Sea bass fishing reopens Nov. 1

Local togger "Yul" Benner boated the blackfish of a lifetime when he hooked this near record 20 pound behemoth while fishing a Delaware Bay reef aboard the Angler, with Captain Ted Moulinier. Weighed in at Lewes Harbour Marina. COURTESY LEWES HARBOUR MARINA
November 2, 2013

Tog fishing has been pretty good in the lower bay. Reef sites 6, 7 and 8 were productive, as were the Outer Wall and the Ice Breakers. Tog don’t feed 24/7. Sometimes you must wait for the right conditions, and often it is necessary to move to numerous locations to put a catch together. Dirty water and strong currents make tog fishing even more difficult. Green crab remains the top tog bait.

Sea bass fishing will reopen on Friday and run until Dec. 31. After the new year, the season will close until spring. Make plans now to get out and catch a couple of limits to stock the freezer for the winter.

A few keeper rockfish were caught in the upper bay, but they remain rare in our area. Bunker chunking was the technique employed to the north with the best action out of Collins Beach near the 6L buoy.

I am still getting reports of good striper action along the coast from North Jersey to Long Island, New York. The Chesapeake Bay in Maryland is also seeing improved rockfish catches, and here we are stuck in the middle with nothing but shorts.

Indian River Inlet has given up a few keepers along with a fair number of shorts. Live spot is the top bait followed by white bucktails with a white plastic worm, shads and sand fleas fished in the rocks.

Tog were caught out of the rocks on sand fleas and green crabs. Blues happen by on incoming water and will hit just about anything you toss in their path. I prefer metal lures because it takes the fish a bit longer to destroy them.

As of last weekend, red drum were still in the surf, along the Inner and Outer Walls and behind Burton’s Island in the Inland Bays. These fish have been a pleasant surprise this year, with keepers caught on a somewhat regular basis. To our south, the Virginia Capes have been hot for red drum in all sizes with excellent action behind the barrier islands and in the surf. As reds expand their population we could see even better fishing in 2014.

Catch and release

The 2011 Young of the Year index for striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay was close to a record high. In 2012, it was close to zero. This year it was above zero, but still below the average, so the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will be looking at ways to reduce mortality on the spawning stock. I believe this is a good thing, but it will certainly cut down the number of rockfish we will be allowed to keep. As of today, the new regulations will not go into effect until January 2015, giving the ASMFC time to develop a plan that has the best chance to accomplish their goal.

I have no idea what the final regulations will look like, but I hope they consider some sort of slot limit. Rockfish live quite a long time, and the females don’t mature until they are 3 to 4 years old. The larger females produce the most eggs, so it makes sense to protect these big fish.

On the other hand, small fish will grow to be big fish if they can survive. Of course, small fish are more likely to be eaten by larger fish, so they will suffer more natural predation.

In the 1980s, we were faced with the complete collapse of the striped bass stock all along the Atlantic coast. A moratorium was placed on all striped bass fishing, and the stock made a remarkable comeback. Since then we have operated under strict regulations including low bag and high minimum size limits. These limits do not take into account the various environmental conditions, such as the drought in 2012 and the cold, rainy spring of 2013.

The reason I believe a slot limit would work is the success of the red drum management regulations. They too were on the brink of collapse when the regulators put a slot limit of 20 to 28 inches and various bag limits of one to five fish per day. I have seen the results, with schools of 45- to 50-inch red drum in the lower Chesapeake Bay and the movement of smaller fish as far north as New Jersey.

I would like to see the results of a slot limit of 24 to 36 inches for the coastal stock. I realize there will be some concern that larger fish may not survive the catch-and-release process, but if caught during cold-water periods I believe the survival rate will be acceptable.

Until the new regulations come out, I personally plan to release any rockfish I catch that is larger than 36 inches. Care to join me?

  • 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