-April in all tidal rivers, making bobbers paired with shad darts tipped with grass shrimp effective rigs in the headwaters of tributaries, typically in waters ranging from 2 to 6 feet deep. The most promising places to find a healthy spawning population of white perch are the Nanticoke River, Marshyhope Creek, and Choptank River on the eastern shore. The average white perch ranges from 9 to 11 inches long, with some citation-size perch that can exceed 13 inches . Western shore anglers wait a bit longer for their white perch run to start, especially those in the Potomac and Susquehanna rivers. Since the water temperatures take longer to get to their prime temperature,  white perch begin to spawn between the middle to end of April. Most anglers fish deeper water in both rivers, ranging from 10 to 30 feet. Using top and bottom rigs with 1- to 2-ounce sinkers and size 2 to 4 baitholder hooks are the rigs of choice when perch fishing in deeper holes. The bait to use are blood worms, grass shrimp, or live minnows.  

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