Striper action hasn't flattened

April 16, 2006|By Bill Anderson


In spite of the fact that it is only a short drive north of Baltimore, the little town of Havre de Grace has managed to stay little, with minimal signs of development. The locals say that is changing, but you still get the small-town feel when you make your way from I-95 to the public boat launching facilities.

This area is famous for the sporting activities that are unique to the very "top" of the mighty Chesapeake Bay. After leaving the turbulent outflow of Conowingo Dam, the Susquehanna River spreads out to cover a vast area most commonly known as "The Flats." In the old days of market gunning for waterfowl, the area featured acres and acres of wild celery and the canvasbacks and redheads swarmed to the flats each winter. The big ducks were shot by the thousands and packed in barrels for transport to the fancy restaurants in Baltimore and Philadelphia. The celery is mostly gone now. So are the swarms of big divers.


The biggest fishing attraction now occurs in the early spring, when thousands of striped bass move up the bay and onto the flats to spawn. The fish range in size from 15-inch males to the older females that can weigh more than 40 pounds. After a favorable study on the mortality of catching and releasing the stripers, the Maryland DNR initiated a special catch-and-return season to fish for the stripers when they are concentrated on the flats. This year, the season runs through May 3.

I have fished this early season for a number years now and it can be very good. It also can be tough fishing. This is a huge area and if you are not on the fish, it can make for a long day. The local guides help each other out by staying in touch via cell phone. The fish move a lot from day to day and you have to move with them. If you are on the fish, it might be the best shallow water striped bass fishing in the country. It is a great chance to catch a really big striper on light tackle.

Last week, Hagerstown businessman Sam Rock and I fished the flats with Capt. Richard Borneman. Richard is a local and has fished and hunted waterfowl on the flats for many years. As we motored out of the public marina, Richard said the fishing had been consistent, but he expected it to get even better as more of the big female spawners arrived.

Sam is a fly fisherman. That is also my preferred way of catching stripers, so we stayed strictly with fly tackle. A lot of the water was 8 to 15 feet deep, so we fished mostly with sinking lines and streamers. In the more shallow areas, we switched to a floating line and weighted streamers that fished at about three feet deep. Some of the bigger fish were found in areas with only five feet of water.

Richard recommended Clouser minnows and similar streamer patterns. Richard said that day in and day out, the best color is a chartreuse and white combination in a Clouser or Lefty's deceiver pattern. The stripers are feeding on white perch and herring that can be 10 inches long. You need to throw big flies.

It was a pretty typical day on the flats - periods of slow action followed by a hit from a group of fish and we would quickly catch a bunch in a short period. By day's end we had caught and released 15 or 16 stripers. Most were males in the 15- to 20-inch range, but one big male fish pulled the scales down to 14 pounds, a nice fly rod fish anywhere.

Given normal weather patterns, the biggest fish of the season are usually caught toward the end of the catch-and-release season. The guides also said that the season may be extended by the DNR until May 15, but this is not confirmed.

This is fairly protected water, so you will see many fishermen are out there in small boats. If you have never fished here, you would be well served to study the charts carefully and consider hiring a guide for the first trip or two. There is a lot of really shallow water on the flats, and more than one weekend captain has found themselves grounded, waiting for the next high tide.

To contact Borneman, call 410-939-2948.

Bill Anderson writes a weekly outdoors column for The Herald-Mail. Reach him by e-mail at

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