Delaware Bay has yet to recover from dry nor’easter

October 18, 2019

Disregarding the weather, the fishing has been pretty good. Boats working the inshore grounds caught sea bass, triggerfish and flounder. Sea bass made up most of the catch, with boat limits common. Triggerfish showed up in good numbers, and flounder were somewhat rare. All fish were caught on ocean structure.

Offshore, the dolphin catch remains very good. A few bigeye tuna have been caught as well. Deep-dropping for tilefish and swordfish is producing good catches for those who know how to perform these techniques.

I wish I had better news for those of us who fish closer to shore. The surf has been slow, with a few small blues caught on mullet. Indian River Inlet has seen small tog in abundance, with only a few keepers. Small rockfish are caught around the lights at the Coast Guard Station and from the jetties. Sand fleas, bucktails and live eels are the top producers. There are rumors of keeper rock, but no photos or other proof.

Delaware Bay has yet to recover from the dry nor’easter. Since it will be hit with a hard-northwest blow leading up to the weekend, I don’t hold out much hope for improvement anytime soon. The northwest wind will also drop the water temperature in the surf, and that could lead to the appearance of false albacore and larger bluefish.

I have reports from my son Roger, who lives in New Jersey, that the head boats out of Belmar and Brielle had excellent fishing for striped bass Tuesday. This could be a good thing for those of us who live to the south that perhaps we will get a shot at these fish. Of course, every year since Superstorm Sandy, the stripers have bypassed us and stayed in the Exclusive Economic Zone all the way from Cape May to North Carolina.

Circle hooks

With the new striped bass regulations almost guaranteed to contain mandatory use of circle hooks when bait fishing for stripers, I thought I would give you some insight on how best to use these devices.

I first used circle hooks in 1989 when I fished for amberjack at the Southern Tower off the coast of North Carolina. This was a favorite destination for boats out of Virginia Beach because it almost always held big jacks willing to eat live spot or croaker. During the summer, dolphin, cobia and king mackerel were also on the menu.

The first time I saw a circle hook, I thought, this thing can’t possibly catch a fish. The barb is pointed toward the shaft. How in the heck can it set? But set it did. Every time. Right in the corner of the amberjack’s mouth. There was one time when the hook caught on a gill raker and I had to reach down into the jack’s gullet and unhook it, but other than a few brushburns on my arm, no problem.

Circle hooks work by riding along inside the fish’s mouth until they reach the corner; then they turn and catch the hinge. The hook works best with no help from the angler. When I ran charters for cobia, I would leave the rod in the holder until it bent over and line was screaming off the reel. Then I would pass it over to the angler.

Once I taught myself how to use circle hooks, I began to use them for almost all of my bait fishing. You just wait for the fish to hook itself, then reel it in. I give a little slack and when I feel a fish, I wait a few seconds, then just come tight on the line. No need for a hard hook set. I don’t use circle hooks when fishing for tog. They don’t put the bait in their mouth, so the hook can’t set in the corner.

The whole idea of using circle hooks is they seldom get set in the fish’s gut. This makes releasing the fish easy without damaging it any more than necessary.

I recently found out that keeping the gap between the barb of the hook and the shank clear was necessary for optimum performance of a circle hook. I have a very good friend and good fisherman who keeps telling me he is gut hooking rockfish when chunking in the Chesapeake Bay. I believe he is covering the gap with his bait. 

I have since found a product that attaches the bait to the circle hook. It’s called Ultimate Bait Bridle. I have ordered two sizes, small and large. The company is Ultimate Fishing Float, and you can find them online. I hope to try these devices this fall and will keep you informed as to how well they perform.

  • 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 several publications and 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

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