By Eric Burnley Sr.*
Updated: August 21, 2014
DELAWARE BAY Croaker continue to rule the bay from Reedy Point to the Outer Wall off of Lewes. Shore fishermen can catch these fish from all the beaches along the bay as well as from tidal creeks and rivers. Boaters will find the larger fish directly over hard structure at the reef sites. We have also had reports of larger croaker in the tidal creeks and rivers.
No matter where you find them, croaker will take a variety of baits. Bloodworms are always a good choice, but squid, clam, Gulp! or FishBites are almost as good and cost a little less. I have had good luck catching larger croaker on small chunks of fresh fish including cut up croaker. If you do use croaker, be sure to keep the racks on the boat as these fish have an eight-inch minimum size and just like flounder, any part less than the minimum size without the rack can get you a ticket.
Big spot are beginning to show up in the Broadkill River, the Lewes and Rehoboth canal and from the fishing pier at Cape Henlopen State Park. I find bloodworms the best bait for spot period. The pier also holds croaker, small blues and the occasional flounder. The blues like cut fresh fish, the croaker will take almost anything and the best flounder action has been after dark on live minnows.
Blues are also in the bay around the Outer Wall where they chase shiners in the rips. Bottom fishermen encounter them mixed in with the croaker, kings and spot.
Flounder have been caught in the upper bay near Miah Maull Shoal and the Cross Ledge where New Jersey’s 18-inch minimum size limit is in effect. On the Delaware side the reef sites hold flounder as well.
Reef sites further down the bay have seen good numbers of keeper flounder caught. The strong current from the super moon made it difficult to work the reef sites at any time other than just before and right after a current change. This current will be much weaker this weekend so fishing the reef sites should be easier and more productive. Jigging with a bucktail tipped with strips of fish, squid or a smelt has been a good attractor for flounder. Hooks adorned with a strip of squid and either a minnow or shiner is another good bait.
The Inner and Outer walls hold a few tog, triggerfish, sheepshead and spadefish. Unfortunately, most of these fish have been taken by spear, not hook and line. Anglers do manage some success, but it will take a bit of cooler water to get the fish biting more aggressively.
Slot rockfish are available at open water locations such as the Yellow Can, along the beach from Augustine to Woodland and in the tidal creeks and rivers. Chunks of fresh bunker seem to be the bait of choice for many rockfishermen while others use bloodworms, peeler crab and small eels. The early morning or late evening bite can be good with top water lures. One very good or very lucky angler caught two big speckled trout out of the Broadkill River on a Storm shad.
INSHORE OCEAN On days when drifting conditions are suitable, good numbers of flounder are caught at sites 10 and 11, the Old Grounds and over rough bottom patches between A and B buoys. I made the trip out here twice last week and was rewarded with one flounder on each occasion. Drifting conditions were not very good on both days so I felt blessed to do that well. Strips of squid, fresh fish, shiners, and smelt all produce flounder. This bait may be fished on a bucktail or on a Delaware Bay Green Machine.
A few boats are fishing over hard structure further out and are finding larger flounder plus sea bass and ling. These areas are 20 to 30 miles off the beach and are not posted in any publication or website.
A couple of dolphin (mahi-mahi) were caught along the buoy line last week when a shot of warm, clear water moved inshore. This happens every summer and by Friday the water was nowhere near as clean as it was on Monday.
Dolphin and wahoo were caught at the various lumps such as the Hot Dog, Chicken Bone and Massey’s Canyon. Trollers caught most of these fish, but failed to capture any tuna. Look for false albacore and bonito to show up out here within the next week or two.
Blues are caught by bottom fishermen looking for flounder and by trollers working around Fenwick Shoal. The ones we caught on Friday were in the one to two-pound class and went in the box.
Larger croaker are showing up along the buoy line and at the Old Grounds. Smaller versions have been caught at Reef Site 10. Look for even bigger croaker towards fall and perhaps some keeper size trout in the same areas.
OFFSHORE OCEAN Tuna became the most popular fish now that the white marlin open has ended. The best action on bigeyes and yellowfins has been in the canyons with the Washington mentioned more than the others. Trolling and chunking have both produced with the best bite at dawn and dusk.
Billfish have been caught along the 100-Fathom Line and farther out past the 500-line. Trolling is the most popular technique, but boats to our south are using live bait, a technique that is sure to take over out of Delaware in the near future.
The dolphin and wahoo are still around and help fill the fishbox on trips that target billfish. Look for these fish under anything that floats.
INDIAN RIVER INLET It is still a slow pick for keeper flounder at the inlet and in the back bays. Live minnows and a strip of squid make the most popular bait with Gulp!, shiners and smelt also finding a few champions. The deeper holes at the VFW Slough, Massey’s Ditch and the slough alongside Burton’s Island three favorite locations. The best fishing will be very early in the morning before the pleasure boating fleet takes command of the water.
Jetty fishermen are still catching a variety of fish including triggers, sheepshead, croaker and flounder. The larger croaker remain on the southside with all species except flounder, caught on sand fleas or green crab. Flounder prefer a live minnow, strip of fresh fish or squid on a bucktail worked right in the rocks.
Sand fleas drifted at night have produced a few keeper rockfish along with a fair number of shorts. Bucktails and plugs remain the choice of traditionalists.
On Sunday morning there was a run of bluefish through the inlet. This usually occurs during incoming water and small metal lures are the best offering for these fish.
SURF FISHING A good run of bluefish developed on the beach from Savages’ Ditch down to Three R’S Road over the weekend. Fish to over 30 inches were caught on cut mullet or bunker. Most of these blues measured between 12 and 20 inches which is still a nice-sized fish.
Otherwise it has been a selection of small stuff including kings, croaker and spot on bloodworms, clam or FishBites. Sharks and skates are also caught in numbers greater than most of us would like.
FRESHWATER The cooler weather has made it more comfortable for bass fishermen working the local ponds, but the best action will still be early or late in the day. Scum Frogs and other top water lures will work best when pulled close to or over Lily pads. I have noticed a good bit of green scum on the ponds in Sussex County and I am sure this does not help the fishermen.
Expect to catch sunnies and crappie along the banks under any type of structure. Use a small piece of earthworm under a bobber and you should be well entertained.
Catfish and white perch have been caught in the upper reaches of the tidal creeks and rivers. Bass are also in these waters. Bloodworms work well on the perch while the catfish like stink baits, cut bunker and chicken livers. Try jigs worked around structure for the bass during falling tides.
JUSTICE SERVED I am sure you have been in a situation where you've observed someone blatantly disobeying the law and wished there had been an enforcement officer there. Last Friday, as we were coming down the Lewes & Rehoboth Canal from our ocean fishing trip, I observed a gentleman operating his boat in such manner as to create quite a wake. As always happens in this situation, folks on shore and on boats tied to the dock were yelling at him to slow down, but he paid them no mind. As he passed our boat, I said, “Hey captain, pull her back a bit.”
This did get a response: He gave me a dirty look.
However, I already knew there was a DNREC enforcement boat in our wake with three officers on board. They made a quick turnaround and pulled the guy over. I was overjoyed.
Later at the dock I asked one of the officers if they had given this person a ticket. He said they had not, but they did give him a warning. Let’s hope against the odds that this close call and admonition will cause him to modify his behavior.
*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.