Category Archives: Bluefish

Out of Range.

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You can’t always get what you want. The words of the old song rattle around between my ears when it comes time to go fly fishing in the surf. The seemingly ever-present winds, white caps and waves can make surf fishing with a fly rod quite the challenge – waves knocking back fly lines, wind sending a heavy lead-eyed Clouser into the back of my head, the current trying to take my footing. But turbulent water often brings good fishing, if you know where to look. Aggressive rip tides funnel bait to feeding fish, and the matter simply becomes putting my fly where they expect food to be. Oh yeah. Just that simple….

Calm water and windless days are scarce – rare enough to be relished. Easy casting, no need for a line basket, firm footed wading – and the view. The view! When the water is as clam as a lake with gentle waves lapping at the shore, with no wind to ripple the surface, you can see it all. Schools of bait, the white flashes of the underside of the wings of a large ray, feeding fish. But usually, the fishing goes as the ocean does. Flat and quiet.

When calm weather and good fishing combine, you’ve found yourself a trophy day. I can remember two such days, in goodness knows how many days of beach fishing. I found a hot flounder bite one day wading the salt flats near the Cape Henlopen ferry docks. On another, I found bluefish making a slalom run of the pier pilings in the same area. Arriving at the beach yesterday, I found clear, glassy water. Almost no breeze. And damn it, the place was Alive.

Standing on the tailgate of my truck, I could see huge schools of feeding bluefish. They were where they always are – just out of casting distance. Pods of dolphin patrolled the shorelines – some out at sea, some so close to shore you could make out the glisten in their eyes when they surfaced nearby. A ray swam by. Osprey worked the waters, and I watched as they carried away their prey, over the sand dunes and out of sight. Be it minnows in the shallows of a pond, birds working the ocean or an abundance of crabs, I always look at these signs of life as a good omen. Things are happening. I strung up an 8wt and charged into the surf.

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I waded in as far as I could – a steep drop-off limits ones ability to wet wade here – but the bluefish are always just out of reach. I know if I can get a fly into that feeding frenzy, I’m catching as many fish as I want until my arms get tired and I need a break. They would be close enough to cast a spoon with a conventional rod, but if I had one of those, they’d just go out a little further. Always just out of casting distance. I’ve been kicking around the idea of buying a Kayak for years. At least now I can pinpoint the moment I decided it was a necessity, and not a luxury. A financial decision made with the fishing end of my brain. And those are usually good decisions, regardless of cost.

I cast enough yesterday – sometimes blindly, other times to the tell-tale swirl of a feeding fish – to earn myself a salt-chapped casting hand, a sun burn and a jelly fish sting. It was uncomfortable, but not very painful. It wasn’t enough to send me home – I cleaned it up and got back in the game. This kind of jelly won’t kill ya.

When I did go home, it was because of dinner plans with old friends. It was hard to leave. With no fish to speak of, but a picture perfect evening with no wind still stretching towards twilight, I wanted to fish until dark. I was striking out on a perfect weather day. We ended up salvaging the situation with rum, good friends, a spectacular sunset and a low tide at a beach north of here, on the point. As the daylight receded below the dunes, and we finished of our grilled steak and chilled pasta salad, I sat on the tailgate of somebody else’s truck, content, watching the water and hoping the conditions would be the same tomorrow. I have the day off.
I have a drink, and watch as a school of bluefish plows through the gentle ocean. I think about going for the rod nested in the cab of my truck. But, I don’t bother. They are always out of casting distance…..

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Filed under Beach, Bluefish, Summer, Surf Fishing

The Last Fish of the Year.

New Years Day, and the wind is gusting upwards of 20mph, which does not bode well for the fly caster. None the less, knowing my chances of getting out on the water tomorrow, after I’ve gone twelve rounds with the impending festivities that lie ahead, I went to the water anyway. I could use the practice while I can still feel my legs.

 

The wind did make my casting life a little more difficult, and it was the icy cold kind of wind that slips up your sleeve, but when the gusts would let up, and I could find a second to feel the sun, it was another unseasonably warm day, especially for the last day of the year. The water was capped and frothing from being whipped up by the westerlies, but most of the fish were indifferent. The Bass stayed out of sight, and eventually out of mind, but my Zap Bug was in the water only briefly before the little bluegills started eating it at regular intervals. This is not abnormal,not surprising. The surprises of the day were that the Calico were nowhere to be found. They are usually abundant here, and it was them I was fishing for. Also of surprise was that I was also catching a good number of Golden Shiners, basically a big minnow, but to describe it like that does it a disservice. It glitters in a silvery gold, it’s red dorsal fin in stark contrast, and it fights a lot harder than calico, bluegill, and sometimes, even bass. I only learned this now, having caught a grand total of one of these fish in all my time fishing here, and today, I find five. They are a heavily schooling fish, and I can only assume the school was in shallows and therefore in reach of my cast; an unusual phenomenon here, but a welcome one.

 

 

I hadn’t set out to have a day of reflection; a mental log book of a fisherman’s year, but thats the way it goes sometimes. I thought of all the memories made on the water this year, all those willing fish. The Bluefish blitzes off of Fenwick Island over summer, where we reeled them in one after the other. The big flounder I caught from the beach at the state park. The countless bass, pickerel, bluegill, and calico from my local grounds. The occasional trout from Newtons Pond. No Striped Bass, so far. They are late. But this is another reason for optimism for the coming year, as if a fisherman approaching spring needs such a thing. My bet is that the striper will arrive early on in the new year, and if I’m right, it could be a January to remember. I plan on spending some parts of that month knee -deep in trout streams, too. So much ahead.

 

 

As the afternoon drew to a close, all too early as we often complain at this time of year, a final tug on the line produced a tiny calico, among the smallest I’ve seen. I admired him briefly, let him know he would never be a big fish if he let clumsy fisherman like me catch him so easily, and sent him back to the deep. And that is how the reliable calico, savior of winter, become the last fish of this fisherman’s year.

 

My Best wishes for a Happy New Year!!

-Neil @ Fly & Gin

 

 

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Filed under Bluefish, Bluegill, Calico Bass, Crappie, Fishing, Fishy Water, Flounder, Fly, Freshwater, Largemouth Bass, Panfish, Pickerel, Seasons, Striped Bass, Sussex County Ponds, Winter

Good News for Local Bay Fisherman. (Me.)

Local news reports that, under an agreement with the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, the nearby Indian River power plant will be retiring it’s three most ancient generating units; dinosaurs that drink copious amounts of bay water for the purposes of cooling. They will rely on only the remaining generator, which is equipped with a self contained cooling system, requiring significantly less water top operate.

According DNREC officials, the reduced water intake at the plant should have a significant effect on crab and fish populations.

“The decrease in water intake is expected to save an estimated 300,000 blue crabs and Atlantic croaker, 40,000 winter flounder, 1.6 million bay anchovy and 60,000 Atlantic menhaden, said John R. DeFriece, program manager for DNREC’s Discharge Permits Program.”

I had absolutely no idea that the power plant was a massive fish eating machine, but now we know, and things are clearly improving. If there are 1.6 million bait fish for striped bass and blue fish, and an additional 40,000 winter flounder to chase, the locals will surely approve.

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Filed under Bay Fishing, Bluefish, Conservation, Fishy Water, Flounder, Places, Saltwater, Striped Bass, Surf Fishing, Water Watch

On Salt.

Fishing Fenwick Beach last Friday.

The Beach at Fenwick Island.

Long before I ever picked up a fly rod, I was, and continue to be, a beach fisherman.  I spend most of my time with a fly rod now, in salt and fresh water, but I still like to dust off my old spinning gear and go out in search of bluefish, striped bass, and the smaller fish, spot, croaker and kings. I did just that on Friday, and I struck out without a catch, but that’s probably because I used one lure, didn’t try very hard and only stayed a short time, most of which was spent taking pictures. One can say a lot or a little about fishing the beach, but I imagine that most will agree it’s among the most beautiful places to stand a wave a stick.

A guest post over at The Functioning Fishaholics, written by Josh Mann of Something’s Fishy, attempts to take some of the mystery and intimidation out of surf fishing by correctly pointing out the path of least resistance for the newcomer: Simple bait rigs and smaller fish. Josh writes of catching spot and croaker from piers and beaches, and I’m happy to find a fisherman who enjoys that, because more often than not, I hear fisherman talk about catching these fish as if it wasn’t worth the bother. One guy in a bait shop, upon hearing me recount my morning spent catching croaker and spot so frequently that I never put the rod in it’s sand spike, actually looked at me, shook his head, and said “Well, I guess that’s cool if you like catching bait”.

I feel bad for that guy. He’s missing all the fun, and it’s a pretty safe bet he doesn’t like fishing very much anymore. But he’s not alone. There are many like him, all casting 4oz sinkers and bleeding meat into the deep and then staring at the rod tip for hours. When they catch skates and small sharks, they curse them for not being a trophy bluefish or striper. Josh points out that this should be part of the fun; never knowing whats on the end of the line, but knowing the possibilities are not limited to the two or three species you know are there.  It strikes me as a sort of arrogance; throwing bait into a pond the size of the Atlantic and then being upset that what bit it wasn’t what you wanted to bite it. It would be like sticking your hand into a sack of M&M’s and being pissed off because you came out with a yellow one.

When I purchased my first surf rod, I just assumed I needed a behemoth 11 foot rod like everyone else, and so I have one. It’s in my garage, collecting dust. I hardly ever use it. I think it made three

My 11-foot surf rod.

Homemade Bucktail lures.

trips to the surf this year. These rods work fine further south where there is an outer sand bar and bait casters need to get the bait into it’s vicinity, but on my local beaches, where there is no outer bar and the waves break right onto the beach, it’s simply overkill. This makes complete sense to me, but I still almost never see anyone else using anything less than ten feet of surf rod. Then, most people on the beach wind up and cast so hard and far that you’d think they were told that, in order to catch a fish, you have to get the bait beyond the three mile limit and into international waters. The truth is, the fish are usually hanging out just beyond the breakers, where the food is being kicked up and swirled around and funneled to waiting fish. On my beaches, that means they are very close to the beach. It does not compute, at first, that the fish are actually swimming in the smae places you do when you go swimming.

Time on the water and the catching lots of fish taught me exactly what I’d need to fish my beach. My surf equipment today consists of three rods. Two are identical 7-1/2′ medium/heavy action surf rods, the third an 8′ heavy action surf rod capable of throwing up to 4oz of lure or sinker. On a brief outing like the most recent, I’ll take one of my identical rods, tie on a Hopkins lure, and walk the beach, as Josh describes, looking for breaking bluefish to cast to. If I’m spending considerably more time, I’ll take all three rods. One will be rigged with the Hopkins. It’s twin will be rigged with a top-and-bottom rig with floating hooks. I’ll tip these hooks with an artificial bloodworm called Fishbites, and cast just beyond the breakers. This rod and bait will catch all kinds of fish. using this system I’ve reeled in striped bass, bluefish, kingfish, croaker and spot, just to name a few. It’s a system I’ve tested again and again against many others, and it works very well.

My rig of choice for the surf.

The eight foot rod will hold one of two things, depending on the day, and my mood. I’ll either construct a fish-finder rig tipped with some form of cut bait like bunker, herring or mullet; or I will use it’s strong backbone to cast heavier lures, such as a 3oz bucktail, a simple, yet very effective lure I love so much I learned to paint, and tie them myself, which ultimately led me to the conclusion that I’d like to tie flies, and learn to fly fish.

With this simple setup I have all my bases covered. While bait rods rest in sand spikes, I can watch them from nearby as I cast a lure into the sea. I can catch

My beach rods, and the ever-present Hopkins lure.

little fish and big fish, and it’s actually easier to pack, transport, and fish these three rods than it is to use a lone eleven or twelve foot rod. Most importantly, while the big rod guys are not catching fish because nothing the size of compact car swam by and ate an entire bunker fish bait, I’m catching fish frequently, because I’m willing, and happy, to go after smaller fish. Theres a a lesson to be learned there, I think.

Thanks to Josh and the Fishaholics for a good read and the sound advice to the novice. I’m glad to see a fellow surf fisherman that appreciates the little fish, and knows they helped him land those big stripers he catches today. For more, check out Josh’s blog for the beginning surf fisherman.

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Filed under Bluefish, Fiberglass Rods, Fishing, Fishy Water, Gear, Ocean, Places, Rods, Saltwater, Scenery, Striped Bass, Surf Fishing

Good Problems.

The biggest dilemma that confronts me on a daily basis is the decision on where to fish, and for what.

In a world of economic woes, high unemployment and a touch of civil unrest, this dilemma should be filed under “A Good Problem to Have”.

My home state is frequently snubbed, or at least not mentioned, as a quality fishing ground, but quite erroneously so. It’s true that I don’t have any Blue Ribbon trout streams within a days drive, and the states to the north tend to get the bulk of the saltwater game fish that pass off-shore during migration, but I tend to be the type to prefer the case of good liquor over the bottle of great liquor.

I live on a tidal creek that floods or falls when the tides of the Atlantic Ocean traverse the inland bays.  Here, I can fish for a wide variety of saltwater species from flounder and bluefish to perch and croaker, to the migratory striped bass that if, had you’d read certain fishing books, you’d think never swim south of New Jersey.

By boat, you can drift the Indian River Inlet, or Massey’s Ditch, or explore the hundreds of sandbars, coves, creeks and canals that make up the Rehoboth and Indian River bays.

By land, I can drive my 4×4 onto the soft sand of picturesque coastal beaches, and, with a surf rod, or a fly rod, cast for all mid-Atlantic inshore species. The majority of the coastline here is without a significant sandbar as with other east coast beaches. This denies you the simplicity of tossing some meat onto a sandbar and waiting for fish to bite, and encourages the

dedicated fisherman to learn to read the water, fishing rips and eddies, and learning to identify good water, and a good place to toss a fly.

Close to home, when I want to approach freshwater species, I have panfish, bass, pickeral, perch , carp and trout within twenty minutes drive, and in a range of settings, each with it’s own mood and character. A little further away, I can find wooded trout streams, some designated for fly fisherman only, where rainbow and brown trout appear in deep pools.

A wide variety of species, a variety of water and endless, year-round opportunities to catch fish. Yet, my state and it’s significant number of fisherman remain largely ignored.

If it sounds as if I have a chip on my shoulder, you may have a point. But it’s not without reason. Orvis has a fly fishing application that reports from Belize and Brazil, but not Delaware. The aforementioned book, and several like it,  ignore this state as they write their way down the striper coast. And yes, naturally, I’d complain just as loud if my local grounds were suddenly fished out by shoulder-to-shoulder fisherman in designer shirts an $400 sunglasses. So, perhaps I should take some solace in the fact that the fertile waters of home remain below the radar. Instead, I’ll continue to wake early, go out to the garage, stare at the saltwater and freshwater rods and flies, and wonder….

“Where will I fish today”?

A good problem to have.

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Filed under Bluefish, Bluegill, Books, Carp, Crappie, Croaker, Fishing, Fishy Water, Flounder, Largemouth Bass, Panfish, Pickerel, Places, Striped Bass, White Perch