Water temps just right for striped bass

Jason Schuster caught this keeper tautog at the Indian River Inlet. (Submitted photos)

Another warm and cold beginning to winter. The water temperatures are dropping from the colder nights, but the 60-degree days are keeping them from dropping too fast.

The water is right in the sweet spot for striped bass. They prefer the below 50-degree and above 40-degree water temperatures.

The resident fish are feeding heavily around the inland bays, Delaware Bay, tidal creeks and rivers. The short striped bass are thick and full of bait. The occasional keeper is caught, but for the most part they are just under the 28-inch limit.

Even up north they are seeing mostly short striped bass in the surf and bays. The large bass action has not been like the last few years. By now anglers would be catching off Cape May.

Currently boats are doing well off Seaside Park and Point Pleasant, New Jersey. The run is a little later this year, but we will see how well it goes.

If you do go striped bass fishing on a boat offshore, keep in mind you can not fish for them in the the Exclusive Economic Zone.

“Some anglers might not know this, but between 3 to 200-miles offshore, in an area called the Exclusive Economic Zone, or EEZ, there is a regulation in place to protect striped bass, to allow them to grow and prevent overfishing” said Lt. Matthew Kahley, an officer who deals with fisheries enforcement at Coast Guard Sector Delaware Bay in Philadelphia.

The fines are upwards of $500 per fish.

Rumors and reports

Rumor has it that some large bluefish and striped bass were caught off Cape Henlopen State Park beaches, but those are just rumors.

Trini Dadian caught this 27-inch striped bass near Lewes.

There has been some decent short bass action for the anglers that are actually out there fishing. You have to be out there to hook up and frankly not a lot of people have been fishing, especially on the weekdays. Just after dark or before dawn is the best time to look for large bass in the surf.
There is no shortage of skates or spiny dogfish off the beach. Spotted hake or what locals calling cod are hitting cut baits. A few anglers have been “bitten” off in the surf, which usually means sharks, but could be large bluefish since there aren’t any sharks here this time of year.

Tautog action offshore has been excellent for the boats making it out, the last few days have been calm enough. Boats getting out there have been limiting out and still seeing a few sheepshead and even trigger fish. Large flounder are still hitting and mostly as a by catch, people are not targeting them. There have been a few redfish or red drum caught while tautog fishing the Delaware bay structure and walls. Tautog action at the Indian River Inlet has been a lot of short fish with the occasional keeper.

Paul Jonovic caught this rather large spotted hake off the surf Saturday night.

Clamming

On Friday, the seasonal clamming areas will open around the inland bays. They are marked in red in the shell fishing maps.

Since it is winter, the bacteria levels drop dramatically and the water really clears up and you can see the bottom of the bay.

People are still catching crabs in the warmer shallows of the inland bays. Crab Pot season ends today, but other gear may still be used.

Birds

Snowy owls are showing up at the beaches. So far this is not a big irruption like we had a few years ago. We have seen reports of a few different birds. If you get a chance to see one they are gorgeous,but please respect their space. Spooking them during the day makes it harder for them to feed and rest.

There have been a few dead bald eagles found around Delaware, I even found one in my yard. If you happen upon a dead bald eagle contact DNREC fish and wildlife enforcement dispatch so they can recover the bird, (800) 523 3336.

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

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