By Eric Burnley Sr.*
Updated: Jan. 15, 2014
DELAWARE BAY Cold water and cold weather do not provide ideal conditions for getting outside, let alone going out on the bay. It is possible to catch some white perch and small rockfish along the shoreline or in the tidal creeks and rivers, but I can’t imagine anyone in their right mind would brave subfreezing temperatures to catch these small fish.
INSHORE OCEAN Tog fishing continues to provide good action on days when the weather allows local boats to get away from the dock. Head boats from Indian River and Lewes are going out and catching fish, but I have no reports of any private boats making the long, cold trip. With the potential new world record tog caught on a white crab the rush to find this bait has overwhelmed the supply. I wouldn’t be too concerned as I really don’t think a tog cares much about what type of crab he eats.
No reports of rockfish since some were caught over the New Year’s weekend. Large schools have been seen off the coast of Virginia, but according to my reports these fish are well outside the Three-Mile Limit.
Further offshore I am certain tilefish and big blues are somewhere outside the 50-Fathom Line, but the weather has kept anyone from reaching them.
Blackfin tuna have been caught in large numbers from boats running out of Hatteras Inlet. Even further to the south, giant bluefin tuna in excess of 1,000 pounds are holding close to shore out of Morehead City, North Carolina.
INDIAN RIVER INLET Very little to report from here. Tog should be available unless the current cold snap drops the water temperature below the tog’s tolerance level.
FRESHWATER With ice covering Red Mill Pond I feel certain the rest of Delaware’s mill ponds are in similar condition. If you can’t get a lure or bait into the water it really diminishes your chances of catching a fish.
The spillways are still open and should hold crappie, perch and perhaps a bass or two. Crappie hot spots such as the Bethel Hole and the spillway in Seaford can be productive during the winter. Live minnows will be your best bait should you decide to venture out and try your luck.
COLOR Since the fishing reports are a little on the thin side this week, I thought I would pass along some information that might help you catch more fish when the opportunity to get out under more suitable conditions arrives. We will begin with color.
Color is very important when fishing, but it may not be important for the reasons you think. Most lures and rigs are decorated to catch fishermen and only catch fish by accident.
Fish do not see colors the same way people do. What they do see is contrast. If you tuna fish offshore you know how effective a cedar plug can be. This lure is shaped like a bullet and is made from brown cedar with a gray lead head. You fish it in the wash right behind a boat where the dull colors contrast with the white water in the turbulence of the prop wash.
Back when I began fishing offshore I asked a charter boat mate what he used for tuna. We were in the tackle shop at South Shore Marina back when Barbara Porter ran the operation. The mate pointed to the cedar plugs in the showcase. I said, How can a piece of wood with a lead head catch a fish? Barbara replied, Don’t worry about how, just believe they do.
I bought two of them. We headed for the Delaware Lightship where those two cedar plugs accounted for almost all of the bluefin tuna we caught that day. We never left the dock without them after that trip.
Black plugs and bucktails have been catching rockfish at night for as long as I can remember and long before that. While you think it’s dark, rockfish actually see a contrast between the light sky and the black plug. The fish’s eyes become very light sensitive after dark and can detect even the faintest light. This sensitivity is why you never shine a bright light on the water. That is like having a flash bulb go off in your eyes and the fish quickly depart.
On the other hand, fish will hang just outside the light at docks, piers or other areas where the light source is constant. The light will attract bait and the rock will shoot into the light to grab a meal.
Red is a favorite color for lures and rigs. Unlike a bull, red does not attract fish. In fact below 10 feet red becomes black. Ever wonder why a white and red plug works so well? It is because of contrast. The red turns black just a few feet below the surface and will contrast with a light background while the white pretty much remains light to contrast behind a dark background.
Most fish are dark on top and light on the bottom. Evolution has weeded out all the fish that were dark on the bottom and light on the top because they were easy for predators to see and eat. Some fish, like summer flounder, can even change color to more closely match the bottom where they lie in wait.
When selecting a lure or rig, think about where you will use it. Bottom rigs should be light in color to contrast with the rocks and other structure on the bottom. Lures that work on the surface should be dark to contrast with the sky.
There are many variables to color selection on any given day in any given situation. Dirty water, shallow water, cloudy weather, clear skies, turbulence, color of the bottom and way too many other fishing situations to mention. Use this little bit of information to begin the trip, then be willing to change your plan of attack to meet the situation at hand.
*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.