Not every fish that swims is found in the open Chesapeake Bay; there are multitudes of fish waiting to be caught from the tidal rivers and creeks that feed the Bay, and these waters are available when the open Bay is too rough for even the largest boats to fish. As an added bonus, crabs are found here just in case the fishing doesn’t pan out.

tidal rivers
Tidal rivers and creeks are perfect for small boats when the weather is not suitable for going out in the open Bay.

The tidal river that I am most familiar with is the Nanticoke, and the tidal creek is Broad Creek, both on the Eastern Shore. My first real fishing trip with grownups was when I was about 10 years old, and my grandfather took me along on a trip to Bivalve, MD, where he and a couple of friends from work rented a wood boat and rowed out into the Nanticoke River to catch croaker.

Unlike today, children were to be seen and not heard, so I was very quiet unless asked a direct question. We were catching croaker at a decent pace along with some oyster toads and crabs. The toads were dispatched quickly, but the crabs were dropped in a box to be used as bait.

I did catch a crab and shook it off my hook directly over the box. A gentleman by the name of Mr. Messick soon reached in the box to grab a crab for bait. He was quite surprised when a crab grabbed him. It seems the men were removing the claws before putting the crabs in the box, a step I didn’t know about. He turned red in the face and if looks could kill, I would have been dead, but since this was another time, he never said any of the words that I am sure were on the tip of his tongue. The other men were not quiet. They howled with laughter.

A bit later in the day I had a solid bite and began cranking up a very big fish. It was all I could do to hold on to the rod and reel, let alone crank in whatever was on the end. As I strained with every bit of strength I had, the men began to kid me and when a huge oyster toad popped to the surface, they really poured it on. There, on the bottom hook, was the biggest croaker I have ever caught. The laughter died out as my grandfather managed to net both fish with one swoop.

This group fished together a lot and they always had a pool. The cost was 25 cents, and the winner was expected to buy everyone a Coke and a Tastycake when they got back to the dock. Pop put me in the pool, so I had to buy the goodies.

If, like me, you have a small boat that is not equipped to handle the open Bay on all but the nicest days, the tidal creeks and rivers are just right for you. You can fish the upper reaches for bass, pickerel, crappie, and snakeheads pretty much all year long. There are white perch available from one end of these waterways to the other depending on the time of year. They tend to be farther up the creeks in the spring and move closer to the Bay in the summer. Rockfish also inhabit the same waterways, and this year you must use non-offset circle hooks when fishing with bait for them.

This presents a small problem. Say you are fishing with bloodworms for white perch and start catching rockfish. Along comes a DNR enforcement officer. He sees you catch the striper; you claim you are fishing for perch. Chances are you are going to get a ticket. The way to avoid this is to use non-offset circle hooks when fishing with bait, period.

Access to these waterways is pretty easy. There are numerous boat ramps scattered around Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia. Most are free to residents of the state while non-residents must pay a fee.

You don’t have to invest a small fortune in tackle to fish the tidal rivers and creeks. You can handle just about anything you are likely to hook with a medium action spinning outfit and a six- to seven-foot rod and matching reel with 12-pound mono or 20-pound braid. A few jigs, plugs, and metal lures plus some top-bottom rigs and you are set to go.

One word of warning. Blue catfish well over 20 pounds have been caught in recent years and that will put a strain on your tackle.

By Eric Burnley