Trying to help some fish while controlling others

By Rich King
Posted 2/8/24

It’s February — we made it out of January mostly unscathed and definitely not frozen as usual. With the mild weather, it’s been nice for enjoying the outdoors, then it gets brutally …

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Trying to help some fish while controlling others


It’s February — we made it out of January mostly unscathed and definitely not frozen as usual. With the mild weather, it’s been nice for enjoying the outdoors, then it gets brutally cold and no one is used to it so we all do a quick mini hibernation. I imagine the tick, skeeter, gnat, no-see-ums and chigger numbers will be up big time this summer, so we have that to look forward to. The beauty of a warmer winter is an earlier spring of fishing and catching. Despite the warmer weather we are also dealing with a lot of storms, wind and minor tidal flooding. It has been difficult to get a decent day on the water.

Fishing is winter mode with some nice warm days to enjoy the outdoors. White perch are the main catch around Delaware waterways. This is the time of year most of us tune up our gear, make rigs, and prep for spring. Winter fishng is easy and doesn’t require a lot of fancy gear. You’re catching small fish. I use my older setups with monofilament instead of braid. Frozen braid is annoying and that gets expensive. Yellow perch are on the menu soon enough. It’s hard to predict anything when we have warm winters. The best advice is to just go fishing and enjoy the day. The bass are hitting with that slow retrieve.

I watched a cormorant feast on many a gizzard shad in Cupola Park the other day. Always watch the birds, they will show you the fish. Once we were in the surf and not catching a thing. An osprey dropped into the surf right behind the wave and was pulling fish, so we shortened up our lines and started catching. The birds know. If the osprey is close and low, the fish are shallow. If the osprey is way up in the air hunting, the fish are deeper. You can also use birds to your advantage. A friend of mine keeps popcorn on the boat. If he wants to fish an area that is crowded, he will move about a quarter-mile away and drop that popcorn in shallow water. The birds go crazy, diving into the water for popcorn on the bottom, then all the boats move to the birds. He goes into the area the boats were and catches fish in “his spot.”

Flounder anglers, Delaware has not announced the new regulations yet for sizes, limits and a possible season, so we are to follow the creels from last year until that is set. I am sure DNREC will announce that soon enough before the fishing season kicks in, which we hope is mid-March. One can dream.

Depending on when DNREC can announce this, it may be an emergency order by the secretary of DNREC until it can be legislated as that can take longer into the season. I think I stopped fishing for flounder about 10 years ago. I was fishing with a buddy and we caught around a hundred fish each and hardly a keeper. He looked at me and said, “That’s it, I’m done with flounder. I’m going to go fish for croaker for a while.” You have to understand, this man grew up on the inland bays since the ’40s. He has seen the fishing decline over the decades. He was visibly upset that day over all of it, too.

Keep an eye out for the new flounder regulations, I have no idea what they are going to be. I wanted a two fish per angler limit so maybe we could rebuild the fishery but that always gets shouted down.

If you like oysters, our local shellfish farmers in the inland bays are harvesting and selling constantly. It has been amazing watching this industry grow around the inland bays. Now all Delaware has to do is make it easier for these farmers to get to market with a little wharf access. It would be awesome to just pull into a marina and there are all the farmers with their harvests for sale. A couple of them set up on weekends in Lewes but not like I am talking about.

Delaware is adding the Delaware Bay now to the oyster farming list. DNREC announced: “Availability of Delaware Bay Shellfish Grounds for Leasing Applications Due: March 15, 2024: Pursuant to 7 Del C. §1906, the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC)/Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) is informing interested parties that shellfish grounds are available for lease, located in the Delaware Bay, South of the East Line and North of the Murderkill River. Please note that this notice does not pertain to shellfish aquaculture leasing in Delaware’s Inland Bays.

“Upon request, the DFW will furnish a detailed description of the specific shellfish grounds that are currently under lease. Any person wishing to lease areas within the defined boundaries of the shellfish growing area that are not already under lease shall make application to DNREC prior to March 15, 2024, on a form provided by the DFW. In the event that more than one application is received for the same grounds, the grounds will be leased by competitive sealed bid and above the base fee for the first year.

“For more information, please contact Audrey Ostroski at (302) 735-2967 or DNREC Headquarters, 89 Kings Hwy., Dover, DE 19901.”

If you want to do some seal watching, check out Cape Water Tours and Taxi. They have two trips scheduled for this weekend and I think if they get enough interest they will add trips. Seeing all of the seals on the ice breakers and the walls is really cool. They pull up on beaches and in the marinas often. If you see a seal, stay 150 feet away. That is a federal law. Unless they appear distressed, we just leave them alone. If they pull up on a beach, the seals are either tired and resting, or avoiding a predator. Disturbing them can be detrimental if they have to swim back into a predator to avoid a human.

This time of year is great for beach combing with the lower tides and less competition for treasure hunting. The constant stirring up of the surf by storm surges helps a great deal. Also it is the best excuse to just walk a beach and enjoy the day.
Get your gear ready. A little bird told me we will probably start seeing striped bass on the feed earlier than later this spring. Honestly a lot of people miss out on this because they don’t pay attention and assume the fish are on a schedule as usual like the past. They are not. When people are asking me about migratory fish, half the time we are out catching them and they don’t believe it. When are the bass going to arrive? Buddy you should have been here two weeks ago. The resident fish around the inland bays are catchable right now. You just have to hunt a little.

Striped bass are not migrating north due to climate change. Anyone who tells you this is dead wrong and doesn’t know much about striped bass. These fish return to the waters they were spawned in to respawn and they always will. They are not going to shift north. The solid proof is in the DNA markers — the scientists have done studies. The Hudson fish are different than the Chesapeake fish as well as the NC fish stocks which never come north anyway. It is possible the northern waters are getting better at spawn production due to waterways cleaning up or more favorable conditions for a year class of fish. The problem also lies in the fact some year classes are much better than others and depends on where you are the fishing. It is either great or terrible. That is a very brief not so detailed explanation.

The Delaware River Shad Fishermen’s Association has the Sportsmen’s Fishing and Hunting Flea Market on Feb. 18 in Alpha, New Jersey. This is at the Alpha Fire Company Banquet Hall. If you are into fishing for shad, then you definitely need to go check this out. There’s a lot of great gear and information to learn from these shad anglers.

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