Fishing for rockfish at Indian River Inlet

March 29, 2019

On Monday, I decided to test out the reports that small rockfish were hitting white shads during slack water at Indian River Inlet. I drove down to the inlet around noon and arrived at the northside parking lot while the current was still running in at a strong pace. Made a few casts without result and decided to have lunch while awaiting slack water.

I have been fishing Indian River Inlet for the better part of 70 years, and for the first time in my memory I was the only one there with a fishing rod. I am talking about both sides and out on both jetties. Not that I was the only one there. Lots of folks walking dogs. Just not a single soul fishing.

By the time I ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the current had gone slack and I began casting a white bucktail with a white plastic tail from the sidewalk just west of the bridge. On the third or fourth cast, I caught a 12-inch rockfish. I don’t know who was more surprised, me or the fish. After a very quick release, I kept working the bucktail and soon hooked another fish. This one escaped by wrapping the plastic tail around the hook. Tricky, those rockfish.

Both fish hit about 6 feet from the end of the rocks, so I moved to the handicapped pier so I could fish that distance all the way through a cast. It didn’t help. I worked my bucktail and then changed to a small, white plastic shad without result.

Just before the current began running out, I moved to the sidewalk next to the Coast Guard Station and worked on down to the bend, again without result. By then one other person, a lady, had joined the fishing, but I did not see her catch anything.

I did stop by Old Inlet Bait and Tackle where Butch told me surf fishermen had been catching small rockfish on bloodworms. I decided that was too much trouble, letting down four tires, driving up on the beach, soaking bloodworms and then catching 12-inch rockfish on heavy surf tackle. I would stick to the inlet where I could use light tackle and bucktails or shads.

If you haven’t been to the inlet this spring, you will find the sidewalk on the corner under the bridge has been closed. The sand has washed out and the concrete has collapsed, making it unsafe for walking. As to when it will be repaired, your guess is as good as mine, but I would expect the job would be a high priority.

After I quit fishing, I drove back to the Indian River Marina where most of the boats are still on the hard. The head boat Judy V is in the water, and Burt Adams said he plans to start running in the next few weeks. Capt. John Nedelka has the Karen Sue ready to go as he has all winter. Right now he is booking tog trips.

Winter flounder

I keep getting reports of winter flounder being caught in New Jersey. The Delaware winter flounder season runs from Feb. 11 to April 10 with a 12-inch minimum size and a two-fish bag limit.

Back in the 1960s, before there were any size or bag limits, Bobby Woods and I would rent a wood boat with a very small pull-start outboard motor from the northside and catch 50 winter flounder a tide. We fished either end of Massey’s Ditch or in what they now call the VFW Slough.

The bait was always bloodworms threaded on a long-shanked Chestertown hook set up on a spreader rig so both hooks laid on the bottom. We chummed with cat food or corn. Then someone said corn was bad for the flounder because it blocked their digestive tract, so from then on we stuck with cat food.

I have no idea if there are any winter flounder in Delaware, but I think I am going to give it a try. Before Bobby or I had a boat, or could afford to rent one, we fished from shore at Massey’s Landing and picked up a few flounder. No pier in those days, so fishing will be even easier now.

Fishing report

Tog are in the ocean when the boats can get out. White perch can be caught in the tidal rivers and creeks on bloodworms, grass shrimp and minnows. The ponds and the upper reaches of the tidal rivers and creeks still hold big pickerel and bass. Nothing beats a live minnow or shad at this time of year for both species. Crappie in the spillways on live minnows and jigs.  Blue and channel catfish out of the Nanticoke River on cut bunker.

  • 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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