Fishing doesn’t stop just because the weather turns cold

December 24, 2016

So there you sit with all the new fishing tackle Santa brought, with no idea when you will be able to go fishing. Perk up, buttercup; fishing does not come to a sudden halt just because the weather turns colder. In Delaware, we usually have lots of mild days from now until May, and all you need is the ambition to get out of the house and find some open water.

Those of us who believe in Santa Claus also believe the big rockfish will be here in the next week or two. I know some have already been caught, but I am talking about a major run with bunker chased up on the beach and Indian River Inlet lined down both sides and everyone catching big rock. I have documented proof of rockfish caught from the beach in January; of course, that was 75 years ago.

So let’s just say the big rockfish don’t invade Delaware; there are still plenty of fish to catch, albeit a bit smaller. Tops on the list will be white perch. These fish never take a season off and can be caught through the ice or on hot, sunny summer days.

The Broadkill River is the best local spot for catching white perch. On the main river, there are the old Route 1 bridge and the bridge on Lodge Pole Road. The bridge over Petersfield Ditch is another access location, as is the park in downtown Milton.

You can catch white perch on lures, such as the Beetle Spin, but I prefer using bait, especially during the winter. Bloodworms are always tops, but may not be available. Do not despair, though, as good old earthworms will do fine. If you buy a tub of nightcrawlers and keep them in the refrigerator, they will last for weeks. Small minnows on a crappie jig will also work, but they too may be hard to find over the winter.

If you have never fished for perch, you will surprised how easy it is. All you need is a spinning rod and matching reel filled with 10-pound mono. Tie a snap on the end of the line and use it to attach a single- or double-hook bottom rig. Bait the hooks and finish with a small sinker just heavy enough to keep the bait near the bottom.

I try to pick a spot out in the sun and away from the wind during the winter. I set up my trusty folding beach chair, bait up and try to find a forked stick to hold the rod until a fish bites. It just doesn’t get any easier than that.

Another fish that is available in winter is the tog. The biggest problem here is finding a day when the weather will allow boats to sail beyond the inlet.

I would never suggest taking a trailer boat out during the winter, because the risk of having a serious mishap is just too great. With water temperatures close to freezing, even the slightest incident can turn tragic.

Fortunately, there are charter and head boats that will sail all winter just for tog. A call to your favorite captain will provide information on when he or she plans to sail. Boats should be available from Lewes, Indian River and Ocean City.

Fishing report

The subfreezing temperatures and 40-knot winds at the end of last week did nothing to improve the fishing. The crazy weather continued last weekend with 70-degree warmth and winds that again topped 40 knots. By Tuesday, we were back in the deep freeze.

As far as I can find out, no fish have been caught during the roller coaster weather conditions. I had a report that one boat tried to run for tog Tuesday, but turned around when the ice began to build up on deck. I spoke with the crew of a private boat Tuesday afternoon as they were pulling out at the Lewes boat ramp. They had tried trolling for rockfish at the Rips and ended up with cold butts and an empty fish box.

I had planned to try the inlet early Tuesday morning, but the temperature at my house was in the lower 20s, and I just don’t love a rockfish that much. Perhaps, if I had had an encouraging report from there I might have braved the conditions, but such a report was not forthcoming.

The coming week does promise a bit of a weather reprieve, but as a general rule, the time between Christmas and New Year’s Day has very little angler participation. If you do decide to risk being the family black sheep, call your favorite captain to be sure he or she is sailing. No sense in risking banishment unless you know for sure you can get out.

  • 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