An outdoors Christmas of the past

December 23, 2017

The holiday season is a happy experience for most of us. While hunting and fishing take a backseat to family time, I know for certain some families will be hunting and, perhaps, fishing during their time away from school or work.

I used to know families where the men went duck or rabbit hunting every Christmas morning. They were in the blind or the field before Santa got home, and even if the birds weren’t flying or the rabbits and quail were holding tight, memories were made.

Back home once the dogs were fed, it was time for a big Eastern Shore breakfast, opening gifts and then a nap before an even bigger dinner.

Back in those days, many Eastern Shore homes didn’t have a TV, and if they did, they had only one or two channels. There were no football or basketball games, and the only phone in the house was black with a dial and connected you to a party line. Believe it or not, but people actually talked to each other.

It seems to me that presents were simpler as well. The kids got a toy or two to go with new socks, underwear and perhaps their first gun or new fishing rod. Bikes were another big-ticket item. The outdoor world was vast and kids as well as adults spent a great deal of time there.

The Eastern Shore has changed a lot since the 1940s and ’50s. We still have a pretty vast outdoors, but many of our priorities have changed. Kids and adults want the latest technology under the tree, and dinner conversations may not be as entertaining as they once were.  

I am very proud that both of my sons are involved in the outdoors and that we can still spend time fishing together. When we all lived in Delaware or Virginia Beach, we hunted together as well. Since neither of us have hunting leases and we live three hours apart, hunting is no longer a part of our lives. I hope you and your family can be together for the holidays and they are the best you have ever known.

Fishing report

Catching is entirely dependent on the weather. When conditions are favorable, excellent numbers of tog, sea bass and rockfish have been made.

Just about all the striped bass catches have been off New Jersey. Some anglers have towed their boats to New Jersey, while other are running across the bay to fish along the New Jersey coast.

You need to be aware that New Jersey has different regulations on striped bass than Delaware. In New Jersey, you may keep one striper between 28 and less than 43 inches and one more than 43 inches. If you are from Delaware and try to keep a Delaware limit of two fish larger than 28 inches, you will be subject to a hefty fine. My guess is a New Jersey enforcement officer will home in on a boat with Delaware registration like a hawk on a mouse.

While New Jersey does not have a saltwater fishing license, they do have a FIN number registry. You must obtain a separate FIN number from New Jersey or face another fine.

On Monday, Dec. 18, the Fish Whisperer had four keeper rockfish while trolling MOJOs off Bethany Beach. This is the best catch from Delaware waters so far this fall.

My reports indicate MOJOs and Stretch 30 plugs are the most successful lures to pull behind the boat. Purple seems to be the best color for the plugs, while white has been effective as a MOJO color.

In addition to the rockfish, boats have also encountered some fine tog. On Monday, the Grizzly brought in a limit of tog including four worthy of citations. Those fish weighed 15.8, 13, 11 and 10.5 pounds. The largest of the quartet was caught by Bob Murphy.

Black sea bass are still being caught at the Del-Jersey-Land Reef. One boat last week had a limit of sea bass and some nice tog from there. It is a pretty long run during the winter, but if your boat can keep you dry it could be worth the effort.

It looks like we could have some fishable weather right into the new year. If you plan to fish in January, you will need a new general fishing license and boat registration. Your New Jersey and Virginia documents will also expire Dec. 31. Maryland licensees are good to the date you purchased them.

Normally, this would not be a rush job, but with the chance that rockfish will be around into the new year, you will want to be ready. All of these documents are available online. Just what your credit card needs right after Christmas.

  • Eric Burnley is a Delaware native who has fished and hunted the state from an early age.  Since 1978 he has written countless articles about hunting and fishing in Delaware and elsewhere along the Atlantic Coast.  He has been the regional editor for Salt Water Sportsman, Field and Stream, Outdoor Life and the Fisherman Magazine.  He was the founding editor of the Mid-Atlantic Fisherman magazine.  Eric is the author of three books; Surf Fishing the Atlantic Coast, The Ultimate Guide to Striped Bass Fishing and Fishing Saltwater Baits.  He and his wife Barbara live near Milton, Delaware. Eric can be reached at

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