Return to three-fish bag limits

April 4, 2011

Even the return to winter weather during the first week of spring was not enough to shut off a decent tog bite.  Boats running out of Indian River and Lewes reported good numbers of fish taken over inshore wrecks and reefs.  I did have an unconfirmed report of a 20-pound tog caught on Tuesday.  This weekend will see a return to a three-fish bag limit and a 15-inch minimum size until the end of the spring season May 11.

The first legal hook-and-line-caught rockfish of the year was registered at Eastern Marine in Newark.  I had reports of others, but this was the first one I was able to verify.  It measured 33 inches and was taken on fresh bunker at Augustine Beach.

We saw three more rockfish of similar size at Lurefest in Bowers Beach on Saturday.  These fish were caught in a net.  We also had a report of a short rockfish caught from the surf.

I know we are all very anxious to get out on the bay and catch some fish, but until the water temperature reaches at least 45, and better yet, 50 degrees, there won’t be much action.  I suspect the first significant catches will be on the New Jersey side with clam or bunker chumming the best technique.

The statewide trout season opens Saturday, but there are still some fish available at Newton Pond in Sussex County.  The reports I receive indicate limit catches are rare, but the size of the fish taken is pretty good.

I keep getting reports of white perch caught in the Broadkill River, but to date all of my attempts to catch these fish have ended in water hauls.  While I have tried several locations at different stages of the tide the fish have eluded me.  Of course, this is nothing new and will not deter my future attempts.

Bill’s Flea Market
Saturday will see the return of the flea market at Bill’s Sport Shop on Route 1.  This event is so well attended that sellers have to be there by 5 a.m. if they want to secure one of the free tables. Buyers also arrive very early to scoop up the bargains.  In addition to the flea market, representatives from several fishing tackle companies will be available to demonstrate products.

Striped bass
It appears that the Atlantic States Marine Fishery Commission will take measures to decrease the mortality of striped bass.  At its most recent meeting, the Striped Bass Board initiated the development of Draft Addendum III with a goal of reducing striped bass fishing mortality by 40 percent with further protection for the spawning stock when it is concentrated and vulnerable.  These regulations could go into effect by the 2012 season. Now, one may ask how the ASMFC went from a proposal to increase the commercial catch to an addendum requiring a significant reduction in fishing mortality in just a few months.  The answer is new data.  You must realize what I learned years ago; fishery managers act on scientific data.  It does not matter what you or I see; the only thing that matters is what can be verified with scientific data.

The motion to increase the commercial catch was based on data that indicated landing more striped bass would not severely impact the stock.  More recent data indicated a 66 percent decline in the recreational catch between 2006 and 2009 and a 25 percent decline in estimated striped bass abundance between 2004 and 2008.  If you look at the dates, you will notice the latest data is from 2009.  This is one of the main problems with managing a coastal fish.  The data takes years to develop, and by the time it is peer reviewed and verified, the fish may have recovered or decreased even more.  In the case of striped bass it has decreased as witnessed by the continuing poor recruitment in the Chesapeake Bay.

Exactly what these new regulations will entail remains to be seen.  I would suspect the trophy season and the catch-and-release fishing in the Chesapeake Bay will be severely curtailed.  Commercial fishermen will get a reduced quota, and recreational fishermen will not be killing near as many rockfish as they have in the past.

As I have stated in the past, I do believe it is time to stop killing large female striped bass.  I have suggested a slot limit of 24 to 36 inches for coastal fishermen maintaining the two-fish-per-day bag limit.

I plan to make my feeling known to the ASMFC and you can too by contacting Kate Taylor, Fishery Management Plan coordinator, at

  • 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