Summer 2017 has been slow fishing season

August 12, 2017

I have been fishing the waters of the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean off of the Delmarva Coast for over 60 years, and 2017 will go down as one of the slowest summers I can remember.  Once the bluefish left after their spring run, nothing has come in to take up the slack.

The summer flounder have been avoiding the Delaware Bay, Indian River Bay and Rehoboth Bay for several years, but this year they haven’t been in the ocean either. My trips to the Old Grounds have produced some keeper sea bass, but no keeper flounder. Just this past week I had a few positive reports that indicated the flounder fishing out there was improving. Limit catches are still rare, and most anglers end up skunked, but those who know how to work the few locations that consistently hold flounder are doing much better.

I know my early trips to the Old Grounds were hampered by cold water on the bottom. Captain John Nedelka on the Karen Sue out of Indian River spoke with a dive boat captain who said the water temperature on the bottom was 46 degrees. My sinkers felt like they had been in an icebox when they came up from the bottom. The fact that we were catching red hake (ling) was proof that the water on the bottom was colder than it should have been.

Another reason that the flounder fishing has been slow is there are just not that many flounder around. According to the scientists who study the flounder population, we have had six years of poor production, causing the flounder population to drop close to the line where removing any more from the stock could result in a collapse. If we reach that point, a moratorium is a good possibility.

The spring run of black sea bass was great. I was able to catch my 15-fish limit along with everyone else on the Katydid in late May. As is always the case with sea bass, once the larger fish on a wreck or reef have been caught, there is nothing left but shorts. Some of these fish will change from female to male and give us a pick of keepers for the summer. Last week I had a report that two anglers fished the Del-Jersey-Land Reef and were able to catch their 30-fish limit.

Up until this year, croaker have shown up in Delaware Bay by early May. This year they just arrived last week, and the fish are too small to meet the eight-inch minimum size. I am getting the same report from the Upper Chesapeake Bay and the waters out of Virginia Beach.

Croaker are fast-growing, short-lived fish, and my guess is we are seeing the beginning of a good year class. If you recall, large croaker were around two years ago, but in short supply since then. After having spawned, I suspect the big croaker died off and now we are seeing their progeny. Next year, if we are lucky, there should be more keepers around.  

There were a few big rockfish caught this spring, but the summer slot season has been a disappointment. It seems there are a fair number of fish under 20 inches, but very few between 20 and 25 inches.

The tuna fishery got off to a good start at the inshore lumps and in the canyons. Over the past few weeks we have seen fewer fish caught at either location. This is not unusual, as the warmer water pushes the bluefins out and the yellowfins will move to the deep. There were smaller bigeyes in with the bluefin and yellowfin, but they have completely disappeared.

One area that doesn’t get much attention, but produces a fair amount of fish, is the Buoy Line from B to the Lightship Buoy. Trolling with spoons and white bucktails right along the channel edge can be good for false albacore, Atlantic bonito, and Spanish and king mackerel.

My personal taste does not go for false albacore, but some cultures love to eat them. In Virginia Beach, a large number of Philippine folks have retired from the Navy and now live there. They consider false albacore a delicacy.  

Unfortunately, those of us who depend on the shallow waters in the bays and the ocean are not going to see much action until fall, if then. We always hope the mullet run will bring in blues, flounder and perhaps a few false albacore that we can catch from the surf.  

The fall run of rockfish at the inlet has not been much since the sand bar in the middle was dredged. I always leave my boat ready for the rockfish and usually end up winterizing it after winter has arrived.

  • 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