Fish are there, but many undersized

August 18, 2012
Artificial reef structure continues to yield some impressive flounder. Matt Baker took this 9.91-pound trophy doormat off Site 10. COURTESY LEWES HARBOUR MARINA

Fishing between the thunderstorms has been pretty good. While some folks have excellent catches others have problems finding fish, but that is the way it has always been.

We went out on Thursday to catch some croaker in the lower bay and while we had no problem finding the fish, we did have a problem finding fish large enough to keep. The weather was perfect with a light wind at the end of the outgoing current as we began fishing between the Inner and Outer walls in 30 feet of water. The first drift was fair, with lots of shorts with a few keeper croaker for the box. We were using clam, cut bait and squid on top-bottom rigs with small circle hooks.

As we moved toward the ocean, the water dropped off to 50 feet and the bite fell off as well. Running back to the 30-foot area, the current began to slack and the number of keepers dropped as well.

I began to notice a trend that I would not have believed this time last year. We were catching more trout than croakers. All but one was under the 13-inch minimum size with many in 6- to 7-inch range. This is the best sign of trout I have seen in 15 years or more and everyone I spoke with hopes we continue to see a constant improvement. Much depends on how these fish survive the winter and return to Delaware Bay next spring.

We did get in on some bluefish action at the end of the Outer Wall. The fish were chasing bait and we caught them on metal lures either trolled or cast to working birds.

The entire time I was out there I kept an eye on the clouds building up over land, and by noon they were reaching impressive heights. We started back a shot time later and had the boat on the trailer before the storm hit. As we were pulling out of the lot, there was a backup of boats waiting to get out of the water. My guess is some of those people got wet.

Flounder fishing continues to be impressive at reef sites 8 and 10. Everyone knows the fish are there and both sites are no secret, yet every week we see impressive numbers of flounder taken from these locations. It’s like someone keeps restocking the fish.

Those who do well at the reef sites have mastered the technique of keeping their baits on or extremely close to the various structure that makes up the reef. Some are igloos, others old tires and then there are boats and barges. Site 8 is made up of concrete piles scattered over the bottom.

To be effective, the captain must position the boat so it drifts over the structure and the anglers must be ready to drop their baits just before the boat gets on site. In some cases the flounder will be on top of whatever is down there while at other locations they may be on the bottom facing into the current. Drifting presents the bait in a natural manner as the current carries it to the waiting fish.

Saying and doing this are two different animals. A few of our local charter boats have the technique down pat as witnessed by the excellent results they get on a regular basis. Private boaters also find success after spending considerable time and money learning the tricks of the trade.

Please keep in mind that even the best flounder fishermen cannot perform miracles when conditions are unfavorable. Too much wind or current can really mess up the flounder bite as can those conditions when the wind and current run amuck causing the boat to behave rather badly. A good captain can overcome these conditions to some extent by using the engines to compensate for the unfavorable weather.

Flounder fishing will soon be in the fall spawning mode when the largest fish of the year will be staging at the mouth of the bay and in the near shore ocean. This puts them well in reach of boats that can run to reef sites 8 and 10.

New tog regulations

The Delaware Department of Resources and Environmental Control has lowered the minimum size for tog from 16 to 15 inches. This change came following a meeting of the Atlantic States Marine Fishery Council, where they changed the reduction in the tog catch from 53 percent to 37 percent. The reduction was based on better data that showed the tog situation was not as bad as they first thought.

The seasons and possession limits remain the same; July 17 to Aug. 31, five fish; Sept. 1 through Sept. 28, closed season; Sept. 29 through Dec. 31, five fish.

  • 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