Winter Fishing Is A Whole Different Ball Game
Winter fishing is a whole different ball game. You aren’t in shorts and barfeet enjoying a sunny day. In fact if you are crappie fishing you hope for a nice cold, overcast day. Crappie are schooling fish and a blast to catch once you figure out where they are gathered. The one thing that is always the hardest for me is transitioning from surf gear to ultralight gear. Four to five foot rods, with two to four pound test. The drag is almost all the way open so you don’t snap the line. When the fish hits, reeling it in is exciting because it is peeling line like crazy. You think you really have something, in the surf if my line is screaming like that I have a monster fish or a really big angry skate. Comparatively a good-sized crappie or large mouth bass can put up a heck of a fight. Yellow perch are also just as fun to catch. Probably the hardest part of this kind of winter fishing is wearing all the clothes to keep warm. You look like the Stay Puffed Marshmallow man sitting on a bucket. One sneaky way to find the schooling winter fish is use the Judas fish trick. You take a legal keeper yellow perch or crappie bass and put a hook through the dorsal fin with about eight feet of line on a large bobber or balloon. When you release the fish it swims right back to the school of fish and marks them for you, afterwards you scoop up the Judas fish and take it home too.
Friday I met Tom Hudecheck and we fished the park in Milton for crappie and hopefully some yellow perch. One day you will hammer neds (yellow perch) and the next day the crappie are hitting hard. Sometimes it is all bluegills. We were on the crappies that day and I even managed a nice large mouth bass that happened to be tagged. We called the tag in and entered the information. Apparently I have a hat or T-shirt coming and will be entered into a raffle for a Cabellas gift card. You don’t remove the tag you just take a picture of the number and record the fish’s size and location. That fish hit like a freight train and was a fun little fight. Tom helped grab the fish at the bank, because the two-pound test would have snapped if I had lifted the fish out of the water. Minnows are the choice bait for perch and crappie, you can pick some up at PC Rods in Milton if you are in that area or check your local shop. You can use a 1/32 to a 1/200th jig with a bobber about three to four feet above the bait. Cast it out there and then wait for that bobber to bounce. Again the gear is so much smaller than surf fishing gear but it is a lot of fun. I like to fish, I don’t care when, where, or how. We released all the fish we caught that day.
Another great winter fish is pickerel and you can pick them up in Millsboro pond, Ingrams Pond and some areas of Wagamons pond. There are some around the park in Milton but not as prevalent as the ponds. Most of the ponds in Delaware have some pickerel in them and they are a fun fish to catch. Silver spoons, dare devils, or minnow jigs work the best. They will also hit the live minnows we use for crappie fishing. They fight like a beast so it is better to have around ten pound test on your reel. They are not great table fare mostly just fun to catch. I do know a few people who eat them, but they are a very bony fish and tough to clean. They have some teeth too so don’t lip them like a bass, you will be sorry. Not bluefish bit off my finger sorry, but close enough to get some pickerel thumb. Also release them as fast as possible and any fish during the winter for that matter. Freezing temperatures can harm a fish’s gills and protective slime coat. Pickerel have a high metabolism so they can take a minute to revive if left out of the water too long.
Clamming has been decent in the flats areas of the inland bays and Harbor of Safe refuge in Cape Henlopen State Park. The lower winter tides make it easier to find clams when the flats are exposed. I still prefer to wear chest waders to stay warm. The other day many people did well near the Cape Henlopen Fishing Pier. Keep in mind you can only clam on the right hand side of the pier not the left hand side,there are signs. There are many places to clam in the inland bays accessible by land, such as New Rd and Tower road in Delaware Seashore State Park. You will definitely want waders and a good clamming rake. This time of year is not very good or smart for wading with your bare feet looking for clams. I prefer clams caught this time of year, less chance of parasites or hitchhiker.
The Chesapeake bay anglers are still getting large striped resident bass. Alan Battista and his boys have been trolling up some big striped bass and even jigging for them with G-Eye Jigs . It is striped bass fishing there or white perch depending on your preference. The boats out of Ocean City are doing decent tautog fishing still. Delaware’s tautog season lasts until March thirty-first. Some of the boats have been going out but for the most part many charters have already pulled their boats for the winter to work on them. With all of the storms we keep having it is a bit nautical out there to even try to go fishing. Don’t worry spring is literally around the corner now that we are into February. Now, the questions on everyone’s mind are … when will the striped bass show up this year, will there be a lot to fish for and are those bluefish coming back. Honest answer, I have no idea and we can only wait and see, but the best way to know is to be out there when it happens and we will. If the Puxatawney whistle pig was correct, spring will be here soon enough