First flounder have been caught in Delaware

March 10, 2012

Spring fishing is under way, and once the wind drops out, I expect we will see lots of activity on the water. The first flounder have been caught in Delaware and on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, giving hope to those of us who ply the waters of the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal and the Broadkill River. Keeper rockfish were caught from boat and beach in New Castle County, where the spring run normally begins. I look for chunkers to score on the New Jersey side at the 60-Foot Slough and the flats by the Maurice River within the next week or two.

Freshwater fishing is also seeing good activity. I did not attend opening day of trout season at Newton Pond on Saturday (something about wind, rain and old bones), but I hope everyone who braved the elements was richly rewarded.

From the reports I have received, the yellow perch run may be over. On the plus side, the white perch fishing is just getting under way. Look for improved action at locations such as Petersfield Ditch, Lodge Pole Road, Oyster Rocks and most local spillways.

One fish that will not be on the agenda this year is herring. The feds have shut down all fishing for herring due to low population levels, and even using this fish for bait is against the law. So far at least two people have been arrested in Delaware for herring possession and I anticipate additional arrests until the word gets out that the agents mean business.

Cold-water fishing
The weather has been very warm all winter, so water temperatures are not as cold as usual for early March, but they are still plenty cold enough to kill you should you end up overboard.

Apparently, this has been proven once again with the loss of one person in the water of Assawoman Bay near Fenwick Island. I have no idea what he and his companion were doing in a stolen canoe at 4:30 in the morning when it capsized, dropping them both into the 40-degree water. The friend made it to shore; the other man is still missing.

I know I am a pain in the butt always talking about safety on the water, but I have seen too many lives lost because precautions were not taken. The overwhelming majority of boating trips end without incident, but it only takes one bad decision to turn the trip into a tragedy.
Never leave the dock when the weather is bad or predicted to deteriorate. You would not believe how many people will come to a tackle shop to buy bait and other supplies with the wind blowing a gale outside. All the charter and head boat captains are standing around drinking coffee, yet these people still think they are going fishing.

My guess is they have trailered their boat down from somewhere, leaving at o’dark thirty on a trip that has been planned for months.

The only weather report they may have heard was the blow-dry weather guy in Philadelphia or Baltimore who predicted a beautiful, sunny day with a nice cool breeze. What they did not hear or know is the cool breeze is out of the northwest at 30 knots.

Fortunately, most will see the error of their ways as soon as they try to enter the bay at the mouth of Roosevelt Inlet. The few that solider on either end up very wet and cold on their boat or in the bay.

I have cancelled many trips when the NOAA weather report was wrong and the conditions turned out to be fishable. On the other hand, I have tried to run trips based on a favorable NOAA report only to turn back in miserable conditions. Nevertheless, NOAA is the only marine forecast we have readily available and as such we are stuck with it.

Under no circumstances should any trailer boat try to navigate open water when a small craft advisory is in effect. My personal guideline for trips on the bay or ocean is winds less than 15 knots and seas less than 2 feet.

When I moved to Virginia Beach, I met a guy they called Captain Light and Variable. It was said he would not venture forth upon the sea in any other conditions. This is good advice on those warm spring days when the water temperature is still in the 40s and the spray stings the face like shards of glass.

  • 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