Weather elements can determine drifting conditions

September 24, 2016

Between the weather and my traveling, I have not been able to get out on the ocean or bay for several weeks. I had hoped to make a trip last week, but the late arrival of a tropical depression put a stop to those plans. Oh well, there is always next week.

Those who made it out to the various reef sites, from No. 4 in the upper bay to the Del-Jerseyland over 20 miles out in the ocean, managed to catch fish. In the bay, the reef sites produced flounder, blues, croaker and kings. Some of the flounder were good-sized, while most of the croaker, blues and kings were small.  Jigging with a bucktail tipped with Gulp! produced the flounder, while bottom fishing with bloodworms, cut mullet and squid brought in most of the smaller fish.

Beach fishing at Bowers and Broadkill produced blues, croaker and kings. Bloodworms or cut mullet were the best baits.

The pier at Cape Henlopen State Park saw some keeper flounder caught on live minnows or bucktails. The flounder are usually found close to the pier pilings. Spot and croaker were also caught from the pier on bloodworms. The problem here, as it is elsewhere, is the fish will be in good supply during one tide then gone the next. There is no consistency to their behavior.

There were reports of flounder at the Cross Ledge and Miah Maull Shoal. Squid and minnows on a Delaware Bay Green Machine seemed to produce well in these open-bottom situations.

I am still seeing photos of the occasional flounder taken from the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal and the Broadkill River. Croaker and spot are also here and will jump all over a bloodworm. Farther up the Broadkill River, white perch are available and they will also take a bloodworm.

The best fishing for flounder has been in the ocean, as it has been all summer. Here too there is no consistency to the bite, as it can be great one day, very slow the next.  

Some of this is due to the wind and current that dictate the way the boat drifts. Good drifting conditions produce good fishing, while bad conditions make it difficult to present the bait properly. There are certain weather-related elements that can give you some idea of how the drift will be on any given tide.

First, you must understand that the current in the ocean flows north on incoming water and south on the outgoing. The strength of the current is created by the moon. Full and new moons produce the strongest currents. If you have a wind out of the south during a full moon, the drift speed is going to be pretty fast. A north wind during an outgoing current when the moon is at quadrature can produce ideal drifting conditions. Any time the wind and the current oppose each other, the drift will be difficult. I find a 1- to 1.5-knot drift is just about right for flounder.  

Another thing that can affect your success when flounder fishing in the ocean is the tackle you use. You will have a very difficult time catching flounder out of 80 to 100 feet of water using light tackle. You need equipment that can handle up to 8 ounces of weight and pull up fish that may weigh five or six pounds or more from those depths. I have a Tsunami Magnum TSMGCC761XH rod matched to a MAXEL HYBRID20 reel spooled with Sufix 30-pound braid. The rod handles up to 8 ounces of lead without a problem.

When the drift is too fast, you will have to allow line to feed out from the reel in order to maintain contact with the bottom. Sooner or later the water pressure against the line will be so great that the sinker can no longer find the bottom.  At that point, reel in the rig and begin the procedure again.

Farther offshore, the marlin bite at the canyons has been great. The weather has scrubbed a few days from the fishing calendar, but when the boats can make the run the action is pretty spectacular. Dolphin, tuna and wahoo are also in the mix, and the bottom fishing in the deep has produced good numbers of tilefish.

Trolling at the inshore lumps such as Massey’s Canyon and the Hot Dog has been decent for dolphin, wahoo and the occasional tuna.  There are lots of false albacore in the same locations, so the action is pretty consistent.

With a little luck, the weather next week should be more reasonable. Unfortunately, sea bass season will be closed until late October, so the only bottomfish available for the box will be flounder. I just hope I can get out and catch a few of those.

  • 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