Winter a time for critters on the beach

Juvenile harp seal resting on a Delaware Beach. (Submitted photo)

Happy New Year everybody! So far it has been a productive year, I mean we are only a week plus in but hey you have to be optimistic. After all it is January, the weather is wacky as usual, and we just want to fish or hunt. Between outdoor show organizing and fishery meetings I have been busy, indoors. I need a long day at the beach and fortunately with the upcoming weather looks like that will happen. I love the beach in the winter — you have it all to yourself except for the critters that also love our beaches in the winter.

There are seals here now and have been for a little while. Mostly they are around the walls in the Harbor of Safe Refuge and the ice breakers or what everyone calls the haystacks. They are relaxing and feeding, but sometimes they will pull up on a beach to do the same. Eventually many will move into the Delaware Bay and Inland bays areas to find food and sun themselves. Just a heads up but people are required to stay 150 feet away from a seal, on land. This is for your protection as well and theirs.

Seals are mammals and can carry bacteria and diseases that will transfer to humans. They look like cute little sea puppies but that is not the case. Their only defense is to bite. When a seal pulls up onto a beach or bank, they are usually just resting. At times they are also avoiding predators (sharks). Scaring them back into the water can stress them out even more and maybe endanger their life. Observe from afar. A good camera can get some amazing shots from a safe distance.

Sometimes they are injured and the MERR group will check on them to see if they have any issues. There are few species of seals that migrate to the Delmarva area every year. We are seeing more and more each year as the populations rebuild.

Typical winter action

Aside from catching tautog off the coast and around the inlets at Indian River and Ocean City the fishing has been typical winter action. Anglers are having decent luck at the reef sites off the Delaware coast, same for Maryland. Bigger fish are around this time of year. The boats getting out are doing well. Not every day is a good day on the water, but you have better chances at keeper tautog on a boat. The land based inlet fishing is mostly throw back fish.

Surf fishing is slow even for dogfish and skates — it is just that time of year. Anglers are hooking up with the occasional short striped bass. The hardest part has been getting decent weather to get out there, the winds chase a lot of us off the beach. The blowing sand is a free exfoliation session. We went in sustained winds up to 40 miles per hour one time and after two hours the sand stripped the paint off a truck’s bumper. The only way to get fresh bait is to try to snag bunker around the inlets and beaches or catch shad. There was a lot of shad around the inland bays at Massey’s Landing at night. Tere is also a lot of herring around the inland bays which would explain whey a school of migratory bass moved into the area. They are here one day and gone the next.

White perch fishing is the best option for land based, creek and tidal river fishing. Catching grass shrimp is easy this time of year or minnows for bait. White perch make excellent table fare.

The Massey’s Ditch Dredge project has started for the channel through Massey’s Ditch from Indian River Bay to the Rehoboth Bay. The shoaled in area of Bakers Channel will be done on the Rehoboth Bay side.

Northern Gannets sighting

Gannet diving in on bunker and shad at the Indian River Inlet. (Submitted photo)

The other day after the beach clean up I got to see something that doesn’t happen often. Northern Gannets were raining on bunker and shad in the Indian River Inlet. This is something you usually see out to sea in while fishing for boats. The flock was about 24 birds in the early morning and increased to almost a hundred birds by late morning. They were there for a few hours then when the fish moved they went with them. There were large critters under the fish pushing them to the surface where the birds had easy pickings. It was wild to watch while standing on land. I was able to get a picture I have wanted for a while. A gannet all folded up in full dive. Only took an hour of freezing my tail off in that cold wind. Nature photography is like fishing, hard to find the shot, you have to wait a while, and then punch that shutter button at the right time. Some days fishing is much easier than shooting pictures.

Beach Clean up crew from last Sunday braved 30 mph winds and a lot of blowing sand. (Submitted photo)

Get your conservation pass if you are visiting state wildlife areas that require it. I get many — don’t like that but these monies generated allow DNREC to open more land eventually for us all to enjoy. Delaware owns a lot of land we can’t even use, yet. The conservation pass in my opinion balances the fact the hunters were paying for all the land care with license fees. This pass makes it better so everyone who uses these lands can help contribute to its care and maintenance.

Also don’t forget to get your 2020 fishing license. The 2020 surf tags went on sale in December, and limited to 17,000 issued per year, which makes it possible too have 34,000 tags in circulation with the two-year tag option. Get them while they last.

If you don’t like the crowded beaches, go on a weekday. If you really don’t like the crowded beaches on weekends, ask parks to limit the number of vehicles allowed out there like Assateague does. I got my Assateague surf tag last week.

Lewes had a waste water issue last week in the canal. There was a shellfish harvesting warning for the Delaware Bay beach area at the Cape Henlopen fishing pier. I would give that a couple more weeks to dilute out. Apparently it is fixed now. It is kind of weird that you can’t shellfish (clam) on the left side of the pier but you can on the right side of the pier, towards the point and park beaches. The inland bay clamming in the seasonal areas has been excellent.

Outdoorsman Marketplace

This Saturday, Jan. 11, 7 a.m.-3 p.m. is the Millville Fire Company’s Outdoorsman Marketplace at the Millville Fire Hall on Route 26 (Atlantic Avenue). There are all kinds of fishing vendors, a full blown tackle shop set up by Icehouse Bait and Tackle. Nautical crafts, firearms simulator, Chinese auction for vendor donations, gun raffle, and door prizes donated by sponsors. All monies raised are for the Millville Fire Company. It is going to be a great event you don’t want to miss out! For a bonus it will be a nice day and warm. Go down check out the Outdoorsman Marketplace and then hit the beach to try that new gear out.