Rough seas make fishing difficult

November 24, 2012

The rockfish and tog are here, but the seas have been too rough for most people, including me, to get out. The rock are in the Rips and at the lower end of the 60-Foot Slough while tog have been caught along the Inner and Outer walls.

Fishing for rockfish has been either by trolling the Rips or by chunking at the 60-Foot Slough. A lack of fresh bunker is a problem for the chunking fleet, and large waves on the Rips have made trolling a bit more exciting than normal.

Indian River Inlet has seen good fishing activity with rock and tog caught from shore and from boats. Due to the dirty water, live spot have been the top bait from boats, while Storm and Tsunami shads are attracting rockfish from the beach. As always, crab is the best tog bait.

I had reports of birds working over breaking fish and a few reports of rockfish caught on trolled plugs between the inlet and Bethany Beach. I also had reports of boats catching rock beyond the three-mile limit around Fenwick Shoal. If you are tempted to break the law and fish for rock in federal waters, remember you will have to go to federal court like the seven charter boat captains out of Virginia Beach who were apprehended last year. They are scheduled for trial in January.

Deer season

I have seen some impressive deer on Facebook, but no one has sent me any photos. If you or someone you know has an impressive deer or a first deer for a young person, please send it in and I will be happy to run it in the paper. My email is

Striped bass

According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, 2012 was a very poor year for striped bass spawning success. The Young of the Year index was a meager 0.9, the lowest since the survey began in 1955. The average is 12, the highest is 60, and in 2011 the YOY was 34.6. Virginia recorded equally low numbers, and while Delaware does not do the same type of survey, it did record low striped bass numbers during the annual juvenile trawl survey.

So what do these numbers mean for striped bass fishermen? Right now they don’t mean much. The low YOY numbers are probably due to a warm winter and a very dry spring. The Delaware trawl survey only caught young of the year striped bass in the northernmost areas, indicating a very high salinity level in the Delaware River. I am sure the same was true in the Chesapeake Bay.

The next question is, will this trend continue? Unless you are one of the flat-earth people, you know the climate is undergoing change, and this can lead to warmer temperatures, drought, floods and all sorts of mischief. We are also seeing a rise in sea level and saltwater intrusion into what have been fresh or brackish areas. Could this mean striped bass will have to move their spawning areas farther upstream or face a continued lack of spawning success? Who knows?

On the plus side, stripers are an adaptive bunch. There were no spawning striped bass in the Delaware watershed when I was growing up in Claymont. A dead zone existed from south of New Castle to Trenton because the river was an open sewer for every city and town, and a dump site for every chemical plant and oil refinery along its banks. The shore of the river was covered in oil, and raw sewage floated on the surface. The only sport available was shooting rats at the outflows of the sewer pipes.

As the Clean Water Act began to take effect, the river began to show signs of life. The first sign was shad running up the Brandywine River in Wilmington. As conditions in the river continued to improve, the shad ran all the way up to New York.

Stripers began to show up in the river probably because they swam through the C&D Canal from the Chesapeake Bay. Over the years, a Delaware Bay and River spawning stock was established, and we are the beneficiaries of this new fishery. Similar success was seen in the Hudson River, which now supports a striped bass fishery well above New York City.

Throughout the recorded history of striped bass, there have been variations in the population. The collapse of the stock in the 1980s brought this to the attention of fishery managers, and by the 1990s, we had regulations in place to stabilize the effects of these population swings. Right now, it will take three straight years of poor reproduction to trigger stricter regulations. Let’s hope that does not happen.

  • 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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