Ben Smith hauls in the Holy Grail of Delaware saltwater fishing

December 15, 2012

The Holy Grail of Delaware saltwater fishing has been passed. On Saturday, Ben Smith, fishing a chunk of fresh bunker in the surf at Three Rs Road, connected with a 52-pound rockfish and took over the Delaware State Record for the species. The previous record was set in 1978 by Betty Rosen and weighed 51 pounds, eight ounces. That fish was caught from the south jetty at Indian River Inlet.

Betty was fishing with a Blue Mullet plug, and I still have one in my tackle box. The previous world record striper was caught from a jetty in Atlantic City on the original Rebel Wind Cheater, and I also have one of those in my bag. Neither plug has produced the same results for me.

The current world record was caught in Connecticut on a live eel and weighed 81 pounds. I have sacrificed many an eel to the Striper God without coming close to a state or world record.

According to Clark Evans at Old Inlet Bait and Tackle, Smith and seven of his fishing buddies arrived at the store on Friday night to purchase a considerable amount of fresh bunker. The plan was to fish for the entire weekend, and while Ben was having breakfast at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning, the big cow hit one of the rigs he had out. After what I am sure was a knock-down, drag-out fight, the fish was beached. The party estimated the weight at somewhere near 45 pounds, and it was five hours before the rockfish was brought to Old Inlet Bait and Tackle. Once there, it pulled the state-certified scale down to 52 pounds, more than enough for a new state record. A Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control enforcement officer was called, and he verified the catch.

Plans are under way to have a mounted replica made, and one copy will be displayed at Old Inlet. That will be as close as most of us will ever get to a striped bass of that magnitude.

I certainly want to add my congratulations to the many Ben has received. I am sure he did not set out to catch a new state record, but when the opportunity presented itself, he was ready. Clark told me Ben is a dedicated surf fisherman, and I am glad the record was caught from the beach. I still hate him, but I am glad to see the record stay with a surfcaster.

Fishing the EEZ

As we all know, it is illegal to fish for or possess striped bass in the Untied States Exclusive Economic Zone. The moratorium was put in place during a time when striped bass stocks were on the verge of collapse and commercial fishermen were getting around the states’ ban on striped bass fishing by catching or claiming to catch rockfish in the EEZ, then selling them in the Midwest.

Since the recovery of striped bass, there have been attempts to remove the moratorium, but they have failed. The primary reason for the continuing ban on striper fishing in the EEZ is a fear that overfishing will occur, requiring more restrictive regulations.

Unfortunately, fishermen continue to target rockfish beyond the three-mile limit and with limited resources, it has been very difficult for enforcement agencies to enforce the ban.

I have watched an entire fleet of private and charter boats fishing well beyond the limit off the coast of Virginia Beach. If and when the Coast Guard or Virginia Marine Resources Commission enforcement agents approached the fleet, everyone headed for the beach. One or two boats would be apprehended, with everyone else getting away.

I have no idea the methods used to capture seven charter captains who allegedly booked trips to the EEZ for the purpose of catching striped bass, but a federal grand jury has indicted them, and they will stand trial next month in Norfolk.

The charges include a violation of the Lacy Act that prohibits the sale of illegally caught fish and game. This is considerably more serious than just catching stripers in the EEZ. If found guilty, the seven could receive stiff fines, loss of their boats and jail time.

Other charges include lying to federal agents and tossing dead fish overboard to avoid detection. The mate was instructed to puncture the air bladders of all fish caught so they would sink after going over the side.

There have been far too many fishing and hunting cases when the jury or judge did not take the charges seriously. It seems to me that the government has spent quite a good bit of time and resources on this case, and I hope the outcome will deter other private and charter boats from fishing for striped bass in the EEZ.

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