Ocean fishing trip turns rough

Despite rough conditions, the crew on the Martha Marie registered a good haul. Shown are (l-r) Harry Yingling, Mary Anna Barratt, Natalie Crabbs, Ezequeil Fernandez and Mike Hollis. BY ERIC BURNLEY
August 23, 2014

First, I must apologize to everyone who listened to the weather report last Friday and decided that those 5- to 10-knot winds and 1- to 2-foot seas would be perfect for a trip to the ocean. What you could not know was that my friend Harry Yingling and I were going fishing in that very ocean on that very same day.

You see, anytime Harry and I are together on the water, the Weather God takes exception and tries to kill us. On one memorable day a few years ago, he tried to lure us into the open Chesapeake Bay out of Crisfield before sending a terrible storm down the Potomac River. Fortunately, a severe thunderstorm warning on the VHF gave us time to get back to the dock. That storm chased is all the way back to Laurel and ended up flooding out the town of Seaford.

Harry didn’t call and invite me out with him until late Thursday in hopes of fooling the Weather God. It didn’t work. As we entered the Delaware Bay on the Martha Marie, the wind was a steady 20 knots from the northwest, and seas were running 3 to 4 feet. Conditions did improve somewhat once we were in the ocean, but not by much.

There were four other poor souls along on the trip, Natalie Crabbs, Ezequiel Fernandez, Mike Hollins and Mary Anna Barratt, who had no prior knowledge of Harry’s and my history. Harry had invited five friends, and when one dropped out at the last minute I was the late substitution. Had the original fellow made the trip, I am sure the weather would have been more pleasant.

We started out at Site 10 lolling around in those big seas holding onto the boat with one hand and our rods with the other. This is not conducive to successful fishing. In spite of this we did find a few croaker and one or two short flounder, and Harry had a nice sea bass.

Captain Les moved from one place to another trying to find more flounder, but with the rough conditions, he had an almost impossible job. We went from Site 10 to B Buoy and several pieces of rough bottom in between.

I had started the day using a bucktail tipped with squid and Gulp!, but soon switched to a top-bottom flounder rig tied by Bob Baker. On the first drop with Bob’s rig I somehow managed to catch what would be the only keeper flounder of the day. I am sure it had more to do with Bob’s creation than any skill on my part.

As the day wore on, the wind began to subside and the seas began to mellow. This made the situation more comfortable, but did not do much for the fishing. The improved conditions did make it possible to concentrate on something other than holding on. Mary Anna spotted a whale breaching and that provided some entertainment for the party. She also added a new phrase to my vocabulary when she announced that she had a “wiggly thing” on her line while reeling in a fish.

Finally, a short time before we had to head back to Lewes, Captain Les found the mother lode of croaker. From then on it was Katy bar the door. Croaker were coming over the rail at a steady pace with Ezequiel showing us all how it was done. These were decent-sized fish and put up quite a tussle even on the heavy tackle required to fish this deep water.

Back at the dock we had 54 croaker, one flounder and one sea bass. That was more than enough to send everyone home with a few meals of fresh seafood. I do want to thank Harry for inviting me, and Capt. Les Clemmer and Mate Todd Sizemore for doing everything possible to find us some fish in less-than-ideal conditions.

One final note on the day. On the way back down the canal, a boat came past us creating quite a wake. Guys on the docks were yelling for him to slow down, and I said the same when he passed us. He continued unabated until the DNREC patrol behind us pulled him over. It was the perfect ending to a great day.

Fishing report

Flounder and croaker continue to lead the parade with more bluefish showing up. The ocean has been producing better than the bay, but this could change as the current subsides in the bay. The Broadkill River and the Lewes and Rehoboth Canal hold good numbers of croaker and some big spot. The pier at Cape Henlopen State Park has also seen plenty of croaker and spot. Blues have made surf fishing more interesting.

  • 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