The big questions: Where are the fish and when do they arrive?

Kristen Stadelman’s “schoolie” striped bass from the upper Delaware Bay area before Storm Toby. (Submitted photos)

So I decided to do a little something different this week. Everyone is constantly asking this time of year, where are the fish and when will they get here?

We all know the striped bass are schooling up and feeding, and white perch are heavy in the mix. The fish everyone wants to know about are the migratory bass, bluefish,and black drum. Most importantly when, and that is the hardest question to answer. You can speculate all you want, but when it happens is when it happens. Why is always a factor as well.

This is my favorite question. Because you can’t predict the exact time, you can only go by what has happened the past few years and hope that holds true for the coming season. The best examples are the spring drum and now blue fish runs. Times change every year due to previous water and weather conditions.

The past three years the bluefish have “traditionally” shown up mid-April — that has almost been like clockwork. Once a few friends of mine start catching them near Chincoteague it is only a matter of days before we start seeing them on the Delaware coastline. So when will that happen this year? I have no idea. Will it even happen this year should be the question you ask.

Bluefish runs

Four years ago the bluefish runs we see now were unheard of along the beaches and into the bays. Maybe someone would catch the occasional big spring blue at the beach but it was far and few between. Offshore you would see these fish, but not along the beaches. I haven’t seen anything like it in over 40 years. So the question still remains when will they show up and will they show up — we shall see.

Corby Fulton and Suzanne Martin showing off their catches from a tournament in 2015. We think Corby is really holding the bait.

The first year the bluefish run happened the fish were spread from Virginia to New York for over six weeks. They held over in some spots in the Broadkill River and Canary Creek for the entire summer. Last year Barney caught one at the point in the dead of summer in the schools of all those tiny snapper blues.

The best guess we have for why this is occurring is their numbers exploded and they are spreading out looking for food. Dave Beebe, owner of Lighthouse View Bait and Tackle, is concerned for the Cape Henlopen fishing pier because these bluefish are a problem, though a lot of fun to catch at the flats by the pier and thus great for business.

“They are chasing off or eating all the spot and croaker, I have not seen many catches and it gets worse each year after the blues arrive and then leave.”

Bring on the black drum!

That has been a fun run each spring for the last few years but you never know when that will start either. in 2012 Karl Hitchens caught a nice sized black drum from the surf on Broadkill Beach on bloodworms — that was an unusually warm winter year. The following years we had colder winters and the drum run would start later.

Karl Hitchens caught this black drum in mid-March in 2012.

When the big black drum started running the Delaware Bay beaches the action was stellar. This usually occurs between mid-March and early May. That all depends on how the weather was the previous winter. I would guess this year it will be later in the April to May scenario. But hey, you never know, these fish will start moving for food, to spawn, or whatever triggers their run.

Best to just be ready for it and most important of all, be out there when it happens. Sitting on the couch waiting for reports so you can go catch takes all of the fun out of fishing. Get your gear tuned up. Diamond State Custom tackle has some killer surf rigs for these big bluefish and drum.

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

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