By Eric Burnley Sr.*
Updated: Dec. 18, 2014
DELAWARE BAY It would appear that the rockfish run in the bay is over. I have had only scattered reports of fish in the Rips and these have faded away to nothing over the past week. With the holiday season upon us I would suspect very few anglers will be going after rockfish when their time would be better spent in more profitable pursuits.
Tog fishing has never taken off in the bay and with falling water temperatures I don’t believe it will. Some fish were caught at the Outer Wall and this location could show signs of life if we get a period of mild and calm weather.
On the plus side, white perch fishing remains good in the tidal creeks and rivers. Right now bloodworms are the best bait, but they will disappear from tackle shops as winter weather makes picking them from northern beaches impossible. When this occurs, try earthworms, grass shrimp or small jigs with minnows.
INSHORE OCEAN As poor as fishing has been in the bay, is just how good it has been in the ocean. Limits of tog were caught as late as Wednesday with the best bite within 10 miles of the beach. Green crab is the best bait with box and white leggers also used by those anglers who can find them.
Sea bass fishing is about as good as it gets. I fished out of Ocean City on Monday and caught my limit. It is necessary to cull through a lot of shorts to get 15 fish over 12.5 inches long, but every drop produces at least one and often two fish so the action is consistent all day. We were fishing over a wreck 30 miles east of the inlet and caught only a few spiny dogs and one or two bluefish mixed in with the sea bass. Chunks of squid proved irresistible to the bass.
A fair number of rockfish were caught from the ocean inside the Three-Mile Limit. The bite began at Hen and Chickens Shoal and then moved south to Fenwick Shoal and then down to Ocean City. On Tuesday the action was steady, but on Wednesday the fish did not bite. Trolling with big plugs, Mojos, double bucktails and shads did most of the damage. One boat fishing for tog on Wednesday 10 miles off the beach caught and released two rockfish on green crab and marked a sizable school under the boat.
INDIAN RIVER INLET While a rockfish run is not beyond the realm of possibility, it is becoming less likely as the water cools and the fish head south. The last report I had indicated a few shorts and even fewer keepers caught on live eels with the best action after dark.
Tog fishermen are finding some success soaking green crabs in the rocks. Fewer fish are caught and as with the rockfish, keepers are even rarer. This is the way it will remain all winter.
SURF FISHING After a few hard northeast blows that should have put rockfish on the beach we are still without any concentrated action. No word of a keeper in weeks and even the few shorts that were being caught have disappeared.
FRESHWATER The ponds are seeing decent pickerel action for those using live shiners or casting minnow imitations. Saw photos on Facebook of a fly fisherman with several big pickerel taken on his own creations.
The spillways are producing crappie and pickerel on minnows. The crappie like their live bait on a jig head suspended under a bobber.
Bass have been caught out of the ponds and from the upper reaches of the tidal rivers on shiners, jigs and soft plastics. A slow presentation is the best technique for cold water fishing.
Catfish and white perch have been caught out of the tidal rivers and creeks. Bloodworms and grass shrimp work best for the perch while the catfish like cut bunker.
HEAD BOAT MANNERS Since many of us will be fishing from head boats this winter I thought I would share some of the little things you should do to make the trip more enjoyable and productive.
Head boat fishing should not be considered a light tackle sport. It is important to bring gear that is heavy enough to carry the eight to 12-ounce sinkers employed to hold bottom. It is also important to get your fish to the boat as quickly as possible without letting it run amuck and tangle the lines of other anglers. There will always be the occasional shark or bluefish that can’t be controlled, but the more common catch of sea bass, tog or cod must be cranked up as quickly and in as straight a line as possible.
Everyone on the boat must use the same weight sinker. Those who use a sinker that is too light to hold bottom will quickly tangle with the anglers close to him.
Do not use some sort of fancy rig of your own design or something you saw on one of the Saturday morning TV shows. Last Monday there was a guy fishing close to me using a rod and reel better suited to crappie fishing and a one or two-ounce metal lure with two small spoons tied above it. This contraption could not find bottom with a seeing-eye dog. As a result he kept getting tangled with everyone nearby. To make matters worse, he would cast into the current just to make certain he snagged the maximum number of other fishermen.
I would never imply that mates or head boat anglers are less forgiving in New Jersey than on our beloved Delmarva, but had this occurred up there the mate would have pointed out the error of his ways and if that didn’t persuade him to use more appropriate tackle the anglers he kept snagging would have taken matters into their own hands and made sure he lost any gear they could get their hands on.
I seriously doubt that anyone who knows me well would consider me a conformist, but when fishing on a head boat I will conform to the standards at hand. Not only does this keep me out of trouble from my fellow anglers, it also helps me catch more fish.
*Eric Burnley Sr. is a native Delawarean who has fished the waters of his home state for more than 60 years. He has been a full-time outdoor writer since 1978, with articles appearing in most national magazines as well as many regional publications. He has authored two books, Surf Fishing The Atlantic Coast and The Ultimate Guide To Catching Striped Bass.