Sea bass season opens Jan. 1

December 29, 2012

With the holiday season in full swing, not many folks have been fishing, so reports are at a premium. I did hear of rockfish caught out of the inlet on live spot, and the tog fishing in the ocean was productive before the holidays.

Sea bass season will open Tuesday, Jan. 1, and run until Thursday, Feb. 28. The bite should be red hot when the season starts, as the stock has been untouched since October. The size limit will remain 12.5 inches, and the bag limit has been reduced from 25 to 15 fish per day. This is not a recommended fishery for those of us with trailer boats. The winter ocean is not a friendly place, and the chance of survival in the very cold water is slim, so fishing should be done from a head or charter boat. Both are available from Lewes and Indian River.

The rockfish action out of Cape Charles, Va., was very good prior to the holidays. This is a three-hour drive from Lewes, but well worth the trip if you can connect with the rockfish of a lifetime. Several rock in excess of 50 pounds have been caught, and at least one 60-pounder was taken, either of which would establish a new personal best for most fishermen. Drifting live eels has been the most productive technique. The rockfish season in the Virginia portion of the Chesapeake Bay will close Monday, Dec. 31, with catch-and-release fishing allowed after that date.

The trolling bite has not developed along the Virginia coast, but should begin soon after the first of the year. The fish may not be as large as the ones taken in the bay, but the action should be better. Large flocks of birds will mark the feeding fish, and last year bluefin tuna in excess of 300 pounds were feeding along with the rock. This resulted in a lot of folks trolling horse ballyhoo on 80 wides in hopes of hooking one of the giants.


Reports indicated a slow start to the waterfowl season, as many ducks and geese are still up north. Last year’s mild winter failed to move the birds into Delmarva, but recently I have seen large numbers of snow geese in fields and flying overhead. Waterfowl hunters put in a lot of time in some uncomfortable conditions, and it would be nice to see their efforts rewarded.

Back in the '70s and '80s, waterfowl hunting was too easy. We put the decoys out in late October and left them out until the end of the season in January. We would meet on the Sunday before the season opened to repair the blind and set the decoys. I have seen geese drop into the spread while six of us were standing in the field with a several trucks and at least two dogs. If the weather was at all cooperative, we had a limit of four Canada geese per person by 8 a.m., and on some days we even had a few ducks from our cornfield pit.

I have not hunted geese since 1989, when I left Delaware for Virginia Beach. By then, the glory days were over, and the Canada geese had been replaced by snows. The white birds do not decoy the way Canadas do, and hunting them was a matter of being there when the weather conditions, rain and fog, made them fly low enough to shoot.

In regions where snow geese are even more numerous than here, guides will lease huge areas and move their parties around to fields where the birds have been feeding. They set out hundreds of decoys and then lay out in the field until the birds fly over. Hunting the same pit in the same field for the entire season is not going to result in many snow geese on the ground.

A few years ago I went on a released duck shoot at M&M Farms in New Jersey. It took awhile to get my eye back (it had not been that good even when I did a lot of shooting), but once on target I killed my share. The weather was appropriately nasty, the company dogs retrieved the birds and the ducks tasted just as good as the ones I killed in the wild. Still, it wasn’t exactly the same as the anticipation of waiting in the cold and dark for that first flight, working the calls and bringing the birds in range.

Happy New Year!

  • 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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