No reason to complain about bad fishing

February 25, 2012

The weekend weather made tog fishing difficult as most boats reported poor catches. This weekend does not look much better, but with the mild weather we have had all winter, we have no room to complain.

I tried fishing at Wagamons Pond and the head of the Broadkill in Milton, but all I got was cold. The weather seemed mild when I started, but the wind cut though my jacket and I was soon chilled to the bone. Adding to the uncomfortable chill was the fact that I did not catch anything. Not being the brightest beacon on the beach, I plan to try again this week.

Mild winter
With temperatures expected to top 60 degrees this week and no day this winter with a high temperature below freezing, most people are very happy with the weather. Two groups that have suffered with the warm temperatures are deer and waterfowl hunters. According to state records, the number of deer taken during the season was down from previous years, and every waterfowl hunter I have spoken with complains about the poor shooting.

Even the late snow goose season is not producing the action some hunters had hoped for. This season is an outlaw's dream: unplugged guns, electronic calls and a bag limit most folks cannot achieve.

Now we come to the question of the 2012 fishing season. I gave up predicting any fishing season a long time ago, because no matter how smart I thought I was, the fish made me look stupid. Finally I realized they were right and kept my mouth shut.

What I do know is a warm winter is good for survival of fall-spawning fish like summer flounder and croaker. Both spawn in the ocean, and the fry have to make it back into the estuaries where they spend the first winter of their lives. When the water in the Inland Bays does not freeze, the survival of the fry is pretty good. There are about a million other factors that determine the survival of the fry, but with a warm winter they are at least a little ahead of the game.

Then there are the spring-spawning fish; chief among them is the rockfish. When I joined the first state-federal striped bass management board in 1976 I wanted to know why some year classes were great while others were poor. During the ensuing years I have heard numerous opinions on this including sun spots, bluefish predation, water quality, lack of bay grass, Kepone, PCBs, water treatment plants and many others. While some of these may hinder spawning success, none of them is in fact the sole difference in success or failure.

Having said that, I will also say I have no idea if the warm weather will help or hinder the spawning success of rockfish. In 2011 we had a banner young of the year class after a very cold winter. Only time and Mother Nature will determine the outcome for the 2012 year class.

Herring is another fish that spawns in the spring. This year they are under federal protection in Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey. How much help that will be remains to be seen.
I can recall the excellent herring fishing we had at the spillway in Laurel from the 1950s into the 1970s. Netters would carry away tons of fish using dip nets made from chicken wire. Recreational anglers had great sport catching herring two at a time on shad darts. I released all the herring I caught, not because I was this great conservationist, but because not even my grandmother could make those fish taste good. With so many herring available, no one thought we could ever run out. Apparently, we were wrong.

We do know from experience if we quit killing a species of fish, it can make a remarkable comeback. It worked with rockfish, flounder, sea bass and spiny dog sharks; let’s hope it works with herring.

  • 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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