New Jersey and its quirky fishing regulations

May 23, 2011

New Jersey recently implemented a registration system for anyone fishing in their salt waters. Touted by those who support the law as a free registration, it is anything but. The cost to New Jersey tax payers is estimated at $600,000. Not a lot in terms of a billion dollar budget, but still I don’t think I would be happy seeing my tax money going to support free fishing for saltwater anglers.

When New Jersey says all anglers they mean everyone over the age of 16 not fishing from a New Jersey registered head or charter boat. This includes Delaware fishermen who stray into New Jersey waters. That’s right; the good tax payers of New Jersey are so kind, they are willing to subsidize our fishing as well.

Another interesting aspect of this system is it can only be activated on line. You have to go to and sign up. I have done this and suggest anyone who fishes in Delaware Bay do the same. Exactly how people who do not have access to a computer are supposed to get their “free” registration number is unclear.

While the registration number may be “free,” the fine for not having one is quite high. First offense will cost a minimum of $300 and it only goes up from there. I suspect the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection wants to recoup some of that $600,000 they had to spend on the “free” registration. We already have reports of Delaware anglers being caught and fined the full $300.

Virginia and Maryland have registration numbers that are paid for by saltwater license money.

Delaware has had the FIN program for two years and the other states modeled their registration system after ours.

Fishing report
Beyond a doubt the rockfish run at Indian River Inlet is the biggest angling news to hit Delaware in many years. I have been fishing at the inlet for more than 60 years and can’t recall a similar run of rock. We had some pretty good weakfish runs in the 1980's and I have been there for some impressive bluefish action, but even those did not compare with what is going on right now.

The rockfish are coming in on the flood tide and once the bite turns on it is Katy bar the door. The reports I have indicate that every man, woman and child able to hold a fishing rod is catching big rock and most depart with a limit.

As you might imagine, the rocks are crowded with anglers and the boat traffic is overwhelming. Confrontations have taken place in both locations with no report of serious injury.

The top lures have been Tsunami or Storm shads, a white bucktail with a white worm and the always popular living lure, the eel. The best fishing is during the early morning, late afternoon or at night. Not every tide produces a blitz; you have to be there and prepared with the proper tackle when the fish hit.

This is not the place for light rods and line. The tackle you use must be able to convince the rock to come to the boat or rocks without getting tangled in you new best friend’s line. I would recommend line no lighter than 30-pound test and a sturdy rod capable of putting maximum pressure on the fish.

Once the big fish is at your feet or alongside the boat make sure you have a net or gaff capable of landing him. There is no need to gaff a rockfish from a boat. Use a big net for this job. From the rocks, nets can be a problem. I always carried a gaff made from an old fishing rod that was long enough to reach the water without putting myself in jeopardy. Gaffs should never be used on short fish or on fish you plan to release. This may sound like common sense, but I have seen complete idiots gaff an obviously short rock and then toss it back.

In other news, the black drum season is off to a good start. Clams soaked in shallow water at the Coral Beds or from the beach at Broadkill have accounted for good numbers of drum to 70 pounds.

Flounder fishing in the Lewes and Rehoboth Canal and the Broadkill River has been fair with many more shorts than keepers collected. My wife Barbara and I fished the Broadkill River on Monday and only caught three flounder.

Fortunately, one was 18.5 inches so we invited him home for dinner.

Sea bass season will reopen on Sunday and that will give the ocean bottom fishing fleet something to go after. Reports from late season tog fishermen indicated good numbers of bass on the inshore grounds.

  • 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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