Big rockfish are finally finding their way to Delaware

December 3, 2016

There may be a light at the end of the tunnel, as big rockfish are finally finding their way to Delaware ports. Both Lewes and Indian River saw rock weighing as much as 46 pounds brought in last week. The Indian River fish were caught somewhere off the coast of New Jersey, while the ones landed at Lewes came from the ocean side of the mouth of Delaware Bay. My best guess is all were taken by trolling large plugs or MOJOs.

As of Wednesday before Thanksgiving, there were still lots of rockfish off the New Jersey coast. I saw photos of blitz conditions in the surf and of large stripers caught from boats. Trolling a Tony Maja bunker spoon on wire line has been very effective since all the information I have indicates a very large number of menhaden close to shore.

A bit closer to home there have been no reports of keeper rockfish from the surf and only the occasional keeper out of Indian River Inlet. I have been trying the inlet when conditions are good, and over the past two weeks, I have been encouraged by my results. There has been lots of bait, including bunker, mullet and silversides until this past Monday. On this particular evening, the inlet was as dead as I have ever seen. No birds, no bait and no rockfish. Even the tog fishermen were having a hard time.

With the water temperature still in the 50s, the rockfish should come on down here. It sounds as if the first ones have arrived at the Rips, and perhaps before we get the weather to fish that area again, even more big rock will be available.

The boats that have been fishing for tog are doing very well. The Grizzly and the Katydid out of Lewes both had good catches Monday with tog that weighed to 10.9 pounds. One private boat ran 46 miles east out of Indian River and returned with a limit of big black sea bass.

Flounder problem

As it stands right now, the entire East Coast will have to take a 40 percent cut in the flounder quota. This includes the commercial and recreational fisheries. In 2016, we had a four-fish limit with a 16-inch minimum size. Cut that in half and you end up with a two-fish limit and probably an 18-inch minimum size.

Delaware has had a 365-day season for many years. This might not happen in 2017 since a shorter season could decrease the size limit or increase the bag limit. 

Currently, the recreational fishing lobby in Washington is trying to convince the Commerce Department to wait until after the first of the year when the latest stock assessment will be complete. With the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council set to meet in December, I don’t hold out much hope that Commerce will delay their decision.

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to figure out that a two-fish flounder limit is not going to encourage many anglers to spend a lot of money to catch two fish. This will be devastating to the charter and head boat fishery as well as the local tackle shops which depend on the flounder fishery to sell bait and tackle.  

With flounder fishing much better in the ocean than in the Delaware Bay or Back Bays, I am sure at least a few anglers were planning on buying bigger boats for the 2017 season. That lack of sales is going to hurt the local boat dealers.

Even though the MAFMC is supposed to consider the local economy before imposing limits on any fishery, they certainly have not done so in the past. I wish I could hold out some ray of hope, but knowing how this system operates, I do believe we will see the flounder fishery go down the tubes in 2017.

Baltimore Canyon Sanctuary 

The Baltimore Aquarium was invited to meet with concerned people from the Ocean City area Monday evening to discuss the aquarium’s petition to make the Baltimore Canyon a sanctuary. Those in attendance explained to the aquarium people that there is great concern this plan will result in the loss of recreational fishing in the canyon. As expected, the aquarium people said they had no intention of kicking fishermen out of the canyon and were only interested in protecting the rare coral that grows on the bottom.

Sounds good until you read the ruling that covers such a sanctuary. It states that it is illegal to remove any resource found within the borders of the sanctuary. That makes it kind of hard to fish if you can’t remove what you catch.

Right now, the aquarium people are collecting signatures for their petition, and then they will present it to the Secretary of Commerce. Not sure who that will be, but I sure hope he or she is an offshore fisherman.

  • 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