By Eric Burnley Sr.*
Updated: Feb. 16, 2017
DELAWARE BAY Not much going on due to the cold and windy weather. This weekend looks much better weather-wise so I expect more anglers will be trying for white and yellow perch. The shoreline along the tidal creeks and rivers as well as the piers at Woodland Beach and Port Mahon should produce both species. Bloodworms may be available, but if not, earthworms or grass shrimp should do the job.
INSHORE OCEAN To the best of my knowledge, no one made it out to the tog grounds in recent days. Once again the weekend weather is looking good so I expect boats will be able to sail. The tog action has been very good with limits reported before the wind and cold so there should be good catches made on the usual crab baits.
INDIAN RIVER INLET If we get a good shot of warm weather we could see the first hickory shad of the season by early next month. Shad darts and small spoons will draw strikes from these fish.
White and yellow perch should be available in the upper reaches of the Indian River at Millsboro. Worms and minnows will be the top baits.
FRESHWATER I have seen a few boats on Sussex County ponds and I expect the lure of bass, crappie and pickerel is what’s bringing them out. Live bait is still the best bet with shiners, minnows and earthworms the way to go. Purists may choose jigs and spinners worked very slowly.
While not in Delaware, the upper reaches of the Susquehanna River has been a good choice for yellow perch. The towns of Perryville and Port Deposit have given up good numbers of big yellow neds on minnows and worms.
WATER TEMPS All fish have a preferred range of water temperatures where they like to live. Since fish are cold-blooded creatures the water temperature is very critical to their survival. Fishermen need to be aware of these temperatures since it is not likely they will catch many fish from water that is outside their preferred range.
Let’s look at summer flounder. Their preferred range is 62 to 66 degrees. They can stand water as cold as 56 or as warm as 72, but will not be happy and may not feed as well as they would in the 62 to 66 temperature range.
Since flounder live on the bottom there will be a temperature difference between there and the surface. This may not mean much in shallow water, but in the deep water it can be a significant difference.
When I ran charters out of Virginia Beach amberjack were a very popular fish for some of my clients. There were a few wrecks where I always found some of these big jacks and then one day the fish were gone. I hit a couple of spots, but the results were the same.
As I was pondering my next move the captain of one of the local dive boats came on the radio. He said his customers were coming back complaining about how cold the water was on the bottom. A temperature reading had the bottom at 45 degrees. This is in the middle of the summer when the surface temperature was close to 80. Not the best of news for my customers since the lowest tolerance for amberjacks is 60 degrees. This situation continued for a couple of weeks and then it went away as fast as it had arrived.
Back to summer flounder. As the water in the Inland Bays continues to rise the flounder have moved out to the cooler areas on the bottom in 70 to 100 feet. In the very early part of the season they may in shallow water, but as soon as these locations warm up it is off to the deep.
Rockfish like the water to be between 55 and 65 degrees. They have a low tolerance of 50 degrees and a upper tolerance of 75 degrees.
This past fall was a perfect example of rockfish avoiding cold water. A red-hot striped bass run was under way off the New Jersey coast and just as a few fish were moving in range of Delaware boats, we had a sudden cold snap. The water temperature dropped into the upper 30s and the rockfish went past us like a southbound freight train.
This spring people will begin to fish for flounder and rockfish as soon as the weather turns warm. Most of them will be disappointed. It takes more than a few nice days to warm the water above 50 degrees for rockfish and 56 degrees for flounder. I know we want to get out of the house and get back to fishing, just wait for the right water temperature before expecting much action.
*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.