Maryland’s season of joy continues for hunters with opportunities continuing in the weeks ahead.
With the end of firearms season for deer hunting, archery hunters can return to fields and forests and another muzzleloader segment begins Dec. 21. Quarry such as Eastern cottontail rabbits and gray squirrels remain in season and the Atlantic population Canada goose season begins Dec. 20.
This season, hunters are limited to a single goose, but let’s hope that limitation will help populations rebound for future hunts. Goose hunting season runs through Jan. 4 and then picks up again from Jan. 14 through Jan. 31. Hunters are encouraged to bring new hunters to the field to help keep the outdoors heritage alive. One bird is definitely better than none and will likely satisfy anyone not accustomed to more.
“Canada goose hunting is a time-honored Maryland tradition that gives friends and family a chance to reconnect as they enjoy the sights and sounds of a day in the field,” said Wildlife and Heritage Service Director Paul Peditto in a press release. “We encourage all hunters to bring a new or novice hunter along on a trip to their waterfowl blind.”
The second segment of muzzleloader deer hunting runs through Jan. 4. Hunters may use muzzleloaders to harvest sika and white-tailed deer during this season. It’s another chance to harvest additional deer for management purposes and to provide food for friends and family and for folks in need through donations.
Hunters are encouraged to donate any extra deer they may harvest to Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry. Tax credits of up to $50 are offered for each legally harvested deer that is processed and donated to a nonprofit food sharing program. The maximum credit in any one tax year is $200 per hunter. The form to claim the credit is available online on the DNR’s website.
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Cold weather opportunities for fishing also are a highlight for many anglers this time of year. Waters are less crowded and scenes often offer peace and tranquility, and fish species continue to bite well-placed lures and bait. Stocking of trout has begun and walleye, chain pickerel, yellow perch, and catfish are all available to entertain anglers.
Yellow perch are found in many of the Chesapeake Bay’s tidal tributaries and should provide fun fishing through the winter months. They often are holding in some of the deeper holes and can be caught on beetle spins, shad darts, and small live minnows.
Large white perch can also be found at the bases of the Bay Bridge rock piles and in deep holes in the Chesapeake, often in 40 feet of water or deeper. Jigging with a heavy sinker and two dropper flies or hooks baited with pieces of bloodworm is a great way to target them.
As cold water temperatures prevail, fish will naturally look for warmer water. The Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant warm water discharge is no secret to anyone who fishes the middle Chesapeake. Anglers jigging there have been finding some speckled trout that are feeling a bit chilly. During the winter months this location is a popular spot for striped bass catch-and-release jigging during the closed season.
Fishing for northern snakeheads is now generally limited to fishing with bobbers or popping corks trailing a large minnow. Sunny afternoons with little wind seem to offer the best fishing opportunities. The Nanticoke River and the Blackwater area in lower Dorchester County are some of the better places to try.
Blue catfish provide good action through the winter months. They tend to move towards the deeper waters of the channels of tidal rivers as water temperatures become colder. Anglers can find plenty of them in the Sharptown region of the Nanticoke. Fresh cut bait and clam snouts work well, and anglers also have good luck with chicken livers, breasts, or gizzards. Channel catfish can also be found deep in most every tidal river feeding into the Chesapeake.
On the other side of the Bay Bridge, fly-fishing-tackle only or catch-and-release areas offer some wonderful opportunities for anglers wishing to enjoy quality fishing in a peaceful setting. Black Wooly Buggers, nymphs, or streamers are favorite choices when fishing for cold water trout. The trout will tend to be lying in some of the deeper pools, so a little added weight can be of great advantage.
Crappie will be holding deep near structure during the winter months. In the tidal rivers, marina docks are one of the best places to fish for them. Fallen treetops in deep water and bridge piers are also good places to look for them. Working small minnows or marabou jigs under a bobber are good ways to fish for them.
Chain pickerel love cold water. They tend to hang close to structure waiting to ambush prey. Small pickerel often hold along shoreline structure such as sunken wood. The larger trophy-sized pickerel can often be found in deeper water holding close to any kind of structure. A variety of lures work well. Switching treble hooks for single hooks will help the fish and the unhooking process. Chain pickerel tend to engulf baits and often can suffer gill damage that can be fatal.
On the Atlantic Coast, large schools of menhaden have been spotted and large striped bass are being caught by anglers trolling the shoal areas close to shore. Large parachutes and bucktails dressed with sassy shads and Stretch diving lures have been effective. There are also reports of a few large striped bass being caught in the surf on cut menhaden. The next few weeks should hold a lot of promise for anglers trolling and fishing from the beaches.
Fishing for sea bass has been about as good as it gets, with limit catches being common. That season ends Dec. 31.
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Duck blind know-it-all
The scientific name for ruffed grouse is bonasa umbellus; bonasa in Latin meaning “good when roasted.”