By Eric Burnley Sr.*
Updated: September 18, 2014
DELAWARE BAY The upper bay is producing white perch and catfish with a few croakers mixed in the catch. I expect most of the croakers to be gone as the recent cool weather and shorter daylight hours will have them moving out of the bay to their spawning grounds in the ocean.
White perch and catfish are available from the Pennsylvania border to Port Mahon on bloodworms, chicken livers and cut bunker. The tidal creeks and rivers also hold plenty of these fish. The cats have been running to over five pounds and some one-pound plus white perch have been caught.
In the lower bay dirty water and high winds have made fishing difficult. I was out Monday and found the water as dirty as I have seen it since Superstorm Sandy. I was fishing from Lewes and caught nothing in the bay. A run up the Broadkill River did produce two big spot and three tiny sea bass.
The dirty water and strong northeast winds have done nothing to help flounder fishing at the reef sites. Even the usually reliable croaker fishing has been slow. I fear that by the time the winds settle down and the water clears both flounder and croaker will be out of the bay and in the ocean.
The pier at Cape Henlopen State Park had slow fishing for croaker and spot. Bloodworms are the most popular baits and some of the spot are quite large.
The tidal rivers and creeks still hold spot and a few croaker. Bloodworms are the best bait for spot and here too the fish are large running to almost 12 inches.
Bluefish have been caught out of the rips around the Outer Wall. Metal lures cast to breaking fish under diving birds has been the most successful technique.
INSHORE OCEAN I am sure the flounder fishing remains good at the reef sites and the Old Grounds, but high northeast winds have curtailed many fishing trips. When the boats can get out here they are still finding good numbers of flounder and better numbers of keeper sea bass.
The sea bass season has been extended by three days and will now end at midnight on September 21. Let’s hope for a break in the weather before then.
This is the time of year when big croaker can be caught in the ocean. Site 10 and the rough bottom around B Buoy are two locations where these fish traditionally hang out. Closer to shore the Croaker Canyon about two miles off the Old Coast Guard Station is another good place to catch fall run croaker. Squid, or cut bait will attract these fish.
OFFSHORE OCEAN Not much to report from out here. The weather has kept all but the bravest anglers safely at the dock. We did have one report of a blue marlin caught last weekend.
Should the weather improve in the next week marlin fishing should be red hot. Any longer than that and the billfish will be gone leaving only the tuna to interest offshore anglers.
INDIAN RIVER INLET Other than bluefish, action here remains slow. The blues run through on incoming water and will hit metal lures or bucktails.
Sand fleas drifted in the rocks during the day produce croaker. The same bait at night will attract short rockfish. A few more keeper rockfish that measure just above the 28-inch minimum are beginning to show up.
SURF FISHING I have not seen any drop in the amount of green gunk on the ponds in Sussex County. I suspect the same is true at other Delaware ponds making bass fishing a bit of a challenge. Scum Frogs, Senkos and live bait are the best choices under these conditions.
The cooler, drier weather has improved the smallmouth fishing in the Brandywine Creek. A crawfish or any lure that looks like a crawfish will take the aggressive smallmouths as well as rock bass.
Nothing much changes on the Nanticoke River or Broad Creek. Bass are caught around submerged structure on falling tides with plastics or jigs the favored lures.
FRESHWATER In driving around Sussex County I have noticed the ponds are covered by green patches of slimy scum. Not sure what the stuff is, but I suspect it does nothing to improve fishing. I did have reports of bass caught on Scum Frogs, Senkos and crankbaits by those who know how to fish under these conditions.
Catfish and perch remain available in the tidal creeks and rivers as well as the shoreline along the lower Delaware River and upper bay. Some of the catfish top five pounds while a few of the perch are over the one-pound mark. Bloodworms will catch both species while cut bunker is a good catfish bait.
Bass fishermen continue to catch some hefty specimens out of Broad Creek and the Nanticoke River. As always, the best time to fish is on a falling tide with jigs one of the more popular offerings.
ROCKFISH? The past few years have not been very productive for rockfish during the fall. There are numerous opinions as to why this is so, with the bottom line being a lack of fish for whatever reason.
According to the scientists at the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission the population of striped bass has declined since 2008 and this would certainly affect the number of fish we have available during the fall. I have a theory that rockfish have changed their migration pattern and moved further offshore since that is where the bait has been. If we have a better fall run this year with the pattern of east wind then I will be proven correct. Sure I will...
In any event, it is a good idea to be prepared for whatever the fish gods send our way. This means a serious tackle check and a plan for intercepting whatever number of rockfish we get.
My favorite type of fishing is from the beach so I will be retying my shock leaders to the running line on my surf outfits. I use a length of 50-pound mono tied to my 50-pound braided line. The leader should extend to the gathering guide on the rod and wrap around the reel at least three times.
Boat fishermen will want to check the condition of their trolling plugs. The hooks should not show any sign of rust. If they do, the hooks must be replaced.
Make sure the line on the trolling reels is in good condition and retie the ball bearing snap swivels on the terminal end of the running line. Also retie the leaders attached to the plugs. I use six feet of 50-pound mono on my lures.
Once you have all your tackle in shape all that remains is the chance to use it. Fall weather is even more unpredictable than what we see the rest of the year so when the opportunity presents itself to go, don’t let it pass by.
*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.