By Eric Burnley Sr.*
Updated: June 25, 2015
DELAWARE BAY Croaker have become the primary target for head boats and some charter boats operating from Bowers Beach to Lewes. Private boats are also getting in on the hot action. The best bite so far has been on the reef sites with the larger fish holding directly over hard structure.
If you like to catch fish that put up a pretty good fight on light tackle then croaker are for you. All you need is a box of bloodworms, strips of squid or cut fresh bait and you will be ready to catch croaker. A simple two-hook top-bottom rig armed with circle hooks and held to the bottom with a bank sinker is the best setup. Use just enough bait to cover the hooks because croaker are nibblers and will eat away long bait strips never getting to the hook. With the circle hooks I just drop back for a few seconds when I feel a bite and then raise the rod tip to set the hook. Remember, Delaware does have an eight–inch minimum size limit on croaker.
Flounder have been caught over reef sites by those who spend the time to learn how to work the rubble. You pretty much have to be on the structure to catch a flounder. Jigging with a bucktail from a boat that the captain can hold in place has been the most productive technique. Drifting over structure will also produce flounder. Some of the best baits to decorate your bucktail include squid strips, strips of fresh fish, shiners, live minnows and Gulp!.
Flounder are still being caught out of the Broadkill River and the Lewes and Rehoboth Canal. Drifting with live minnows, squid strips or shiners has been the most productive technique. Croaker are beginning to move into these waters as well.
In the upper reaches of the bay croaker have been caught from shore at Augustine Beach on down to the pier at Woodland Beach. Peeler crab is a favorite bait along with bloodworms and squid. White perch and small rockfish have been taken along with the croaker.
In the C&D Canal some big catfish have been caught on chunks of bunker and bloodworms. Reedy Point has produced a few of these nice fish.
The very occasional weakfish has been caught out of Roosevelt Inlet and along the walls in Lewes. Gulp! on a jighead has produced some of these rare fish.
INSHORE OCEAN On Saturday I fished on the Rehoboth Star out of Indian River Inlet. We worked Reef Site 11 and the Old Grounds for a decent catch of flounder. The number of boats at both locations indicated this was pretty much the only game in town. I was using my favorite flounder rig, a Delaware Bay Green Machine with a Tsunami Ball Jig. My bait was fresh-caught sea robin and strips of squid. At the end of the day I had boxed three flounder and one lonely sea bass.
Another boat out of Southshore Marina had a good catch of sea bass and ling off the ex-destroyer USS Arthur W. Radford or the Del-Jersey-Land reef. Sea bass and ling were a common catch at the Old Grounds just a few years ago, but now they have moved much further offshore for reasons we can only guess.
Tuna and sharks are keeping anglers busy at various sea mounts from 20-fathoms on out. So far the tuna bite has been on the troll, but I suspect chumming will soon come into vogue. Sharks are usually caught by chumming and using the freshest bait you can find.
OFFSHORE OCEAN Tuna remain the primary target for offshore anglers. Both bigeyes and yellowfins have been caught at the Baltimore and Wilmington canyons. The best action seems to come at dawn and dusk so overnight trips have produced the most fish.
Dolphin and white marlin have been caught, but not in the numbers we will see later in the season.
INDIAN RIVER INLET Flounder fishing did improve a bit with fish caught along the southside of the inlet. The VFW Slough and Massey’s Ditch also gave up a few flatfish. Live minnows, strips of squid and Gulp! have all worked.
The best rockfish action has been after dark on drifted sand fleas or cast bucktails. Most of these rock are small with the occasional keeper landed by lucky anglers.
Some croaker have shown up in the inlet. Cut bait, bloodworms or squid will attract these fish.
Blues and hickory shad move into the inlet on incoming water. Toss a bucktail to catch the blues or a shad dart to hook a shad.
SURF FISHING Other than sharks and skates, it is kings and croakers from the surf. Bloodworms are the best bait for the kings and croakers. Try fishing close to the wash as both species will often feed there.
FRESHWATER With summer officially here, low light conditions at dawn and dusk will be the best times to fish the shoreline of local ponds. Try Scum Frogs in the Lilly pads or soft plastics rigged weedless for bass. Crappie will take a minnow on a jig fished under a bobber or plain.
Spillways are always a good choice for bass, crappie, catfish and perch. The deep water remains relatively cool in the summer and the constant flow of water over the dam adds oxygen to the mix.
ATTENTION TO DETAIL Over the years I have watched countless anglers try to catch fish. The idea that 10 percent of the fishermen catch 90 percent of the fish is very close to being true and if you watch how many people approach the sport you too can see why.
Tackle is the first thing you should examine. You don’t need the most expensive stuff in the store, but you do need quality products. To this end, I recommend buying from a tackle shop in the area where you plan to fish. The owner and the help are very familiar with local fishing situations and will guide you to the best equipment for the job at hand.
One of the biggest problems I see with equipment is reels that are half full. This restricts casting distance and also the amount of line you can retrieve with one crank of the handle. Mono line is cheap and there is no reason not to keep the reel full.
I also see many people trying to use one outfit for all fishing situations. The light action spinning rod that works great for croaker in shallow water will not do the job for the same fish when you need four to six ounces to hold bottom in deep water. Look at the base of any rod you buy and you will find information on how much weight it will hold and what pound test line should be used.
Dropping your rig to the bottom then putting the rod in a holder is another bad idea. By doing this you lose complete contact with the bottom and how your rig is working. In deep water it is often necessary to constantly let out line to keep the bait in the strike zone. With the rod in a holder the rig will end up way off the bottom where nothing will find it.
The best technique is to hold the rod and keep the reel in freespool. Jig the rod up and down and let out line when you can no longer feel the bottom. Once you can no longer feel the bottom by letting out line it is time to reel in a start again.
Changing bait is another important thing to do. Keep live bait alive and dead bait fresh. Never use rotten bait that has sat in the sun all day. Keep bait in the cooler until you need it and change everything at east every 15 minutes. Gulp! remains effective for about 30 minutes so remove it and put it in back in the liquid before replacing that bait with a fresh one.
Those 10 percent of fishermen who catch 90 percent of the fish pay attention to every detail. The more you become like them the better your chances of joining that group.
*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.