Fall out of summer fishing

burr fish, spiny boxfish, atlantic fish, tropical fish, gulf stream hitch hiker, summer fish
Burr fish or spiny boxfish caught by the Baldwins

Rough seas and heavy winds have made for some harder fishing in the surf, but we have been catching fish.  Definitely reminds you of fall fishing, and the fish seem to be anticipating the temperature change.  This is the time of year when summer fish and fall fish are in our waters at the same time.  We have seen spiny box fish or burr fish in the surf and a snowy grouper was caught in Rehoboth Bay over the weekend.  Tropical fish from the gulf will make their way up the coast following water temperatures and food as the warm gulf stream travels up the east coast.  You never know what kind of tropical fish will travel into our waters, last year a few gag groupers were caught near Masseys Landing.  Pompano always makes an appearance late in the summer, they were early this year, as well as lizard fish.  I haven’t seen too many lizard fish this year, but they have been in the back bays as far up as north Jersey and Long Island sound.  You would be surprised what kind of tropical fish will make it up this far and beyond.  I have seen look downs, damsel fish, butterflies, and angelfish.  Several years ago a townsend angel fish was caught off the coast of Scotland, that is a long way from home and the wrong side of the Atlantic.  Back in my aquarium days I had most of these fish for sale in my shop.  It is strange to see a fish on a line that I used to sell for forty dollars in the store.  These fish that make it up this far will not survive the temperature change when we move into fall and winter.  That is the nature of things and has been occurring for a very long time.


bluefish, 3rs beach, delaware seashore state park, mullet rigs, mullet run, beach fishing, fall fishing, atalntic fish, migratory fish,
Corby Fulton with a bluefish from 3Rs the other day

Bluefish have made a stronger appearance the past few days being caught on mullet rigs or cut mullet on top and bottom rigs.  We were catching them at 3Rs the other day in some seriously heavy surf.  The water was as frothy as a double latte with cheese.  Waves were easily seven feet tall and rapidly hitting the beach, the wind was ridiculous.  Casting into the heavy Northeast wind was difficult but we managed to hold bottom with six ounces of weight.  The fish were either real small in the eight inch range or upwards of sixteen inches.  Still a fun day in the surf.  Once we tired of fighting the wind and waves we checked out the Indian River Inlet and watched guys catching croaker one after the other.  They (the fish not the guys) are bigger and bigger this year, like the size you usually see in the Chesapeake.  Averaging two pounds, and a blast to catch on light tackle.  Short striped bass and keepers are at the Indian river inlet.  The best bait has been sand fleas along the rock walls or bouncing eels on the bottom of the inlet.  Spot will work well for bait if you can mange to catch smaller ones, most of the ones being caught are monster sized this year too.  Many are using the larger ones and chunking them up for bait.  You can catch a spot with fishbites bloodworms and then use the spot to catch larger fish.  Honestly enough large spot make a decent meal it is like cooking panfish, you just a need a bunch of them.  The same goes for the croaker, they make for a good meal.


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Snowy Grouper caught in Rehoboth Bay Drew Sparks

Flounder are still the hot catch and that bite has hardly slowed down all summer.  Jigging for them in the surf works well, or sand fleas on a flounder rig.  Look for them just behind the first breaking wave they are in there feeding on sand fleas and small bait fish.  The Delaware Bay has them all over the walls, sites, and the flats near Cape Henlopen.  Minnows, cut bait, and chartreuse gulp are working.   This year has been almost impossible to no catch a flounder.  At least the keeper to non keeper ratio is smaller this year.  You don’t have to catch fifty fish to only get one keeper.   As the temperatures drop more, the flounder will move out front and head for deeper waters to winter til next year.  The old grounds is still hot for flounder and a few charter captains I know have seen marlin out there breaking water.  Mahi are still being caught on occasion out there.  With the lack of storms this year the water is almost like the blue water you see thirty miles offshore.  Tautog season will start again on the twenty ninth of September and I now a lot of people are excited to see that start up again.  I have a friend that keeps seeing albacore schools not far from the point and outer wall near Cape Henlopen.  Some days they are close to shore and other days they are a half mile off the coast.  I would love to catch one of those form the surf, that would be a fun fish to land.  Eating them not so much, I wouldn’t feed one to the dogs.  Catch and release is the ticket for them.


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Nicole Lachman 19″ flounder using pearl whites

The change of fishing seasons will bring about a switch up for baits.  mullet has been the ticket for bluefish in the surf right now.  Eventually we will switch squid for surf clams, mullet will still work but not be easy to find fresh.  Speaking of which everyone wants to know where the mullet went and I have seen very little around recently.  Stripers love whole chunks of surf clam as do the drum.  The big red drum are off Assateague island, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few at fenwick Island soon.  Some nice sized puppy drum have been caught at the outer wall and haystacks the past week.  I have seen them as far up as Jersey from a few friends that fish that area.  Guys are hitting them on sand fleas fishing for sheepshead and spade fish.  Triggers are still making an appearance out there as well.  This is the best part of fishing Delaware tidal waters, the diversity of fish.  Some days you never know what you are going to catch.  Cooler water temperatures will chase those fish off and make way for larger bluefish and striped bass for the fall run.  Right now the bass are schooling up and getting ready for the run, many of our resident bass will join the Atlantic migration.  I know a few guys have hooked up with forty inch striped bass and have let them go, which is good to hear they are the breeders we need to keep them in our waters.  Because of these cooler temperatures we are experiencing, the crabbing has dropped off a great deal in the inland bays.


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striped bass, the point beach,cape henlopenstate aprk, atlantic fish, rockfish, rock the rocks, beach fishing, mullet rigs, delaware bay, the flats at henlopen
Sue Sokira with a short striped bass from the surf at the point in Cape Henlopen State Park

The great white shark Katherine just pinged the other day not far off the coast of Ocean City.  She is a fourteen foot twenty three hundred pound great white that was tagged near Massachusetts in August of 2013.  I love watching the tagged sharks on the Ocearch site.  This freaks a few people out, but honestly it is the ones that aren’t tagged you have to wonder about.  We are lucky to see a few of them move up and down the coast thanks to the tracking tags.  Septima, a tiger shark, has not pinged in a few weeks, but that one was near the Indian River Inlet not long ago.  Sharks, skates, and rays are always out in the surf when fishing and it is impossible to not catch one, just put a piece of dead fish on a hook.  There have been a couple of small threshers caught in the surf recently near Cape Henlopen.  Some live squid are being netted in the Indian River Inlet at night under the lights, the stripers are tearing them up as well.  We have a lot of forage fish in our waters right now and that could mean a good season for fall fishing.  We will have to wait and see how that works.

The Delaware Bay beaches have seen short striped bass, bluefish, croaker, spot, skates, rays, and sharks.  An occasional flounder will make an appearance once in a while.  Fresh bait chunks on top and bottom rigs are working for most of the predatory fish (blues and stripers).  The smaller fish are catching on bloodworms and fishbites.  Skates, rays, and sharks will hit just about anything.  A few small weakfish have been caught there as well.

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Sunset bayside beach in Pot Nets from Andy The keyboard genius … we do have killer sunsets in Delaware all year long.

The rest of this week and coming weekend you can expect to see rough seas and heavy winds out of the Northeast.  Such is the nature of fall.  We had a blow out tide on Monday and you can expect lower than normal water levels at low tide this week.  Keep that in mind when boating, especially in the Indian River bay where the sand bars are, you could get stuck.  Pushing a boat on a chilly day is not a lot of fun this time of year (been there done that).  One of these days maybe we can get the bays dredged.  Unfortunately they have to be commercial waterways to even be considered for dredging.  Maybe the old pickle plant should be turned into an oyster processing area (instead of chickens) for the new shellfish aquaculture program, then the Indian river bay would become a commercial waterway. Just a wild idea but we can all dream.  The weather after the storm we will have mid week will still be rough seas and heavy winds, but hopefully a little calmer than last weeks washing machine in the surf.  I’m not looking forward to another double latte with cheese frothy like surf.  It will however be a beach combers delight after the coming storm front.   There is a heavy rip current warning through Thursday.  The surf has been averaging seventy degrees and the inland bays have been dropping almost a degree a day over the past week.  Masseys Landing was Sixty Eight degrees this evening.  Bring on the fall fishing.  Get your gear ready, restring those reels, grease them up, and get the hooks sharp!

Fish On!!

Rich King

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