Fishing keeps getting better; food showing up for striped bass

The beach cleanup crews with Delaware Surf Fishing have been collecting a lot of trash on Sundays. Anyone is welcome to join and help. If you can’t do that, just pick up trash when you are at the beach or any outdoors location. We can make a difference with enough effort. Submitted photos

Fishing this spring has been getting better and better. Location and tide has been important in some cases, but for the most part if you get out and fish you will more than likely catch. There is always the possibility of the skunk, and that has also happened. It is called fishing not catching, right?

Low tide in the surf has been the worst time to fish. The last couple of hours of the incoming tide into the outgoing tide has been the best and that is usually the preferred tide by all surf anglers.

Water temperatures are on the rise. The surf is averaging 51 degrees, and the inland bays are the warmest at low tide. The Delaware Bay is about the same as the surf. Since most of the water in our surf comes out of the bay that makes perfect sense.

There is a lot of food showing up in the surf for the striped bass to feed on. We have seen sand fleas and even elvers (glass eels). We are catching fleas on our spoons on the retrieve in the shallow part of the the surf. They get hooked on the spoon’s treble. I leave them on the hook, can’t hurt to add a little bait to the mix. If you dig for them in the wetter part of the sand you will find some, they are not in huge numbers just yet, but they are there.

“Creeping while your sleeping” … this is a phrase used by all hardcore surfcasters. The best time to find large striped bass in the surf is at night and before sunrise. Big bass do not like bright light. Striped bass have sensitive rods and cones in their eyes which allow them to see in complete darkness. This is why they are such efficient bait assassins. They just swim around looking for unsuspecting baitfish, or sit in a rip and wait for the food to come to them.

Striped bass in the Cape Henlopen surf on DS Custom Tackle top and bottom rigs with bloodworms, by Suzanne Martin, yes she does this every weekend.

The clearer the water the deeper the big bass will be found in the daytime, at night they move in close to shore to hunt. The little bass, also called shorties or rats, could care less about light when they have the feed bag on, not to mention those big bass will eat the little bass, they really aren’t too picky when it comes to food. It is a good idea for any small fish to stay close to shore and the predators know where to look. This applies for freshwater as well, the smaller bluegills, etc are in shallow water feeding and looking for places to put their “nests”.

The striped bass “shorty” or “rat” action in the surf has been good for many anglers. Fishbites has even been working, but bloodworms are the preferred bait. Swim shads, bucktails and jigs with soft plastics are also getting the job done. The Indian River Inlet is loaded with short bass along the rocks. There are large migratory keepers up the Delaware Bay and River. Action near Trenton has been hot at night. Port Penn bait and tackle has been reporting a lot of keeper striped bass catches on bunker chunks. They have fresh bunker daily at the shop.

The netters have been filling their quotas really quick. That is a lot of lost eggs for the spawn, and I get they have to make money. Seems to me, though, it would be better to catch the fish on the way back down, so you could keep more fish and have more meat, instead of those eggs also adding to the weight quota or limit. More meat and fish means more money, isn’t that the idea?

Striped bass schools are off the Jersey coast and their back bays are on fire for fish. Unfortunately the usual head boat slaughter has begun. Just ask any of the fishing pages on Facebook. The striped bass stock assessment will be out soon, but don’t expect ASMFC to move fast to protect the striped bass stocks.

Hot bite

The hot bite at Beach Plum Island state park has been white perch with short striped bass, and anglers are hoping the drum will run through soon. That run we had a few years ago was epic. Bloodworms have been the bait of choice for perch and bass. Putting out a rod with sand fleas or clam would be a good idea in case a big drum does swim through the area. They are hitting at Assateague Island in the surf.

The low tides in Cape Henlopen State Park are allowing us to walk around the end of Naval Jetty which we haven’t ever been able to do, lot of sand on the beaches, which are wide and flat at low tide. You can actually cast to the second sand bar now, where the fish are located.

There are now reports of big drum in the Delaware Bay hitting on clam. Time to bait up and get out there they are a few weeks early or right on time depending on how you look at things. We are having an “early” spring meaning it is better this year than the past few.
Everyone is also waiting for the gator bluefish to show up, a few have been rumored caught near Atlantic City … the same rumor is around down here, not true.

Not sure how that run is going to play out this year in the surf. Three years of a solid gator bluefish run was some incredible action that tapered off each year, why? Because when you keep killing fish their numbers tend to decrease.

Spawning regulations

If you are fishing the Delaware Bay keep in mind that the spawning season regulations started April 1, and that ain’t no joke. Per DNREC … “The spawning season for striped bass in Delaware is considered to begin at 12:01 a.m. on April 1 and continue through midnight on May 31 of each calendar year. It is unlawful for any person to take and retain any striped bass during the spawning season from the Nanticoke River or its tributaries, the Delaware River and its tributaries to the north of a line extending due east beginning at and including the south jetty at the mouth of the C & D Canal, or the C & D Canal or its tributaries. Catch and release only during this season; no harvest is allowed.

Sand flea caught on a spoon by Andrew Hansen

“It is unlawful for any person to fish during the striped bass spawning season on any striped bass spawning ground with natural bait using any hook other than a non-offset circlehook when the gap (the opening between the point to the shank) of said hook is greater than 3/8 inches. The Division recommends that circle-hooks always be used when fishing natural baits because of their proven ability to reduce hook and release mortality for striped bass and other fish species. The circle-hook’s design usually results in fish being hooked in the mouth, simplifying hook removal and reducing injury to the released fish.”

The flounder are hitting readily now south of us in the Wachapreague and Chincoteague area. Look for flounder in the shallower warmer waters hunting for mummichugs and other bait fish. They will not be in the deeper water and channels just yet, there isn’t as much food there. The bait or food is in the shallower areas where the water is warmer. Bait (fish) need to eat as well as spawn.

Flounder action has slowly started up in the back bays of Ocean City, and in the inland bays. Creeks and tidal rivers have seen a few caught as well. With the temperatures increasing so fast everything is going off at once.

This drone shot of the sunrise over the fog we are having daily at the beach looks like an ocean cloud … photo by TJ Redefer, Mayor of Dewey Beach.

Put out different baits for the variety of catches in the surf. Bloods for bass, clam or fleas for drum. Horseshoe crabs are already starting to get their spawn on, keep that in mind while fishing. Especially the bay beach areas. If you snag any remove the hook carefully with pliers. They have survived 450 million years, and are nicknamed the living fossil.

If you want to do some seal watching, check out the outer and inner walls in the Delaware Bay. The seals are sun bathing between striped bass meals. Not sure how long they will stick around, but this weekend would be a good time to check them out. You’re gonna need to take a boat ride or get a telescope and look from the point overlook in Cape Henlopen State Park.

Rich King’s outdoors column runs Thursdays in the Delaware State News.

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