Rockfish fishing strong in Delaware Bay

November 19, 2011

Anyone who wants to catch a big rockfish, now is the time. Rock to 40 pounds are currently feeding at the mouth of Delaware Bay and while not everyone that goes out catches a trophy fish, more do then don’t.

If you are unfamiliar with the seas at the mouth of the bay, I would strongly urge you to go on a charter or head boat before attempting the trip with your trailer boat. When the current is rushing out of the bay and the wind is from the south or southeast, the standing waves over the various rips can be intimidating. A north or northeast blow and an incoming current will create the same problems, but from a different direction. Charter and head boats are not only larger than anything that will fit on a trailer; the captains have plenty of experience and know how to handle these dangerous conditions. Once you have seen what you are up against, the choice to take your own boat may be a bit easier.

The good thing about fishing out of Lewes is the relativity short run to the grounds. By staying behind the walls you won’t hit the open ocean until you pass the lighthouse and then you only have to run three or four miles to the Eights or the Valley.

I have not been out this fall due to a series of unfortunate events, but my reports indicate trolling Stretch or Bomber plugs is best at Overfalls Shoal, while drifting eels has been most productive at the Eights and in the Valley. Chunkers have had their best action at the 60-Foot Slough.

Overfalls Shoal and the 60-Foot Slough are in New Jersey waters and you must have a New Jersey registration number or risk arrest. The number is free and can printed from the online site at NJDEP-NJ Saltwater Recreational Registry Program.

Tog fishing has been very good at lower bay reef sites, the Inner and Outer walls and the Ice Breakers. Green crab has been the best bait.

The surf remains very slow. A few ling, skates and sharks are about all you can expect from the beach. Mullet and bunker are the top baits.

Indian River is beginning to show some signs of life. When the water is clear, rockfish have been caught on eels, spot, plugs and bucktails. The majority of the rock are shorts, but bigger fish are on the way (I hope). Tog have been caught on green crabs from the rocks.

Trolling along the beach from Hen and Chicken Shoal to Fenwick Island has been fair for big rockfish and blues. Stretch 25s, Bomber 30s and Drone Spoons all have worked on these fish. Do be careful as the best action may be beyond the three-mile limit and those diving birds and breaking fish can be as tempting as any mermaid encountered by Jason and the Argonauts. You may not end up on the rocks, but you could end up in federal court.

Cedar Creek boat ramp
The project to replace the Cedar Creek boat ramp with a completely new and upgraded facility will begin late this month. If you recall, it was supposed to start this summer, but the federal government held up their portion of the funding until September. Once that bottle neck was cleared, the request for bids went out, the lowest one was accepted and now the work can proceed. Another positive note, the work will be done by a Delaware company. Expect completion in four to six months depending on the weather.

Indian River Inlet Bridge
With the new bridge set to open by the end of the year, Delaware anglers can still fish from the old bridge as it will become a part of the artificial reef system. Demolition will begin as soon as possible with the winter weather playing an important role in how long the job will take.

The Delaware Artificial Reef Program is the best in the country, with Jeff Tinsman keeping cost low and quality high. Neighboring states have small reef programs compared to those in Delaware. Maryland concentrates most of their efforts in the Chesapeake Bay, while New Jersey has serious funding problems. New Jersey also has a strong enviromoron lobby that prevented the state from using New York City subway cars as artificial reef material. This worked out well for Delaware as we were able to use everything they turned down.

The bridge material will be placed on existing sites with some I am sure joining the former USS Radford. I will pass along more details as they become available.

  • 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