By Eric Burnley Sr.*
Updated: July 31, 2015
ADVISORY: Cape Henlopen beach from Gordons Pond to Herring Point reopened for surf-fishing as piping plover nesting season ends
DELAWARE BAY Croaker were harder to find, but flounder fishing improved making most anglers happy. All the flatfish action is directly on top of structure at bay reef sites. Blind drifting may produce the occasional fish, but those who work directly on the top of reef material will have a more consistent score. Top baits include a bucktail with a strip of squid or fresh fish, Gulp!, shiners and smelt. A live minnow and a strip of squid is always a go to bait.
Slot rockfish have been caught from shore in the upper bay as well as from boats fishing such locations as the Yellow Can and the Pipes. Cut bunker and bloodworms have been the best baits.
In the tidal rivers and creeks, slot rock have been caught on bunker chunks, squid heads, bloodworms and eels. Working the marsh banks with swimming or surface lures in the very early morning has also done a fair job of taking rockfish.
Blues are beginning to show up in the lower bay working bait under birds. When you come across this action try tossing a metal lure into the melee. Use a small lure as the bait the blues are chasing are small bay anchovies or similar fish. Stay away from surface lures as they are more likely to catch one of the birds than a bluefish.
Tog fishing drew quite a bit of attention when the season first opened, but that has diminished due to a lack of cooperation from the fish. There should be some sheepshead, triggerfish and spadefish near the various rock jetties and reef sites, but reports indicate that has not been the case.
The upper bay and lower Delaware River plus the C&D Canal hold good numbers of catfish and white perch. Use bloodworms for the perch and cut bunker or stink baits for the cats.
INSHORE OCEAN Tuna, wahoo and dolphin have been caught at the inshore lumps. Chunking is the most productive method for taking tuna while trolling has produced the wahoo and dolphin. Once the trolling fleet sets up that area becomes out of bounds for trolling. Pulling lures through chum slicks from other boats may not be illegal, but it is very rude.
Flounder fishing is fair at the Old Grounds, the rough bottom at B Buoy and at reef sites 9, 10, and 11. It may be a bit difficult to work the bottom this weekend due to the blue moon on Friday. A trip to the Old Grounds and Site 10 last Friday produced several flounder, but only two keepers. I was using a new model of the Delaware Bay Green Machine with a green float added to the top hook. My 22-inch flounder hit that hook baited with a strip of sea robin.
We are getting reports of croaker near B Buoy, but not in any great numbers. This fishing will improve as the croaker begin to move into the ocean to breed.
Bluefish have been caught at Fenwick Shoal by anglers towing small bucktails or metal lures. At least one Spanish mackerel was taken from the same area. With ocean water temperature in the mid to upper 70s, I would expect to see more mackerel taken.
OFFSHORE OCEAN A new state record blueline tilefish was caught on July 25 by Jesse Kegley who was fishing in the Norfolk Canyon on the boat Patient Lady with Capt. John Schneider. The new record weighed in at 21.8 pounds eclipsing the 19.7-pound blueline tilefish that was caught barely a month ago by William Fintel. I would not be shocked if this new record is also shortlived as interest in deep dropping continues to rise.
Trollers will begin to concentrate more on billfish as the White Marlin Open begins in Ocean City. The payout is usually in excess of $1 million for the largest white marlin brought to the dock. With the increase in bigeye catches I believe it is going to take a fish in excess of 200 pounds to win the tuna category.
The folks not rich enough to enter the Open will have to be content to fish for fun and food. They should find good numbers of dolphin and the occasional wahoo as well as blue and white marlin in the canyons. Deep droppers will encounter blueline and golden tiles.
INDIAN RIVER INLET Fishing for flounder at the inlet and the inland bays is not an easy task in the summer. Heavy boat traffic complicates the situation especially in the deeper channels such as the VFW Slough and Massey’s Ditch. The best time to fish will be from first light to about 9 a.m. before most of the pleasure boaters have taken to the water. Drifting with a live minnow and strip of squid has been effective since flounder were first caught on hook and line. More modern baits include a Gulp! Nuclear Chicken on a plain jig or a bucktail.
Croaker have been caught from the rocks on bloodworms and sand fleas. According to my reports these fish are larger than average measuring up to 12 inches.
Night-time jetty jockeys are catching a fair number of small rockfish and the occasional keeper by drifting sand fleas or casting bucktails. A few flounder were caught out of the rocks on live minnows, bucktails or jigs baited with Gulp!.
Blues show up on incoming water with some days better than others. Small metal lures or bucktails have been the best choice for the blues.
SURF FISHING Still slow fishing for kings and croakers. Bloodworms and sand fleas make the best bait and dawn is the best time to fish.
FRESHWATER The nice thing about bass fishing in the ponds is the fish are there all the time. The trick is to be there when they decide to feed and during the summer that time is very early in the morning, late in the evening or at night. Some anglers do well with surface lures such as the Scum Frogs worked tight to hard structure and Lilly pads. For others it is soft plastic lures on a jig or Senkos.
I am hearing more and more about big catfish at Reedy Point, the C&D Canal and in the Nanticoke River or Broad Creek. Cut bunker has been the top bait with some these fish topping 10 pounds.
RUNNING AT NIGHT With the offshore season in full swing and the inshore fishermen trying to beat the summer crowds there will be more people running their boats well before dawn and still others who go out after dark. I have never been a big fan of running in the dark, but understand it must be done in order to be on the grounds when the fish are in a feeding mood.
The first thing to check before running at night is your navigation lights. Make sure they are working and have spares for the almost always situation of one going out while you are on the water. It doesn’t hurt to do a little preventive maintenance by cleaning the contacts and putting on an electrical lubricant.
Once under way your instrument panel should be backlighted in red. White light will cause you to lose your night vision so make sure not to turn on any interior lights that are not red.
If you have radar keep a very close watch on the position of any targets and their speed and course. Don’t wait until the last second to change course when it becomes apparent your heading will get you into trouble.
Another practice that I have seen is boats running way too fast for night time. Slow down and make sure the crew keeps a sharp lookout for anything that might cause a problem.
The one thing that scares the heck out of me is running over something that you could not see. I had a good friend that lost his 50-foot sportfishermen to something he never saw. Whatever it was put a big hole in the hull below the waterline and the boat went down in a few minutes. He and two friends spent a few days in a life raft before a freighter picked them up. They ended up in a South American country with no money and no passports.
*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.