Satellite tag to tell four-month story of striped bass

January 2, 2021

We have all heard of a message in a bottle, but three Lewes residents – Drew Johnson, his son Luke Johnson and their friend Dave Vitella – found a message in a satellite tag. They were walking their dogs along Lewes Beach when they found the MiniPSAT satellite tag that had been deployed during the Fourth of July weekend in a 46-inch striped bass named Independence by a team from The Fisherman Magazine, Gray FishTag Research and the Navionics Striped Bass Study. The fish was caught, tagged and released on a bucktail off Montauk, N.Y.

The tag is supposed to release after four months and transmit a considerable amount of data to a satellite that then transmits the information back to Gray FishTag Research. This tag did not transmit its data back, so it will be returned to them and the data downloaded at their office. The data will show exactly where Independence has been, the depth she swam and the distance she covered during the four months she carried the tag.

Several Hudson River fish were tagged in 2019, and they surprised everyone by going out to the Hudson Canyon and remaining in that general area for most of the summer before returning to the shoals off Nantucket. Since it was impossible to know for sure where Independence came from, the Chesapeake Bay or the Hudson River, there is considerable interest in getting the data contained in the tag.

The striped bass has been the subject of numerous studies going back many years, yet we just found out that at least some of them spend their summers in the canyons. These satellite tags may give us more information about striped bass than all the previous studies combined.

2021 outlook

Everyone seems to be happy to see 2020 go, and if we see the end of the COVID-19 virus, I will be more than happy to join the crowd. As far as the fishing goes, 2020 was not a bad year, unless, like me, you fished from shore.

The year will begin with some good news. Bluefish, summer flounder and black sea bass regulations will remain the same as they were in 2020. Say what you will about the virus, but it kept NOAA from using their horrible MRIP data to take fish away from the recreational angler. Since they had great difficulty collecting data, they had to admit they couldn’t use what they had to make new regulations.

Summer flounder are by far the most popular fish for Delaware saltwater anglers. They are available from the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal to Indian River and Rehoboth bays on out to the Old Grounds and the Del-Jersey-Land Reef. Last year, we had much better flounder fishing than I expected. The reproduction of these fish has been below par for several years, and yet there were plenty of keepers mixed in with an exceptional number of smaller fish. Perhaps flounder have been more productive than we think.

Not only were there keepers, there were also a few very large fish as well. Delaware recorded an 11-pound flounder and Maryland had one that topped 13 pounds. Five- and six-pound flounder catches were a daily occurrence.

As for 2021, I believe we will continue to see reasonably good flounder fishing. As is always the case, the better fishermen and captains will put more fish in the box than those who only get to fish on weekends. With the number of small fish we saw in 2020, I don’t see why we would not have some of them reach the 16.5-inch minimum size in 2021.

Black sea bass are another popular fish for Delaware anglers. Here too, there was excellent fishing for them from the day the season opened May 15 until it closed Dec. 31. The Del-Jersey-Land Reef was the most popular location, with lots of drop-and-reel action. Small fish dominated the catch, but most folks were able to land a limit of keepers on fresh clams, squid, crab or jigs.

I see no reason for this fishery to diminish in 2021. Once again, there were plenty of small fish that will be keeper size, 12.5 inches, by 2021.

Weakfish or trout were a surprise in 2021. I reported on more of them over five pounds last year than I have heard of in the last 20 years. What does this mean? I have no idea. Perhaps whatever conditions are necessary for the trout to reestablish their former population are beginning to occur again. We certainly have restrictions on them this time to prevent overfishing, so if they start to come back, we should begin to see a steady increase in their population.

  • 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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