Looking back at 2019’s fishing action

December 27, 2019

When I look back on 2019, I find the fishing was much better than 2018. The spring was very wet, but we still had some good fishing for blues and shad at Indian River Inlet. However, the rockfish action in the Chesapeake Bay was way off, as was the crabbing. Catfishing was very good as far south as the Bay Bridge.

Black sea bass held up for most of the year with good catches at the Del-Jersey-Land Reef. Summer flounder fishing was slow at best. Some big fish like Sunny Crowell’s 10-pounder were caught, but four-fish limits were rare. My efforts in the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal went unrewarded.

Then the spot showed up. Once they arrived, it was hard to catch anything else. I made one trip with my friend Doug Elliott and we caught spot from the Shears all the way up the bay to Reef Site 5. Most drops produced two at a time on FishBite bloodworm. Other trips to the bay resulted in good catches of kings, small trout and blues.

Surf fishing was excellent in May and June. I fished Three Rs Road with FishBites bloodworm and clam. Instead of casting out and letting the bait soak with the rod in a sand spike, I used a bank sinker and held the rod while slowly cranking in the rig. I caught lots of small trout, nice kings, small blues and, for the first time in over 70 years of fishing in Delaware, my first pompano.

We had very good fishing for king and Spanish mackerel. Most were caught by trolling with spoons somewhere around Fenwick Shoal. Blues were taken from the same location on the same lures.

Cobia were added to the list of targeted fish for Delaware anglers in 2019. Most were caught by sight casting to fish found around large schools of menhaden.

The offshore grounds saw excellent billfish action, but tuna fishing was not as good as most would like. Charter boat customers generally want to go home with some meat, and while catching marlin is exciting, it doesn’t put anything in the box. With a lack of tuna, some captains have gone to deep-dropping and filling the box with tilefish.

And then there were the swordfish. I saw more swordfish caught in 2019 than in any previous year in recent memory. Deep dropping in 1,800 feet of water was the key to catching these fish, and electric reels made it possible for many anglers to accomplish this feat. There were a few hardy souls who hand cranked their swords in, but many more who relied on Thomas Edison’s invention to help them along.

Fall fishing was less than spectacular. The hurricane that devastated the Bahamas didn’t do the East Coast any favors. Surf fishing went to zero, the inlet was a washout and the only action that held up was sea bass fishing. Tog fishing produced plenty of shorts with a few keepers.

Enter the rockfish. Beginning Dec. 21, the rockfish showed up off Sea Colony at Bethany Beach. Boats trolling Stretch 25s and 30s or MOJOs caught limits of rock in the 36-inch class. I hope this continues right into the new year.

Menhaden surprise

I was pleasantly surprised when Secretary of Commerce Wilber Ross agreed with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and found Omega Protein out of compliance for going over the menhaden cap in the Chesapeake Bay. The Commonwealth of Virginia has until June 1 to come up with a plan to address this situation or there will be a moratorium on menhaden harvest in the bay.

As some of you know, at one time I was the executive director of the Virginia Coastal Conservation Association. During that time, we butted heads with Omega Protein and we never won. They pretty much owned the Virginia Legislature lock, stock and barrel. The Virginia Legislature regulates menhaden, not the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which regulates every other marine species.

I did see signs of change. One legislator plans to introduce a bill to move menhaden from the legislature to the VMRC. The governor of Virginia wrote a letter to Secretary Ross supporting the ASMFC. Both of these acts would have been political suicide when I was in Virginia.

It still remains to be seen exactly what Virginia will do to correct the overfishing of menhaden. Will Omega have to take a cut in 2020 to make up for the overage? Will they be allowed to spread the cut out over a period of time, say 10 years? I am sorry, but perhaps I am just a bit jaded from all those years of watching Omega get away with anything they wanted to believe they will suddenly become good citizens.


  • 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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