By Eric Burnley Sr.*
Updated: Nov. 20, 2014
DELAWARE BAY Rockfish are being caught as far north as the Yellow Can and as far south as Overfalls Shoal, but the number of keepers is still quite small. Fish over 40 pounds are available, but those in the 15- to 25-pound range are just not here. We can only hope they will arrive when the weather is suitable for most of us to get out after them.
In the Upper Bay chunking with cut bunker has been the most successful technique. The fresher the bunker, the better. the Yellow and Green cans off of Augustine Beach and the 4L and 6L buoys out of Collins Beach have been two of the more productive locations.
The Rips between Cape May and Cape Henlopen are producing rockfish to over 40 pounds, but on a very limited basis. I had a report from one angler who made seven trips to this area before connecting with one fish. The most fish I have seen come in on one boat has been three. As happens every fall, a few big flounder have been caught on plugs and bait. The good news is reports from New Jersey indicate rockfish still to our north.
Rockfish have been caught on trolled Stretch and Bomber plugs, live spot and live eels. Live bait attracts the ever-present dogfish and I don’t mean the beer.
Tog fishing over bay reef sites has not been all that good. Of course, not many people have been out there due to the weather and deer hunting season.
The Inner and Outer walls and the Ice Breakers have seen good tog fishing when the water is clear and calm enough to toggle off from the rocks. Green crabs are the most productive tog bait.
INSHORE OCEAN Tog fishing was slow to start at Reef Site 10, but has come on strong. Last weekend most boats left with a limit and the tog were still active late this week. The average weight has been three to four pounds with a few larger fish mixed in the catch. Green crabs are the top bait.
It has been awhile since the weather allowed boats to sail out to the sea bass grounds in 20 to 25 fathoms of water. The last report I had indicated limits of sea bass plus a few big blues and triggerfish caught at the Del-Jersey-Land Reef and other structure further offshore. Clam has been the top bait with jigs producing a better class of sea bass.
INDIAN RIVER INLET According to my reports small rockfish are available from the inlet on shads, plugs and bucktails. Live eels also work on the small fish and will produce the occasional keeper after dark. The hoped for run of big rockfish has yet to occur.
Tog fishermen are finding some success with green crabs fished tight to the rocks. There are shorts along with keepers, but if you can stand to fish all day in the cold you should be able to put together a legal limit.
SURF FISHING I keep getting reports of small rockfish from the beach, but in three trips to Cape Henlopen State Park I have yet to catch one or see one caught. I am using big chunks of bunker on an 8/0 circle hook so maybe my bait is too large. It has not been too large for the rays and skates.
The long range weather report does not bode well for us poor neglected surf rats. Nothing but wind from the west and that is not going to push bait and rockfish to the beach. Nevertheless, I will continue to go until they pry my cold, dead hands from my surf rod.
FRESHWATER The colder the water in the ponds, the better the fishing with bait. Shiners and minnows will become ever more popular as the water temperature drops even lower.
Spillways will also become more productive as fish seek the deep, oxygenated water below mill pond dams. Many of the state’s ponds have some type of aid to fishing at the spillways to make access quite easy.
The upper reaches of the tidal creeks and rivers are holding big white perch and catfish. Some of these fish have also been caught from the lower Delaware River. As always, bloodworms are best for the perch while the cats like fresh bunker or chicken livers.
LATE SEASON SEA BASS Late season sea bass fishing is best done from a head or charter boat. The 25 to 40 mile run to find these fish in the normally unsettled late fall weather is a bit too dangerous in most trailer boats.
Head and charter boats do sail for sea bass from both Lewes and Indian River as well as Ocean City, Maryland and several ports in New Jersey. As with any fishing operation, weather is the deciding factor as to whether a trip will go or not. Once you select the boat you wish to fish on let the captain know your plans and he will keep you up to date on sailing conditions.
Deep water fishing requires heavy gear. The rod must be able to handle up to 10 or 12 ounces of weight and the reel should carry a good amount of braided line. I do tie eight to ten feet of 50-pound mono to my braided running line as the mono handles the abrasion from the rough bottom better than braid. I use an Albright or double Uni knot to connect the braid and mono.
I have described my top-bottom rigs in previous reports. I use a section of 50-pound mono fishing line with a perfection loop in one end and a double surgeon’s loop in the other. Between those two knots I tie two more double surgeon’s loops and hang the hooks from them. I use 3/0 or 4/0 circle hooks to hold my clam or squid bait.
Quite often it seems as though smaller sea bass live right on the bottom with the larger ones a few feet above the structure. In order to keep the little ones off of your line try tying the two hooks well above the sinker. I also use jigs when possible as these seem to attract the big ones and discourage the little ones
*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.