Reminiscing the days of winter flounder fishing

March 16, 2013

I had hoped to have an on-site report this week, but between the weather and other commitments I did not get out on the water. I have seen some excellent catches from local ponds and tidal creeks with big crappie and decent-sized pickerel leading the parade. These were the fish I wanted to target, and if the fishing gods give me a chance, I will make it out next week.

Saltwater fishing is all but dead. I did have reports of a few folks fishing the inlet and the beach, but no reports of them catching anything. Even the reports from Virginia were pretty sparse as the weather has the water stirred up and the tog off their feed.

The only good reports have come from New Castle County, where keeper rockfish in the 28- to 32-inch range have been caught on bloodworms. Augustine and Woodland beaches saw some of this action along with Reedy Point and Dobbinsville. Big catfish in the 10-pound range were caught from the same locations on the same bait.

Winter flounder

Back in the day, two of us would catch 150 winter flounder on a single tide, baiting with bloodworms and chumming with corn and cat food. We fished in Indian River and Rehoboth bays as well as Indian River Inlet. One Good Friday we all had off work and were fishing the surf south of the inlet using bloodworms to catch the first rock of the year. No rock that day, but we all had several winter flounder in the two- to three-pound class.

Ron Smith from Lewes told me when he ran the trawl surveys for the Fish and Wildlife Division they would find winter flounder stacked one on top of the other back by the power plant. That was one of the more popular fishing locations along with the Rehoboth end of Massey’s Ditch and right where the fishing pier is currently located at Massey’s Landing.

This was during the 1960s and early 1970s. My ex-brother-in-law Bobby Woods and I would either rent a rowboat with a tiny motor from the north side or fish from shore. On one memorable day, Bobby met Tom Mumper and me at the north side where we piled into one of the rental boats. It was a short run to the other side of the inlet, and we set up in the channel that runs along the west side of Southshore Marina.

Once on anchor and with a chum slick going, my brother-in-law broke out his bright red sinkers. He said he had read a story in Salt Water Sportsman that claimed red sinkers attracted winter flounder. I had read the same story, but never considered painting my sinkers red.

It was an epic day. Tom and I bailed the flounder and I am sure we had at least 100 in the cooler. Bobby, on the other hand, had not caught a single fish. I will give him points for tenacity because he kept those red sinkers on his line all morning. Finally, as we were pulling anchor, Bobby landed a flounder. I was sitting closest to the cooler so he swung the fish to me.

Now you may not believe this, but I swear it was an accident. I removed the fish from the hook and was holding in my hand as I opened the cooler. Somehow that darn fish slipped out and went back overboard. The look on Bobby’s face was priceless and it took at least 10 minutes for Tom and me to stop laughing.

The last winter flounder I remember catching in Delaware was from the jetty on the south side while using bloodworms trying to catch rock. I suspect that would have been around 1970.

The population of winter flounder has been on a downswing for years. Last year saw some improvement as New Jersey anglers had no problem filling their two fish per day limit with many forgoing the fishery due to that low bag.

I have seen a few postings on Saltfish asking about winter flounder fishing. Most of the replies were retelling stories about the excellent fishery we had 40 years ago. If the fishery is expanding, perhaps some of these fish have made the trip down to Delaware.

If you want to give winter flounder fishing a try, anchor your boat at the power plant, Massey’s Ditch or fish from shore at Massey’s or the inlet. Bait with bloodworms on a winter flounder hook, and if you are fishing from a boat do some chumming with cat food. Red sinkers are optional.

  • 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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