By Eric Burnley Sr.*
Updated: Feb. 23, 2017
DELAWARE BAY The weather has improved, but fishing in the bay remains slow. White and yellow perch have been caught out of the tidal rivers and creeks with worms and minnows the prime baits. The shoreline along the Upper Bay has seen some white perch on the same baits.
The Nanticoke River and Broad Creek on the western side of Sussex County have produced more perch than we are seeing along the bay. The same baits will work there for neds there. The spillway in Laurel and the shoreline at Phillips Landing are excellent access points.
INSHORE OCEAN It was a disappointing weekend for tog fishermen. Catches from boats out of Indian River were dismal. I did have a report from one boat that ran south and caught a few tog before the tide changed and the fish shut down. The problem seems to be cold water on the bottom. Perhaps the continued mild weather will warm things up.
INDIAN RIVER INLET Still nothing from the inlet or the surf. The weekend saw several folks out at both locations with zip to show for their efforts.
FRESHWATER The good fishing in the local ponds continued over the weekend. Bass, pickerel and crappie have been the top targets with minnows, shiners, worms, spinners, jigs and crankbaits all finding fish.
Delaware trout season - at least the downstate version of it - will open March 4 at Newton Pond near Greenwood and Tidbury Pond in Dover. You must have a Delaware General Fishing License and a trout stamp. Children from ages 12 to 15 must have a Young Angler Trout Stamp. You can go online to buy all of these items.
EARLY SEASON I used to rush the fishing season until I decided to let someone else catch the first fish before beginning my quest. Back in the day of big trout in Delaware Bay everyone would get all excited when the netters began landing fish. They were usually disappointed, since trout will hit a net at any water temperature, but need around 50 degrees to hit a bucktail. This is still true today when the target is flounder, not trout.
Since shallow water warms before deep water the first flounder will be caught out of the Indian River Bay or the Lewes and Rehoboth Canal. In Indian River, try the flats on the flood tide and the channel edges on the ebb. The Lewes & Rehoboth Canal produces best on an ebb tide when the sun has had a chance to warm the water.
Rockfish will start hitting baits in the Upper Bay when the water temperature goes above 45 degrees, but will really turn on when the temperature goes above 50 degrees. The fish are up there on the way to their spawning grounds and fishing is usually better after the spawn.
The past two years have seen runs of big bluefish from the mouth of Delaware Bay and inside Indian River Inlet. The run in 2015 was the best in recent memory and the 2016 run was almost as good. Only time will tell if these fish will return in 2017. If they do it will be after the water goes above 50 degrees. The big blues are after menhaden and I have already seen photos of them caught by netters out of Bowers Beach.
So while the air temperature is in the 60 to 70 degree range the water temperature in the ocean and bay is in the mid-40s. Go ahead and try your luck, but in my opinion your time is better spent getting stuff done around the house or putting the boat in shape. Then when the fishing really starts, you can go with a clear conscience.
*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 three books, Surf Fishing The Atlantic Coast ,The Ultimate Guide To Catching Striped Bass and Fishing Saltwater Baits.