Rockfish are biting; DNREC looks at increased fees

December 26, 2015

Rockfish have been caught at the Eights on trolled plugs, umbrella rigs and MOJOs and in the Valley on drifted eels. The fish do not bite 24/7. You have to be there when they turn on, which can be morning, noon or night. There does not seem to be one particular stage of the tide that gets the fish in a feeding mood. My personal experience is to fish through one tide, the change and then through the next tide. Plugging seems to be best when the current is moving slowly, while the only time to eel is during the hardest current stage. Naturally, on some days the opposite will be true. Anyone who thinks he or she has any fish figured out is only fooling themselves.

Plugs are trolled with a 6-foot leader made with 50-pound regular mono fishing line. I know I have said this before, but you can’t troll too slowly for rockfish.

MOJOs are also trolled slowly, but unlike plugs, there may be more than one lure on the line. The main MOJO will weigh between 8 and 20 ounces or more. It is usually dressed with a big plastic shad or twister tail. A second bucktail may be tied above the main MOJO and is usually in the 2- to 4-ounce size. A three-way swivel is attached to the main line with a ball bearing swivel. The main MOJO will be on a 4- to 5-foot leader with the lighter jig on a 3- to 4-foot lead. Each leader is tied to its own eye on the three-way swivel. Some MOJOs come already rigged right from the manufacturer.

I set my MOJO by letting it back behind the moving boat until I feel it touch bottom. I continue dropping back until the jig bounces off the bottom twice more. At this point I put the reel in gear and set the rod in a holder. In my younger days I would hold the rod and make sweeping movements toward the bow to put more action into the lure. At some point that became more work than I wanted to do, so I don’t do that anymore.

It is possible to run a MOJO on one line and a plug on the other. Just be very careful when making a turn. Should the two lines ever mate they will create a tangled mess from hell that even the devil can’t fix.

I believe we will have rockfish along our coast well into January. They are still being caught as far north as Belmar, N.J., and with no really cold weather in the short-term forecast, I don’t see the rock moving out any time soon.

Fee increases

The Division of Fish and Wildlife will hold three public workshops where they will discuss fee increases for hunting, trapping and a new Conservation Access Pass for those who use state wildlife areas. Hunting and trapping fees have not been raised since 2007, and the Conservation Access Fee is entirely new. The Sussex County meeting will be Tuesday, Jan. 12, at 7 p.m. at Delaware Technical Community College, Georgetown.

As I understand the Conservation Access Fee, anyone who uses state wildlife areas would be required to pay this fee to gain access. Right now those areas are completely open to anyone who wishes to hike, watch birds or just enjoy being outdoors.

While the wildlife areas are free, maintaining them is not. According to Dave Saveikis, Division of Fish and Wildlife director, some services associated with the wildlife areas have been cut or diminished, and the additional revenue from the access fee would prevent further cuts.

Delaware has some of lowest hunting and trapping license fees in the country. Over the past few years, with the decrease in waterfowl hunting, revenue from licenses has diminished. An increase in license fees would help replenish those lost funds. Also, the federal government matches each dollar collected for license fees with $3 in matching funds.

Then there is the Conservation Access Fee. I have mixed feelings about this. While I firmly believe that everyone should pay their fair share, I worry that if we start charging non-consumptive users a fee to visit wildlife areas they will have a financial interest in how the land is used. I am certain some of these folks would love to see hunting banned everywhere, and wildlife areas would be a good place to start. If someone has a Conservation Access Pass and they want to access a wildlife area on opening day of shotgun deer season, how can we keep them out?

Groups such as the Audubon Society, Sierra Club and the Humane Association of the United States are a force to be reckoned with, and local hunters and fishermen would come out on the short end of the stick if we have to fight with them over access for hunting and fishing.

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.  Eric can be reached at