Lee has hampered fishing conditions

September 24, 2011

Fishing has been hampered by the weather both here and to our north. The heavy rain that accompanied Tropical Storm Lee created flood conditions in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, causing high and dirty water to flow down the Delaware River and into the Delaware Bay. The situation has been more severe in the Chesapeake Bay, creating conditions comparable to those after Hurricane Agnes in 1973.

The good news is, conditions have improved, and the fish are biting very well in the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. With the first day of fall here, I expect excellent fishing from now until December.

Two species not normally associated with banner catches have made their presence known since the storms. Kingfish, usually found in the surf, have shown up in the Delaware Bay with boats from Bowers Beach reporting good numbers on their trips last week. Blues and a few flounder were caught along with the kings.

Small black drum, known locally as puppy drum, have been caught in numbers out of the Broadkill River and Massey’s Ditch. Due to a confusing set of regulations, black drum are governed by a 16-inch minimum size and 3-fish bag limit in the Delaware Bay and its tributaries, but have no regulations in the back bays or along the ocean beach. I would hope that anglers catching these small fish in unprotected locations would continue to abide by the regulations in the Delaware Bay.

Much has been written and discussed about the state of the menhaden stocks. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the stocks are at an all-time low. My observations would indicate otherwise. This year I have seen larger and more numerous schools of menhaden in the Delaware Bay and Atlantic Ocean that I ever remember seeing before. On a recent trip to Virginia I saw plenty of menhaden in the ocean where the reduction plant boats have full access to this important fish.

For years, officials in Maryland have been trying to get Virginia to reduce its take of menhaden from the Chesapeake Bay. Since the Virginia portion of the bay is the only location where menhaden fishing occurs, and since the Virginia legislature controls the menhaden regulations and Virginia legislators know that Maryland voters don’t get them elected, Maryland has had little success.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has taken an interest in the menhaden problem and will propose regulations to cut the amount of these fish taken by the reduction and bait industry. Delaware does not have a dog in this fight, because we outlawed the reduction boats from our waters after the menhaden plant in Lewes closed. We do have a small bait fishery that relies on gill netting, but that is just a drop in the bucket compared to the number of menhaden Virginia takes.

Right now, only Virginia and North Carolina allow reduction boats to operate in their waters. I understand the reduction plant in North Carolina has closed, but I would not expect that state to take action that might conserve any fish that has commercial value.

Menhaden or bunker provide an important food source for just about all the fish that we like to catch. There has been speculation that the lack of menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay is responsible for malnourished striped bass. I do know that I did not see any menhaden during a two-day trip out of Rock Hall in August.

  • 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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