The (bad) year that was

December 30, 2017

I have been fishing in Delaware for more than 70 years, and 2017 was by far the worst year I have experienced. It started off pretty well with an excellent run of big blues that were available from shore or boat from Indian River all the way up the Broadkill River to Oyster Rocks. They were caught on bait or lures with a few wild days when poppers were destroyed from the Fishing Pier at Cape Henlopen State Park and the surf. I made one trip to the pier, made one cast with a chunk of fresh bunker, caught an 8-pounder and called it a day. After that, it was all downhill for me.

Several trips to the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal for flounder proved fruitless. I also tried my usual haunts in the lower bay without success. No flounder or croaker or spot or anything except small blues.

Indian River Inlet held more small bluefish than I could count. I spent four hours during an incoming current in the afternoon catching and releasing one after another on a small Stingsilver. A few weeks later, I watched as another man did the same, but he kept his 10 fish.

I made a few trips to the inlet looking for tog, but only managed to catch shorts. According to my reports, that was the result that many other anglers experienced.

My longtime friend Larry Weldin spent the summer here with his 22-Sportsman bay boat. We made several trips to the Old Grounds, Sites 10 and 11, and various wrecks. We were never skunked, but we never caught a keeper flounder. We did catch some nice sea bass and tog, plus the always-present small bluefish. Our best day was fishing the Washingtonian in July. I caught six tog on a Stingsilver plus several nice sea bass. 

I had a spot secured on the Angler out of Ocean City for the first day of sea bass season. Unfortunately, the weather blew us out. Fortunately, a few days later, my friend Mike Pizzolato was able to get me a spot on the Katydid, and, in spite of some bumpy weather, we managed a boat limit of sea bass. 

All summer long I received reports from the Chesapeake Bay that the rockfish action was very good. Harry Yingling and I spent a day fishing out of Sandy Point State Park and returned with one rockfish each. We chummed near Hackett’s Point and caught a few shorts as well as three or four big cow-nosed rays.

Later in the fall, Harry and I fished the bays behind Ocean City and caught a good number of short flounder and small blues. If just half the 15-inch flounder I caught last year grow two inches, 2018 will be a banner year.

When the sea bass season reopened in October, Mike Pizzolato got me on the Katydid again, and again we caught a boat limit of sea bass plus a few triggerfish. I pretty much have enough fish in the freezer to see me through the winter thanks to Mike, Captain Brent and mate Chris.

The year ended with a run of rockfish in late December. Since these fish did not choose to show up along the beach or at Indian River Inlet, I never had a chance to fish for them. The fact that they arrived so late in the year and right at the holiday season meant many boats were already put up for the winter and many anglers were busy with other projects.

I never had the opportunity to fish offshore, but a good friend who runs out of Ocean City and pretty much only fishes for marlin caught less than half the number he had in 2016. There were some good tuna catches, but not by many boats. Wahoo seemed to be in good supply, as did dolphin.

One of my favorite things to do is fish for croaker in the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal or out by the Outer Wall. The only croaker I caught last year were under the 8-inch minimum. I did catch a few decent kings, but not many.

To add to the miserable fishing, my boat gave me nothing but trouble. I went through two deep-cycle and one cranking battery last year. On one trip, I had a boat full of water because a bottle top had blocked the drain and we had a heavy rain. I couldn’t figure out why the boat would not plane until I returned to the ramp, pulled the boat and took out the drain plug. During one of my battery failures, I had to be towed back to the dock by a very kind stranger.

Well, that should be enough sniveling and whining to last until next 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