The area loses one of the good guys

January 2, 2012

I must begin this report with sad news. Rick Willman, owner of Rick’s Bait and Tackle on Long Neck Road, passed away Dec. 21. Rick was a friend and a business associate who always acted in an honest and forthright manner. I met him in 1998 when he opened his first shop and I was the advertising manager for The Fisherman magazine. He took an ad and began providing fishing reports at that time. Those reports were always accurate, and I never had a single complaint that he made up things to boost his business. When fishing was bad, he said it was bad. I received his last report shortly before he passed.

Rick realized the value of getting young people involved in fishing and paid special attention to them at every opportunity. He also sponsored teams for surf-fishing tournaments and ran tournaments of his own. Rick never failed to provide prizes for the Delaware Mobile Surf-Fishermen’s annual dinner and their surf-fishing tournaments.

I did attend his visitation on Tuesday and must say it was heartening to see so many of his friends there. I want to again express my condolences to his family. He was one of the good guys and will be missed by everyone who knew him.

Fish are here
The fish are here even if the weather has been very bad. The few reports I have received indicated big rockfish still at the mouth of the Delaware Bay and more showing up every day along the coast from Hen and Chickens Shoal to Fenwick Island. I even had reports of keeper rockfish at Indian River Inlet.

Drifting with live eels at the Eights or the Valley has been productive, as has trolling plugs at Overfalls Shoal. Trolling has been the best technique for catching rockfish along the oceanfront.

Always remember the three-mile limit that protects striped bass in federal waters beyond the state’s jurisdiction. It is not unusual to see flocks of birds working over breaking schools of rock and blues beyond the legal fishing waters, and it is very difficult to resist the temptation to sneak out there. Federal judges are finally treating this violation seriously and in a recent case heard before the federal court in Virginia, a charter passenger was fined $1,000 and given 250 hours of community service for lying to enforcement officers about fishing beyond the three-mile limit. I am anxious to see what the captain of that boat gets.

Tog fishing is also good when the boats can sail. The lower bay reef sites and the rocks around the lighthouses and walls hold good numbers of slippery bass. Crabs make the best tog bait.

I still expect to see some rockfish at Indian River Inlet before the cold water arrives. It will take some east wind to push them in, and unfortunately I don’t see any of that in the short-range forecast.

The last trip anyone made to the deep-water wrecks produced good numbers of sea bass and cod. I expect local head boats to schedule more of these trips during the winter, and they can be very productive for tilefish as well. Long-range trips are not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach, but if you can withstand 12 hours or more on a bumpy sea in the winter, they can be a lot of fun.

If you travel a few hours south, the rockfish bite in the lower Chesapeake Bay is fantastic. Rock to 50 pounds have been caught on live eels drifted between Plantation Light and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. The nighttime eel bite at the High Level Bridge is also red hot even when the weather is ice cold.

While it is a three-hour ride down, you can launch at Kiptopeke State Park and avoid the expense of the toll across the CBBT. Remember, if you go down after the first of the year, you will need a new saltwater fishing license in Virginia as well as the Virginia fisherman identification number. If your boat is registered in Delaware, you must renew that as well.

Winter deer seasons
I did not get out during the fall deer seasons, so I hope I can find the time to hunt during January. We have muzzleloader and shotgun seasons ahead of us, and it looks like the weather will remain mild. Exactly how much the deer will be moving now that the rut is over remains to be seen.

I understand the fall hunt did not produce as many deer as were expected due to the unfavorable weather. Perhaps those folks left a few for the rest of us.

  • 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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