Winds died off, leaving ocean flat as a pancake

October 27, 2012
Tautog fishermen have encountered some bonus sheepshead while working Delaware Bay structure. Paul Long pulled this jumbo 14.65-pounder from the rocks of the Ice Breakers. The oversized striped porgy ate a crab bait and was weighed in at Lewes Harbour Marina. COURTESY LEWES HARBOUR MARINA

Tog fishing has been very good at the Outer and Inner walls and the Ice Breakers. The winds and waves of last week made fishing the ocean side of the Outer Wall impossible, but the bay side and the Inner Wall produced plenty of tog for the few boats that went out. The winds fell off this week, leaving the ocean flat as a pancake and the ocean side tog very hungry.

In addition to the tog, anglers are catching some impressive sheepshead, including a new state record 14.65-pounder taken by Paul Long on a crab bait. This is the second state-record fish taken in the area over the past few weeks. The first was a triggerfish.

The Cape Henlopen Fishing Pier reported good fishing for spot with bloodworms. Cut mullet has attracted some bluefish while live minnows or mullet brought in some flounder.

A few more keeper rockfish were caught from Indian River Inlet during night tides by anglers using sand fleas, eels, black plugs and bucktails. The main body of fish is still in New York with the leading edge beginning to show up in New Jersey. It will be a few more weeks before we see a solid run of big rock at the inlet or along the beach.

Tog fishermen working the rocks with sand fleas and crab baits are finding more shorts than keepers. A few triggerfish and sheepshead have been taken here as well. The occasional black or red drum is taken from the same locations on the same baits.

Surf fishing remains good for small fish. Blues, rock, red drum and kings are being caught from the beach with most of the action on cut mullet. We were fishing at Cape Henlopen on Tuesday in what can only be described as perfect weather. The ocean was flat calm, and while we had more fly bites than fish, it was an enjoyable afternoon.

Ocean fishing was hampered by wind and waves, but those who braved the conditions made decent catches of tog over inshore structure. A few big triggerfish were caught along with the tog.

The few reports we have from offshore indicate wahoo, tuna and a few marlin are still available. If we get the forecast blow over the weekend, we could see a red-hot bite out there next week. Or not.

Sea bass

Some of you may have already heard that the sea bass season will not reopen on Nov. 1 as originally scheduled. In fact, that season is now closed until further notice.

Anyone who fished for sea bass this year probably noticed an abundance of these fish over open bottom and on wrecks. My personal experience was as soon as the bait hit bottom at the Old Grounds I had a bite, and most of the time pulled up a sea bass. True, the vast majority were short of the 12.5-inch limit, but we still managed to box more than enough keepers.

Then we received word that the sea bass season would reopen Nov. 1 and run through the winter with a 10-fish reduction in the bag limit from 25 to 15. I am sure charter and head boats welcomed this news almost as much as they are upset by the latest change in events.

So why, you may ask, did the regulations suddenly change from very liberal to very conservative? The problem lies in the way the Magnusson Act was written. The law requires the National Marine Fisheries Service to do whatever it feels is necessary to prevent overfishing. During 2012, the recreational fishery for black sea bass recreational fishermen went way over the quota, and that is why the fishery was closed. This data comes from the first few waves of information and could change when the final data are in, but that is very unlikely. Commercial fishing is not affected by this action.

I do believe Joseph Heller had fishery management in mind, not the military, when he wrote “Catch 22.” First we are told the sea bass fishery is overfished, so we have to conserve. We do conserve, and the stock recovers. We get a more liberal season, and because there are so many sea bass out there, we catch more than our quota. Now the sea bass season is closed because the fishing is too good. Try explaining that to any normal person who is not familiar with fishery management regulations.

I know many of you will be upset by this strange turn of events, but do not blame fishery managers on either the state or federal level. The problem is the law passed by Congress that they must now enforce.

  • 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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