Upcoming herring run - good for bait, not for the dinner table

March 14, 2011

Finally, some good news from the ocean.  The Thelma Dale V out of Fisherman’s Wharf had a successful cod trip last weekend and has more trips planned.  Call them for details.

The Bandit out of Indian River caught some tog to 7 pounds.  While the exact location of the catch was not given, I believe they traveled a good way south to find their fish.  As water temperatures continue to climb the tog fishing should improve with fish caught closer to shore.

Freshwater fishing remains pretty good for those who are willing to brave the elements.  I tried a few locations last Friday without result.  I had a report of white perch at Long Pole Bridge, but I arrived at low tide and one angler already there had caught nothing.  After a short time we both decided to try again another day.

A stint at the boat dock in Milton and another along the bank of Wagamons Pond proved equally rewarding.  I guess I was just at the wrong places at the wrong time, because photos and reports on Saltfish show good numbers of bass, pickerel and crappie caught from ponds and spillways in Sussex County.

Speaking of Saltfish, the group will hold its annual Lurefest at the Bowers Beach Firehouse Saturday, March 26.  This event brings out hundreds of fishermen every year for a series of seminars and displays that will whet the appetite for the upcoming season.

Hungry appetites can be sated by all the food that is available at Lurefest.  Everyone who attends brings something to eat, and the list includes food representing every style of the culinary arts from chili to hot dogs to venison.
Saltfish runs a raffle and the event has a good selection of fishing-related items from numerous sources.  In addition, there is a special raffle for the kids, and all of them go home with a rod and reel.

Admission is free, but you must be a member of Saltfish.  Membership is easy; simply go to and sign up.  If you plan to attend Lurefest you will be asked to register and supply some type of food.

Saltfish is a good source of fishing information with a Delaware slant.  Unlike some sites I have seen, there is very little bragging and many reports are substantiated by photos.   

Herring run
It won’t be long before herring begin their run up the various tidal creeks in Sussex County.  In days gone by, this springtime event was attended by men with large nets who harvested the fish for food and other uses.  One such use was as fertilizer.  My grandfather always buried a herring under each of his tomato plants.

In the 1950s and early ‘60s I would fish for herring at the spillway in Laurel where Records Pond emptied into Broad Creek.  I would use two shad darts tied about 8 inches apart and often caught herring two at a time.  Men with dip nets made from chicken wire would catch so many herring they could not lift the net from the water.

My grandmother would cook just about anything I caught, but she drew the line at herring.  I tried pickling some, but I must have done something wrong, because the end result was a jar of slimy stuff that bore no resemblance to fish.

We also caught American and hickory shad.  The hickories were released, but I kept the American or white shad for the roe.  Fried up in butter or bacon grease, shad roe is one of the finest treats that come from the water.
Most of the white shad were in the 2- to 3-pound range, but I did catch one or two that topped 5 pounds.  These fish were like little tarpon, jumping out of the water and putting up a dogged fight in the strong current below the spillway.

Today the herring are not nearly as numerous as they were, and Delaware has put a 10-fish-per-angler limit on them.  The old dip nets are a thing of the past, and current regulations prohibit any net closer than 600 feet from a spillway.  If you fish in Laurel you must release all shad because Broad Creek is a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay where fishery managers are trying to restore the shad population.

We can catch and retain hickory shad from Indian River and Roosevelt inlets.  I would not recommend them as table fare, but as bait for spring-run rockfish they are hard to beat.

  • 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