Being a good steward of your fishery isn’t always easy

By Rich King
Posted 1/17/24

You wanted winter, you got winter. I’m not a fan of single digits when we just came from double digits above 50 degrees. Be careful out in this cold — it’s best to stay indoors and …

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Being a good steward of your fishery isn’t always easy


You wanted winter, you got winter. I’m not a fan of single digits when we just came from double digits above 50 degrees. Be careful out in this cold — it’s best to stay indoors and tie rigs or flies. Or prep for spring and clean up your gear.

Sea bass is over for a while. You’re not getting me on a boat anytime soon anyway. The new inshore rig DS Custom Tackle just released is killer for reef and wreck fishing, with green or pink glow beads and 4/0 or 6/0 circle hooks. These are used coastwide by many anglers for inshore applications.

White perch and crappie bite has been good. It’s cold and yet the water is warm and the longer, warmer months into the winter are making for some strange fishing conditions and catches — meaning some fish should not be feeding like they are and as easy to catch. They should be rolling slow in winter conditions, and I am pretty sure that has just hit hard in all our waterways.

How is the fishing? Well, if you like frozen fish sticks, this is your week! It’s almost too cold to fish. It’s not too cold, just not too safe for you or the fish. Any fish taken out of water, the gills instantly freeze and the fish is dead. Keep your catch in the water if you are releasing. Which means yes, you have to get your hands wet. That is the part that can create a rough day for you if you catch a lot of fish. Thankfully, I rarely have that problem. I know I mention this almost weekly, but it is important this time of year. I’ve seen a few pictures where the fish most likely did not make it after the release. “It swam off strong,” is what the anglers say, but what you don’t hear is “but then it died because the gills froze.” Also, be careful out there. Hypothermia sets in fast in this water.

The one winter activity we all should be doing is paying attention to fishery meetings. This is the time of year many of these meetings occur. Last night was the Tidal Finfish Advisory Council meeting in Dover and online. It was an interesting agenda, too. I’m looking forward to what the deputy attorney general has to say about the roles and responsibilities of councils. (I am writing this Wednesday, so I’ll give you those results next week.)

I have my own issues with one council that I feel needs to be regulated much closer, preferably by the Delaware Sportsmen’s Caucus which is a bipartisan group of our state representatives. Pay attention to your fishery councils, this is how you make changes. The Tidal Finfish Advisory Council is great to ask DNREC to look at creel limits, and any regulation you may want changed or added for tidal fishing only. We have a council for freshwater and wildlife combined, as well as a shellfish council. All of these meetings are usually in person and virtual. I hope they continue constantly with virtual, they will get more public input. I’d also suggest getting the notices about meetings out faster or earlier. There is a schedule listed online, but how many of us check schedules?

There is another meeting coming up soon and it is virtual on Tuesday, Jan. 30, at 6 p.m. Google “Public Hearing: Striped Bass Commercial Fishing Regulations.”

A change is proposed to the striped bass commercial fishery for anchor netters. It will change the time frame for the commercial anglers to catch striped bass. They already have a small window. The problem is, according to a few watermen I spoke with, the bass show up earlier each year. They would prefer the smaller sized for market when the prices are on point and not lowered due to larger fish. What blows my mind is states like Massachusetts are complaining Delaware commercial anglers are catching too large a fish. What a joke. Delaware is allocated 1% if not less of the total East Coast catch limits. We literally don’t count in the grand scheme or numbers.

The new regulation would add roughly two weeks to the beginning of the harvest season in February and remove two weeks from the current end of harvest season (April/May). I see no problem with this whatsoever and I know it will be better for the commercial fishermen, because they wouldn’t have asked for it in the first place if it wasn’t. See how that works with a council? If you ask, they will listen. If you are asked to help decide on this, give the boys what they need to do their work, please. This won’t do anything to the recreational fishery. Our watermen have it tough in Delaware, give them a break.

Also just saying, if you want to know what’s up in your fishery currently, ask the boys what they are seeing in their nets. How do you think we knew those gator blues showed up years ago and fished for them before anyone even knew they were here? I made a call. Wait, you caught what? How many? Where? Wait, I don’t want to know. You don’t need to fish where they fish, you just need to know what’s lurking in our waters. The fish have to swim up that way, too.

Every year it seems the striped bass show up earlier for the spring run, and stick around later for the fall run. Anglers were catching large striped bass past Christmas, until these storms showed up and then this cold. I mean, fish are still out there most likely, but I’m not going out there. This spring I highly suggest you run up the Delaware Bay, hit up the bay beaches, and see what the fish are doing around the middle to end of February. If the commercial boys are fishing, shouldn’t you be fishing, too?

Someone once asked me why I push so much for the fish and conservation. Because the fish can’t attend fishery meetings and speak up for themselves. Being a good steward of your fishery is work and it is usually met with scorn and hate. That’s fine, I like fish more than people most days anyway. I’ve never had a fish cuss me out for trying to protect it, but I have had a council member do that once.

Winter flounder season is coming. Yes, I am going to try again this year, like every year, and see what happens. Not every day in winter is terrible weather to fish. I might try some fly fishing for them along the surf near some sloughs to see what is around, along the inland bay banks, outside of a few guts I know that drop good water at low tide. I know an old salt that used to fish one specific spot and he sent me there this year. A tamper, can of cat food, corn and the small rigs I make and I am good to go. His family back in the day would net winter flounder in this area. We shall see what happens.

Spring is coming — tune up your gear. It will be here and time to fish before you know it. Bait shops are on winter hours, so call ahead. Many are starting to load up with more and more gear for the coming season. They all just got back from the big trade show. You want to have some fun? Go into Icehouse Bait and Tackle and ask Les if he has any bait buckets. Do not tell him I said to ask. If you know, you know. I’ve never seen that many bait buckets in one place.

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