Tog fishing good as rockfish and blues season is on the way

Randy Jensen of Georgetown landed this big 15.5-pound sheepshead at the Ice Breakers Saturday. The jumbo striped porgy was 1 pound, 4 ounces heavier than the existing state record set by Fallyn Smith in 2008. It has been quite a season for oversized sheepshead, as two other near-record fish over 14 pounds were brought into Lewes Harbour Marina recently. Randy's catch was verified and approved by officials from the Division of Fish and Wildlife, and stands to replace the current mark. COURTESY LEWES HARBOUR MARINA
October 29, 2011

Tog fishing has held up well this fall, and since it's pretty much the only game in town, that's a good thing. The Outer Wall, Ice Breakers and lower bay reef sites all contain tog with green crab the top bait. Big sheepshead, including a new state record 15.5-pounder, were also taken over the weekend.

Flounder and sea bass seasons are closed, and the big rockfish and blues are on the way, but have not arrived, so other than tog fishermen, the number of anglers on the water is down. This will all change when stripers begin to stage at the Rips and Eights and hordes of boats descend upon them. Once the rockfish show up at Indian River Inlet, the boat traffic will be horrendous.

Surf fishing remains good for blues on cut mullet. Doug Elliott and I fished the beach by the Old Coast Guard Station on Monday catching blues to 14 inches on mullet. Similar reports were received from Fenwick Island to Cape Point.

I don’t know how much longer the good fishing in the canyons will last, but limit catches of yellowfin tuna were made over the weekend. The occasional swordfish was also landed.

Fall surf fishing
Delaware does not have the quality of surf fishing experienced by areas to our north and south. Right now Long Island, New York, is enjoying excellent surf fishing for big blues and rockfish. The blues are most active in the daytime with rockfish caught in the evening, night and early morning. All sorts of bait and lures have been effective and at least one 50-pounder has been caught on a live eel.

If we are very lucky, Delaware will have a week or two of good rockfish action from the beach with most, if not all, of these fish caught on bait. Fresh bunker will lead the bait choices with clams a close second.

I am lucky to be at a point in my life where I can fish pretty much any day I want. This allows me to pick days when weather conditions are most favorable for catching rockfish or blues from the beach. I have had the most success when the wind is out of the east and bait, usually bunker, is in the wash.

In the last two years we have seen more sand eels in Delaware, and while bunker remains the top bait, casting a needlefish plug might work if the sand eels make an encore appearance.

East winds are usually accompanied by big seas and a strong current. To compensate for these conditions, a heavy weight of 8 ounces or more will be required to prevent the rig from rolling back to your feet. Combine that 8-ounce sinker with a big chunk of bunker or clam and you have a pretty non-aerodynamic package. Casting this much weight into an east wind requires a heavy rod and a reel that matches.

Those who are serious about fall fishing for rock and blues should be willing to invest a few hundred bucks in a quality outfit. I highly recommend one of our excellent local tackle shops where the selection and quality are much better than in any of the big-box stores. The advice alone is worth much more than the information you get from a clerk at the big-box store who may have been in ladies underwear yesterday.

My son Ric put me onto the rig I use for rock and blues. It is made from 80-pound mono leader, an 8/0, straight-eye circle hook and a fish-finder sleeve. I tie the hook to 4 to 6 inches of leader using a clinch knot. The other end of the leader is tied to a big, black barrel swivel. The fish-finder sleeve is placed on the running line and then this line is tied to the barrel swivel. My running line is 60-pound Stren braid. I was using a shock leader of 50-pound mono line, but I felt the knot was restricting the distance of my cast. Now I tie the braid directly to the swivel.

In the old days when we fished live spot for big weakfish, the leader on the fish-finder rig’s leader was 12 to 18 inches long. Casting distance was dismal, but the trout were close to shore so that was never a problem. The short leader improves distance and does not seem to inhibit the bite.

Selecting a location to fish the Delaware surf is pretty easy. Anywhere along the coast can see good fishing.

If possible, develop a network of trusted friends who will call if and when the bite gets hot at a particular location. In this day of instant information, fishermen should be using cell phones and other media to help each other.

  • 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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