By Eric Burnley Sr.*
Updated: September 11, 2014
DELAWARE BAY Flounder fishing is still pretty good at reef sites from the upper to the lower bay. Boats from Bowers Beach, Mispillion Inlet and Lewes all reported decent catches with some fish topping five pounds. It is important to work your bait directly on top of the reef site structure as this is where the flounder are holding. In order to do this the wind and current have to be moderate and the captain must have good boat handling skills.
The best baits have been bucktails tipped with squid, strips of fish, smelt, mullet or Gulp!. A Delaware Bay Green Machine will also work when adorned with the same baits. Croaker have been caught from the same reef sites as well as the mouth of the bay around the 4 Buoy. Kings, blues and a few spot have been caught along with the croaker. Squid, cut fish, bloodworms and Gulp! have all produced croaker.
The larger croaker and spot remain in the tidal rivers and creeks. The Broadkill, Mispillion, Leipsic and the Lewes and Rehoboth Canal have all seen good numbers of these fish. Croakers will take squid, cut fish, Gulp! and FishBites. If you want big spot stick with bloodworms.
Blues are found feeding under diving birds. The rips at the Outer Wall and at the Ice Breakers have produced good action when the current is running hard. Blues have also been caught by bottom fishermen targeting flounder and croaker. Casting metal lures to breaking fish is great fun on light tackle.
The pier at Cape Henlopen State Park has seen good numbers of spot and few croaker. Bloodworms are the most popular bait on the pier and if you want to catch spot it is the top producer.
I am sure there are spadefish and sheepshead at the Outer and Inner walls as well as the Ice Breakers. With tog season closed very few anglers are working here so competition for a fishing spot is pretty light. Try sand fleas or green crab, as well as small pieces of clam, for the sheepshead and spades.
INSHORE OCEAN I have never seen flounder fishing as good as it has been. Not only are private and charter boats returning with limits, but head boats are also catching their patrons limits of flatfish.
Reef sites 9, 10 and 11 have been very good locations for those who can work a jig over structure. The Old Grounds is a bit easier to fish as the structure is spread out over a large area. There are some rough bottom patches between A and B buoys and these too are producing good numbers of flounder.
Not every day is suitable for catching flounder here. The wind and current must be light to allow a proper drift or to hold the boat over structure at the reef sites. Of course, if the drift is too slow the result will be the same as when it is too fast. I like to drift around one-knot to maybe one and a half knots. You can use your GPS to determine the drift speed.
These flounder don’t seem to be particular about what they eat. Squid strips and a spearing or smelt is one combo favored by anglers while live spot or minnows are also in the mix. I like to use strips of bluefish, mullet or bunker on my bottom rig or bucktail. Gulp! is very popular either as a standalone bait or in a combo with squid strips.
Large croaker are beginning to show up in the ocean. They have been caught from the Eights at the mouth of the bay all the way out to the Old Grounds. Squid or cut fresh fish make good croaker baits.
We are seeing more keeper sea bass at the Old Grounds with most anglers boxing one or two a day. There are also more short sea bass that are attracted to flounder baits.
The inshore lumps such as the Ham Bone, Chicken Bone and Massey’s Canyon should see good fishing for dolphin, false albacore and bonito. Once the wind drops out and the seas settle down trolling here will be very productive.
OFFSHORE OCEAN With the hard northeast wind we had early this week I expect the marlin to be snapping hard in the canyons. As it is after every storm, captains will have to locate good water and weedlines in order to find the hot bite. I would begin at the Poorman’s or the Washington unless the temperature charts show something interesting in another location.
Deep droppers will continue to catch tilefish and perhaps a grouper or two. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that a swordfish was caught by an overnighting boat.
INDIAN RIVER INLET Flounder fishing has improved, but not by much. There should still be some keepers left here after most of the larger flounder move offshore to spawn. Live minnows or spot can attract the larger fish, however this bait will also attract bluefish and short rockfish and that can make for an expensive trip. Strips of squid on a bucktail is a more economical way to go.
Blues seem to be coming through the inlet on a more regular basis. Incoming water is the best time to find them feeding under flocks of diving birds. I use metal lures as they can withstand the blue’s teeth, but bucktails will also produce good action.
Croaker, sheepshead and flounder have been caught out of the rocks on drifted sand fleas, clam or a bucktail with a minnow or strip of squid or fish. Last week the southside of the inlet produced more action, but this week it could be the northside.
Rockfish have been scarce with shorts caught at night on drifted sand fleas or bucktails. The occasional keeper may be caught, but right now this is a rare occurrence.
SURF FISHING Blues and kingfish were caught from the beach before the latest northeast blow. They should still be there once the seas settle down. Fresh mullet has been the top bait.
When using mullet, cut the finger-sized fish into chunks rather than using the entire fish on a big bluefish rig. The blues right now are in the 1- to 3-pound class and while they will be happy to hit a whole mullet, they won’t pass up a chunk of the same bait. Kings are also hitting the mullet and you stand a better chance of catching them on smaller baits.
FRESHWATER In driving around Sussex County I have noticed the ponds are covered by green patches of slimly scum. Not sure what the stuff is, but I suspect it does nothing to improve fishing. I did have reports of bass caught on Scum Frogs, Senkos and crankbaits by those who know how to fish under these conditions.
Catfish and perch remain available in the tidal creeks and rivers as well as the shoreline along the lower Delaware River and upper bay. Some of the catfish top five pounds while a few of the perch are over the one-pound mark. Bloodworms will catch both species while cut bunker is a good catfish bait.
Bass fishermen continue to catch some hefty specimens out of Broad Creek and the Nanticoke River. As always, the best time to fish is on a falling tide with jigs one of the more popular offerings.
OBEY THE LAW Every week when I get the Fish & Wildlife Enforcement blotter from DNREC I am amazed at the number of people who are apprehended for absolutely stupid things. Last week 28 people were arrested for fishing, clamming or crabbing without a license. It’s not like the license went into effect yesterday. It has been the law in Delaware for 10 years so you would think everyone would be aware that they need a license before heading out on the water. Apparently not.
The other offense that really ticks me off is having a child age 12 and under on a boat without a PFD. I was with the Delaware Wildlife Federation when we tried to get this law passed after a tragic event at Indian River Inlet when two children were lost. Believe it or not, we had some resistance from the General Assembly, but more sensible heads prevailed and the law was passed. This was close to 30 years ago and how someone could not be aware of the law is beyond my comprehension. I am happy to report that since that law was passed we have not lost a single child to a boating accident.
I am not surprised to see the number of people arrested for having undersized fish and crabs. There will always be folks that try to get away with something be it keeping illegal fish or crabs or running a red light. I would like to see higher fines for these offenses so perhaps the poachers would at least feel a great deal lighter in the pocketbook and think twice before stealing our resources again.
Finally, there are the much more serious crimes such as drug possession and trespassing on wildlife areas after they have closed. A wildlife area may seem like safe place for these criminals to do business, but DNREC enforcement agents do patrol them and often encounter some dangerous people. Many of us think of these agents as fish cops, but they do some pretty hazardous things to keep the rest of us safe.
*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.