The Upper Chesapeake Bay has been receiving a lot of notoriety over
the last few years due to the improved catch rates and overall
weight increases reported in the tournaments. While the true river
rats have known of this bass fishing hotbed for some time now, the
recent success is attracting clubs from all over Maryland,
Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and even as far away as New York. Most of
this pressure has converged on the Elk River, and the Tyding's Park
area in Havre de Grace, Md., since these areas provide more than
adequate launching and parking facilities that are necessary to hold
the tournaments. Many of the smaller club tournaments also start
from the Northeast and Elk River areas. With this influx of angling
pressure, many of the traditional hot spots have become increasingly
crowded during the weekends, and have forced anglers to make longer
and longer runs in search of untapped bass waters. Many of these
anglers have now discovered that the 20-30 minute drive through
sometimes rough and unsafe water, to the Sassafras River, has been
well worth the effort.
Ramp and Launching Locations
The following locations and patterns, have not only produced
tournament winning limits, but have produced over 100 bass in the
5-6 pound range, over the last 5 years, from this river. These are
true "Trophy" bass for a Northeastern River system.
The Elk River, via Elk Neck State Park, is probably the most
popular, due to it's more than adequate parking facilities, and
close proximity to the Sassafras. This is only a 10-15 minute drive
from the Sassafras.
Tyding's Park and Marina, located In Havre De Grace, Md., is the
farthest, and most difficult drive to access the Sassafras River. We
launch from this area only when we have located good numbers of bass
on the Susquehanna Flats or in the nearby coves or docks of the
Northeast. The drive from here can be dangerous in the early morning
fog and heavy boat wakes in the Spring and Summer. At 55 mph, it
takes about 25 minutes to reach the first starting point on the
Sassafras. The best area to launch in the Sassafras is in Duffy
Creek, located right behind the Granary Restaurant, on Sassafras
Street, in the town of Galena. This is a private marina, with
average parking facilities, and a good ramp. It is a pay per use
facility, and charges a daily fee of $5.00.
The second area to launch is the public boat ramp on Sassafras
Street, right before the restaurant. This is a small boat only ramp,
but it is adequate for launching most any bass boat at the proper
tide. In low tide situations, this can be a tricky ramp, so great
care should be taken during these times, as it is extremely shallow,
and has ruined many a boat prop and hull. The next spot you can
launch is a "permit only" ramp located in Turner's Creek. This area
has the most parking, and offers a middle of the river launch site.
When and Where To Go - Turner's Creek
Although the Sassafras offers excellent fishing all times of the
year except the winter, the Early Spring is the best time to start.
Spring on the Sassafras is similar to any other body of water, in
the respect that the bass's life revolves entirely around the
spawning process, and the locating of spawning areas. The Sassafras
normally hold bass in almost every area of the river, but at this
time of year, it suddenly shrinks to a few, and eventually, two
In the early pre-spawn, largemouth can found in the emerging
grasses and the wood cover, in locations such as Hall's Creek,
Freeman, McGill, Turner, DuPont, and Lloyd's. As the spawn gets even
closer, they make their way to Turner's and Lloyd's almost
Turner's Creek offers a huge amount of diverse cover for bass. There
is a narrow entrance to this creek where the main river channel runs
right along a wood laden bank with a steep drop-off. Pre-spawn bass
lay along this drop at depths from 2-18 feet, all of which is loaded
with laydowns and emerging vegetation. Directly next to the entrance
is a small bay loaded with lily pads and several varieties of
emerging grasses, on a slow tapering bank, that eventually levels
off into the main river channel. This area at the entrance to
Turner's Creek, is one of the 2 major staging areas for largemouth
in the Sassafras. The Western shoreline of this creek is totally
covered with what are emerging lily pad root systems, that are mixed
in with several varieties of vegetation, including Milfoil and
Hydrilla. Many bass choose these root systems to spawn. The Eastern
shoreline offers a hard sand and rock bottom, along with vegetation,
that mixes in with a number of large boat docks. The bass use the
docks, and standing and decaying pilings to hold on, and eventually
make their beds on, to escape the current and predators which are
prevalent in the river.
Lure Selections and Strategy
When targeting pre-spawn bass at the entrance of the creek, spinner
baits are my weapon of choice. Terminator spinnerbaits in the 3/8
and ½ ounce sizes, with tandem blades are top producers in these
areas. "Spotsticker" Custom spinnerbaits, along with "Tru-Tungsten's"
series, also take their fair share of bass in this area in the
spring. Color is not that important this time of year in the stained
to muddy water, but I have had the best success with baits that
imitate the shad, in white/chartreuse, and in "Golden Shiner"
patterns. If the water is truly "muddy", then we will use a darker
skirt many times.
When I am looking for that one particular big bite, to upgrade our
limit, the baits I use are "Senko's". These baits also produce all
sizes of bass better when a cold front moves through, and causes the
action to slow down. When a severe cold front blows through over a
few days, it will cause the bass to drop down to deeper water in the
10 foot range, and hold on the tops of trees. When this happens, I
target them with mid range crank baits, using a stop and go
retrieve, with great success. Once the bass move to the backs of the
creek to spawn, "Senko's", "IKA" tubes, "Sizmic" flu-go's, lizards,
and Terminator jigs, flipped into the docks, grass, and pads,
produce a good limit in short order.
On the weekends in the spring, this area can be crowded with many
other anglers, and small to midsize crank baits, such as a "Mann's"
Mid-Minus, and a "Lucky Craft" series, can be a great tool in
addition to the spinner baits and plastics. Don't hesitate to throw
a buzz bait around the same cover, once the water temperature warms
to 55 degrees or above. This can produce some real hawgs at this
time of the year. I have great success with the "Terminator" Ball-Buster.The
old standby, the black and blue Terminator jig, with pork or plastic
for a trailer, placed in and around pilings, ladders on docks, and
floating piers, will always produce good sized bass. Most anglers
use the jig when fishing docks, but switch to other baits many times
in the laydowns. This can be a mistake, as many times in the spring,
I caught several bass in the 5 and 6 pound class, flipping the wood
in Turner's Creek with this jig. Turner's Creek is a hot spot at all
times of the year, but it is especially productive in the spring. An
experienced angler can expect 10-15 bass on a good day from this
creek alone. Although at times, other creeks can produce more bass,
this creek gives up he better quality bass on a consistent basis. My
largest bass from this creek was 6.4 pounds, but i have heard of 7
pound bass being caught on occasion.
This is the most productive spring spot on the Sassafras River, and
in my opinion, on the entire Upper Chesapeake Bay. While largemouth
bass spawn in several creeks along the river, the majority of them
choose Lloyd's Creek. While there is a very strong current at the
entrance to Lloyd's Creek, the rest of it has very little movement.
The shoreline, for the most part, is very shallow in Lloyd's, but
offers some mid depths to 6 feet just off shore. The entire creek is
loaded with cover. This includes laydowns, logjams, and a variety of
grasses, and an old barge. The barge, grasses, and seawalls in
Lloyd's are the most productive areas. The bass love to hold on
these pieces of cover, and when combined with the hard sand bottom
and rocks, it makes for an ideal habitat for a tidal spawning
Besides the ideal cover, bottom composition, and sun exposure,
Lloyd's offers something else that makes it an ideal spawning ground
for tidal bass. It has a clear and defined channel leading into the
creek, and into all points along the shoreline. This provides a
virtual "Freeway" for the bass to follow. This makes the job of
targeting these bass under changing water conditions and seasons
fairly simple. I believe that this is the reason that not only huge
numbers of bass in the Sassafras come here, but I believe they come
from other nearby rivers as well, and possibly even from farther
In the early spring, bass will begin to stack up at the entrance to
Lloyd's Creek in amazing numbers. The water is fast here, and goes
from 16 feet in the main channel, to as shallow as 1 foot on the
shore. This steep drop-off runs from about 300 yards from the
entrance in the fast moving water, to about 50 yards into the creek,
and stops at a large dock. The whole shore on this side is loaded
with old trees, brush, and rocks. On the opposite side a huge
peninsula comes across forming a perfect sand point 20 yards from
the steep shore. That 20 yard space Is the entrance to Lloyd's
Creek. This is why the current rips through this area at an
unbelievable pace. Even a trolling motor of 24 volts, can barely
hold position on its highest setting in this area. The bass
congregate all around this sand point and the adjoining areas.
The best baits for this area are Rat-L-Traps in blue/chrome, in 3/8
and ½ ounce sizes, Terminator and Spotsticker spinner baits in ½
ounce, with Tandem, and/or willow leaf blades, and small crank
baits. About 10 yards from the tip of the point, the current swirls
to form a large eddy. Many times 15-20 bass in the 1 ½ to 3 pound
range can be caught on successive casts to this eddy. The other
tactic is to cast your bait right up on the sand point, and then
pull it into the fast moving water, and the bass just slam the bait
as it enters, many times on every other cast for an hour or more. On
the opposite shore, the bass bunch up on the wood, as it is the only
thing blocking the current. At slack tides these bass will slam the
same reaction baits as on the point, however, when the current is
swift here; the best thing to do is flip heavier jigs and plastics
into the wood. The reason I like the "Terminator" jigs for this and
other types of cover, is the eye is recessed into the head,
preventing the jig from becoming snagged at least 75 % less than
other jigs. With the nasty cover in this area it is a necessity.
When this area starts to become pressured by other anglers, I have
switched to an "IKA" tube, with a 3/8 ounce Tungsten weight, with
great success. I flip these baits to the up current side of cover
and let the tide wash the bait past the object. Most strikes come as
soon as the bait washes past where the bass are holding. Watching
your line is a must her, as the current makes most strikes
difficult, if not impossible to detect. The only plus side to this
is that because if the amount of energy these bass have to expend to
fight the current, they almost never miss the bait once they commit.
Heavy line with high abrasion qualities is a must here.
The next spot is the dock where the river channel stops and makes a
sharp right turn towards the back of the creek. The best areas of
the dock are the first 3 pilings from the rocks out. Jigs, tubes,
and weighted plastics take numerous bass in the 2-5 pound range from
These three spots form the ultimate staging area. More bass will
move into this spot almost as fast as you can catch them at times.
These bass are also extremely aggressive. The best tip for this area
is to get there early in the year. You will not only avoid the
crowds, but encounter some of the larger pre-spawn females.
When the Spring is in full swing, the bass will follow the creek
channel to the barges, pilings, and laydowns in the back of the
creek. This is when large numbers of 1-3 pound males make their way
to the staging areas. There is a 2-3 week period when these bass
will attack almost anything that hit's the water. This is when it is
wise to hit the entrance for a quick 10 pound limit, and then move
back to the sunken barge for the larger females. Weightless Senko's
and IKA tubes with a pegged weight, produce heavyweight females when
pitched to the grassy edges of the barge. A quickly retrieved
spinner bait is needed at times to pick the males off the edges of
the barge before going after the larger females with plastics.
Laydowns will also produce as well as sections of the sand bar now.
Slow down and cover the whole area to be rewarded with a huge sack
When the spawns has run its course, just follow the same creek
channel back out to the same areas where the fish staged in
pre-spawn. Similar to early in the year, the larger fish will be the
first back out also. This is plastics time! The fish are fairly
sluggish now, so a little more finesse is required. They want an
easy meal, and soft plastics like these fit the bill!
As the smaller bass make their way out to the mouth of Lloyd's, you
will see bass hitting the spinner baits and crank baits again. While
the following migration routes to success can be simple, there are a
few tricks that can help you upgrade your limit. In the middle of
the spawn, anglers will crowd around the to spots we have mentioned.
Some of these anglers will be targeting the shallow fish spawning,
and others will be pounding the pre or post spawn bass at the
current washed mouth of Lloyd's Creek. At this time, I use my depth
finder to locate and follow the creek channel from the staging area
back towards the spawning area, looking for bends, humps, and even
weedlines that run on the edge of the channel. Sometimes I mark fish
on the locator, but the structure is all I am really looking for.
I drop the trolling motor and begin dragging a Carolina rig with a
3 inch "Senko" or another type of "Yamamoto" plastic bait or Sweet
The second trick I use at the very end of the spawn here. I turn on
the electronics and find the first major piece of structure large
enough to hold bass and baitfish that have left the creek. The key
word is close. I stay within a ½ mile to a mile of the major
spawning area when looking for these spots. The key spots will have
grass and offer deep water escape routes nearby.
The Northeast, Bohemia, and Elk Rivers
The Northeast River offers one of the best flipping bites on the
bay, as well as being a 20 minute ride from the Sassafras. One of
the better springtime spots in this area is Furnace Bay. Many large
bass are taken on buzzbaits from Furnace Bay in the early part of
the year. The Bohemia offers average fishing for bass, but is a
quick shot to both the Elk and the Sassafras, and is a good middle
of the road launch point. For the angler that has a smaller boat,
who can't stand the longer, more difficult ride to the Sassafras
from the Havre De Grace ramp, this is a good place to start.
The docks located in the Northeast and Elk are prime targets for the
bass, as they are devoid of most of the structure that the Sassafras
offers. The bass hit plastics and black and blue Terminator jigs
here well, on both the outgoing and incoming tides. Placement is
critical here. The jigs must not only be put into the smallest of
holes and openings, but must be presented multiple times before a
strike occurs. Practice your flipping and pitching techniques before
attempting these waters.
The Susquehanna river by the railroad bridge above Havre De Grace is
a hot spot for both largemouth and smallmouth bass, and Garrett
Island, in the rocks also produces at times. This area is effected
by the amount of water that is let out of the dam up river, as it
can be extremely muddy when they release a lot of water after heavy
spring rains, and it can almost stop the smallmouth bite at times.
When this occurs, seeking out the clearer water offered by Swan
Creek further south of the Havre De Grace ramp is a good area to
start. The grassbeds and shallow wood can hold huge numbers of
pre-spawn and spawning bass that readily hit spinnerbaits, Senko's,
tubes, and small crankbaits, such as a Lucky Craft RC 1.5 and a
Rapala DT$ and 6 in the slightly deeper edges. I just use a heavier
line to reduce the depth of this bait in these areas.
Spring fishing on these rivers, and the Sassafras in particular,
offers some unbelievable action at times. These rivers are suited to
every style of fishing. If you're a flipper, it is there.
Spinnerbaits and crankbaits will smoke them! There's grass, docks,
wood, current, eddies, ledges, barges, and points. And all of them
hold bass! I have experienced 50 fish days in the Sassafras in the
spring, and 20-30 fish days on some of the others.
Whether you are a tournament angler, or just a person who loves to
catch bass, then these are the rivers for you!
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