Susquehanna Flats on the upper Chesapeake Bay has developed a reputation as the go-to location for supersized stripers in the spring. Anglers from throughout the Mid-Atlantic region travel to Maryland to fish the flats during the catch-and-release season in March and April, when big stripers of 25 pounds to 45 pounds are available.
Susquehanna Flats is a large expanse of shallow water at the very northern end of Chesapeake Bay, just south of the mouth of the Susquehanna River. On the eastern and western sides of the flats, there are deeper channels marked by buoys that provide for safe boating. But once you get up on the flats, the water is only 2 feet to 5 feet deep, and slow and careful boating is required.
When the early season closes in May, anglers begin fishing farther south on Chesapeake Bay. However, many of them fail to return to Susquehanna Flats for the second season that normally opens in June and continues into the fall. Those anglers who don’t come back to the flats miss out on some outstanding fishing.
More Fish In The Summer
While summertime stripers on the flats do not measure up in size to the springtime cows, the feisty 18-inch to 35-inch fish are usually considerably more abundant than bigger early-season stripers. And they provide exciting, light-tackle action. I especially enjoy the morning and evening topwater bite, when stripers will blow up on poppers.
Eighteen- to 35-inch stripers provide lots of summertime fun for anglers who fish Susquehanna Flats on the upper Chesapeake Bay.
There are several factors that make summertime fishing on the flats more appealing to me than the early season. In the spring, fishing for big stripers is often a hit-or-miss deal as the fish are on the move, heading to the spawning grounds in the Susquehanna and North East rivers. Plus, in the spring, the flats are often seriously impacted by heavy rain and storms, when high, muddy, and cold water on the flats can shut down fishing for days and weeks at a time. In the summer, it’s usually easier to locate stripers for more consistent action, as they’ll hang around the submerged weeds that grow on the shallow flats.
Get Geared Up
A 6-1/2-foot to 7-foot medium to medium-heavy action rod, along with a spinning reel spooled with 14-pound to 20-pound test braided or fusion line (Power Pro Spectra Braid, Stren Super Braid, SpiderLine Fusion), are perfect for fishing the flats during the second season. Many anglers like to use an Albright knot to attach a 3-foot leader of 30-pound test fluorocarbon to the end of the braided or fusion line.
Stripers are caught by casting around pods of vegetation with one-half-ounce and 1-ounce leadhead jigs dressed with soft plastic baits (Storm Shads, Bass Assassins, Tsunami baits, and Stanley WedgeTail Shad and Herring). Other lures commonly used to catch stripers on the flats include Rat-L-Traps, Bomber and Windcheater plugs, and Tony Accetta spoons.
When it comes to triggering topwater strikes, the Stillwater Smack-It, and the smaller Smack-It Jr., along with the Storm Chug Bug, are very popular and productive. Early mornings and evenings are prime times for explosive action with surface-feeding stripers.
Topwater poppers such as the Stillwater Smack-It (top) and the Storm Chug Bug (center), and soft plastic baits, trigger strikes from summertime striperson Susquehanna Flats.
Striped bass aren’t the only predators that visit the weeds on Susquehanna Flats in search of baitfish to devour, as tidal water largemouth bass also patrol the vegetation. In recent years, bass fishermen have caught strong numbers of 5-pound to 8-pound lunker largemouth bass in the upper Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, and anglers on the flats commonly hook big bass while casting for stripers. I’ve also seen stripers caught on spinnerbaits intended for bass.
There are a number of public ramps in Havre de Grace, Port Deposit and North East, Maryland, that provide easy access to Susquehanna Flats. I use Tydings Park in Havre de Grace. It’s a short run to the fishing grounds, the ramp fee is only $5, and there is ample parking.
While motoring away from Tydings Park (east) toward the northern end of the flats, there are buoys to the right (south) that mark a deeper channel that runs around the flats. A safe way to get up on the shallow flats is to head south in the channel, which will keep you to the west of the shallow flats. When the channel starts curling toward the left (east), it’s time to slow down and make a hard left, so the bow is pointing north. Then slowly motor toward the bridges, including the Route 95 bridge, over the mouth of the Susquehanna River.
Watch For Logs
It’s a good idea to tilt up the motor a little, and position someone in the bow to watch for big logs on the bottom that could threaten the hull or motor. Continue motoring slowly northward until you notice grass and weeds, then stop and begin casting. It may be necessary to frequently remove fouled weeds from the lure; but if you’re not snagging grass, you’re not fishing where the fish are.
This striper attacked a spinnerbait intended for largemouth bass in the weeds on Susquehanna Flats.
Before venturing onto the flats, carefully study a marine chart of this area to develop a better understanding of how to safely get around. For more information on local launch ramps, safely navigating the flats, and good fishing spots, contact Stemple Brothers Bait & Tackle in Conowingo, Md., at 410-378-5594. My boat is a 19-foot aluminum deep-V Starcraft with a 125 horsepower Mercury, and I have been able to get around trouble-free on the flats, even during times of outgoing water. However, I usually move off the flats and fish the edges of the deeper channel during low tide.
For information about Maryland’s striped bass regulations, and an updated fishing report, visit www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries/fishingreport/chesapeake.asp, or call 410- 260-8367.
There’s a lot more to Susquehanna Flats than just the spring season. Fish the flats during the second season for sizzling summertime striper action.
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