December 4, 2023

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Delaware Bay fishing: the Complete Guide

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At the heart of the East Coast, Delaware Bay serves as a gateway from the broad Delaware River to the vast Atlantic Ocean. From the salty brackish waters near the river to the deep Atlantic canyons, fishing in Delaware Bay promises a variety of catches that would intrigue any angler.

This vast expanse of water separates bustling New Jersey from Delaware’s historic charm. Each section of the bay tells a different story, shaped by the fish that call it home and the anglers who seek them. Fishing here is more than just a hobby. It’s a perfect mix of rich history and unparalleled natural beauty. There’s an almost mystical allure to the bay, with its calm waters hiding a whole world of challenges.

In this guide, we will delve deep into the secrets of Delaware Bay. We’ll explore the species you can target, the prime spots, and the techniques that have been passed down through generations. So, set your sights on the horizon, and let’s dive right in!

Top Delaware Bay Fish Species

There’s something for everyone in Delaware Bay. With so many fish around, beginners can practice their angling skills, while there’s also the chance to go after some true monsters for avid anglers. Let’s talk about the area’s most popular catches, in no particular order:

Flounder and Bluefish

A middle-aged man with long hair in a turquoise shirt, a baseball, and with sunglasses on his baseball cap holding up a Flounder to the camera in front of a sign that says "Lewes Harbor Fishing & Boat Outfitters"
Photo courtesy of Truetolife Outdoors

Fishing the surf is popular with New Jersey anglers, especially when it’s Flounder and Bluefish season. At the mouth of the bay, these species take advantage of the shoals in the terrain – known as the Cape May rips. Locals take every chance to land a tasty treat out of Lewes or Cape May.

The center of the bay is the place to go, especially if the weather’s been dry. Anglers catch impressive Flounder and Bluefish near the structure around the Blake Channel. Plus, you can also target some Sharks here, too, if sportfishing is the ultimate aim of the game.

If you’re fishing in Delaware Bay in the middle of summer, pack your rods and hit the waters for some crazy Bluefish action. These gorgeous fish bite less as the water cools down, although they actively feed from July through October.

Black Seabass and Tautog

A man in a green shirt and sunglasses holding two Black Seabasses on a dock in Delaware Bay on a cloudy day after a successful fishing trip
Photo courtesy of Hook N Cook Sport Charter Fishing

In the Cape May rips area, many also have their sights set on Tautog – also known as Blackfish – along with Black Seabass. These species are revered not only for their sporting qualities but also as sumptuous table fare, making them popular targets for both novices and veterans.

Black Seabass are known for their striking color and are typically found around rocky bottoms, wrecks, and reefs. The best times to pursue these fish are from late spring to early fall, peaking in June and late September. An average Black Seabass typically weighs between 1 to 3 pounds, although you can find those weighing over 5 pounds. Their spirited fight, coupled with their delectable taste, makes them a favorite for many anglers.

Blackfish are known for their cunning ability to snatch bait without getting hooked, which often requires anglers to use crab baits and a good deal of patience. Local knowledge suggests the best spots for Blackfish are near reefs. Though they feed actively throughout the year, there’s a specific allure to targeting them in the warmer months. An average Tautog weighs between 3 and 5 pounds, but seasoned anglers boast of catches that exceed 10 pounds.

Striped Bass and Black Drum

A group of anglers aboard a deep sea fishing charter back at the dock in Delaware Bay, each holding a large Black Drum
Photo courtesy of Gone Fishin’ Sport Fishing Charters

It’s no secret that Delaware Bay stands out as a premier destination for Black Drum fishing. This gorgeous species bites best from late April to early June, especially around Coral Beds, Slaughters Beach, and Broadkill Beach. The bay’s mouth promises encounters with larger Drum, while the upper regions tend to house smaller fish.

Striped Bass fishing in Delaware Bay is also exceptional. In fact, there’s even a special technique that locals use to get a Striper to bite – but more on that later. These strong fighters bite year-round, although August through October are definitely the busiest period in the bay. Stripers target schooling bait and don’t mind when it gets cold while other species head to warmer waters.

For fruitful Striped Bass and Black Drum fishing, robust gear is a necessity. If you’re lucky, you may end up with a Black Drum weighing up to 80 pounds!

Mahi Mahi and Wahoo

A shirtless man holding a Mahi Mahi aboard a fishing charter offshore from Delaware Bay on a clear day, with a man behind him smoking a cigarette
Photo courtesy of Bottom Line Sportfishing

If you have some time to spend, hop on a charter and head out of Delaware Bay for an offshore adventure. A lot of visitors and local anglers spend at least 10 hours chasing deep water monsters –– including gorgeous Mahi Mahi and monster Wahoo.

These fish bite best at distances upwards of 25 miles from the mouth of Delaware Bay. Pack your trolling gear and hit the canyons to rub shoulders with hard-fighting Mahi and Wahoo. Note that while these species are delicious, you’ll need to make sure that your prized catch is within the bag and size limits – but more on that later.

​​On average, Mahi Mahi near the Delaware Bay range between 15–40 pounds, though larger fish aren’t uncommon. Wahoo, on the other hand, are speed demons of the open ocean and can grow quite large, between 20 to 80 pounds. Some even break the 100-pound mark! Get ready for some heavy lifting.

Tuna and Marlin

Two men and a teenage boy aboard a fishing boat out of Delaware Bay with two sitting and holding a large Tuna, while the other is standing behind them with his arms in the air posing with his thumbs up
Photo courtesy of Jersey Boy Charters – 34′

Speaking of heavy lifting, these next species are serious brutes. Bluefin, Yellowfin, and Bigeye Tuna are among the most sought-after species in the Atlantic. The best Yellowfin action, chart a course between May and September, while the peak months for both Bluefin and Bigeye are June and July, with an additional window for Bluefin chasers in October.

Switching gears to Marlin – both White and Blue – these fish make a splash in the offshore scene from July to September. Known for their fierce battles and acrobatics, they’re seriously sought-after. And, while there’s no strict possession limit for Marlin, catch and release is highly advocated in the Atlantic.

But no deep-sea angling trip near Cape May is complete without Swordfish. These enigmatic leviathans can be pursued during summer and the onset of fall. For a specialized experience, some local charters offer distinct deep-dropping excursions and nighttime ventures dedicated to these monsters. But be prepared! Swordfish often earn their freedom after a spirited battle.

How to Go Fishing in Delaware Bay

Now that you know which species to expect, it’s time to discuss your tactics. Drift fishing remains a prime method to lure Striped Bass, especially over the rips at the bay’s entrance. Jigging with plastic worms or crabs proves effective for targeting late evening or nighttime Weakfish, while trolling is the go-to method for landing Tuna and Marlin.

Techniques aside, let’s talk about the various types of fishing in Delaware Bay that you can try…

Bay Fishing

A view from a rocky shoreline towards a fishing pier in Port Mahon in the inshore region of the Delaware Bay on a clear day

The confluence of the bay and ocean, especially the Cape May rips, is considered to be among the best fishing spots in the area. The bay’s northern regions come alive during the springtime when Stripers migrate to rivers for spawning. In addition to that, anglers get on their boats and hunt for Whiting, Weakfish, Spot, and Perch.

For decades now, the bay’s central area has also been a significant fishing hotspot. Locals head here to fish for Bluefish, Croaker, Flounder, and even Sharks!

Delaware Bay Surf Fishing

Two anglers fishing from shore in Delaware with long fishing gear on a clear day as the sun reflects brightly off the water

Whether in New Jersey or Delaware, surf fishing the bay is a cherished tradition among anglers. The bay’s blessed with an extensive coastline, where you can cast or bottom fish for an impressive array of species. No boat is necessary!

As the tides change during the early morning and late evening hours, bait fish come closer to shore, followed by bigger fish. This is perhaps the best period for surf anglers, especially if you’re equipped with bloodworms, bunker, and surf clams. When the season allows, Stripers, Bluefish, Weakfish, Whiting, Flounder, and Kingfish come pretty close to the shore. What’s more, there are also various surf fishing tournaments in the area!

Delaware Bay Deep Sea Fishing

A view from behind of an angler in a baseball cap and full fishing gear, holding a heavy-duty fishing rod in between two trolling rods and fishing the deep waters of the Atlantic on a clear day
Photo courtesy of
Dorado Loco

For those with a thirst for an exhilarating fishing challenge, venturing offshore from Delaware Bay offers the perfect backdrop. This isn’t a short outing, though. You’re looking at a full-day commitment, often stretching beyond 10 hours, as you traverse the expansive deep waters. It’s not for the faint of heart, as even on the mildest days, the deep sea can challenge with its unpredictable waves.

However, if you’re up for the task, the rewards are immense. Beyond the 25-mile mark from the bay’s entrance, the underwater canyons are teeming with life. Anglers find themselves face-to-face with Yellowfin and Bluefin Tuna, Mahi Mahi, Sharks, Marlin, and Wahoo. If luck is on your side, you might just land that trophy catch!

Delaware Bay Charter Fishing

An aerial view of a fishing charter from Cape May offshore in the Atlantic Ocean on a clear day, with the boat's outriggers in the water and people on the deck
Photo courtesy of Common Sense Sportfishing

The allure of fishing in Delaware Bay is best experienced under the guidance of a local captain – an expert who knows every nook and cranny of these waters. Whether your adventure is limited to the bay’s confines or stretches into the vast Atlantic, you’ll find an array of professional charters operating throughout the year, each catering to the diverse needs of anglers.

Booking a Delaware Bay charter, led by a seasoned captain, guarantees more than just a fishing trip. Every hour spent with a local guide is an education. Fully equipped with top-notch gear, these charters offer not just equipment but invaluable knowledge about the region’s best fishing spots. Regardless of how experienced you are, there’s a tailored experience waiting for you.

Where to Go Fishing in Delaware Bay

With a wealth of angling opportunities, fishing in Delaware Bay is all about its impressive targets and varied spots. There are the shipwrecks, serving as sanctuaries for numerous fish. Then, there’s an impressive array of artificial reefs. These are strategically developed to bolster the bay’s fish population.

An aerial view of Cape May Point at sunset, with a golden beach running around the land and a lighthouse visible a few hundred yards in from the shore

Finally, there are the rips – tumultuous zones where tidal currents meet. For these, you’ll need a knowledgeable guide by your side that understands the currents and uses them to your advantage. But let’s take a closer look at some hotspots…

Top Delaware Bay Fishing Spots

  • Cape May. Recognized as the gem of Delaware Bay, Cape May offers anglers a diverse range of fishing options. Whether you’re casting from the picturesque beaches or venturing offshore, the waters here teem with fish, including Flounder, Sea Bass, and the iconic Striped Bass.
  • The Eights. Just beyond Delaware Bay’s edge, The Eights present perfect grounds for Striped Bass fishing. This spot is known for its challenging rips and depths oscillating between 23 to 48 feet. It’s easily Lewes‘s Roosevelt Inlet, but fishing here can get tricky due to the choppy waters.
  • Avalon. Nestled between ocean and bay, Avalon offers a fishing experience like no other. The calm back bays are perfect for beginners, while more seasoned anglers can head offshore to battle Bluefin Tuna and Mahi Mahi.
  • Dagsboro. A serene town on the banks of the Indian River, Dagsboro is the go-to spot for freshwater fishing enthusiasts. Largemouth Bass and Catfish are the stars here.
  • Wildwood. Just a stone’s throw away from Cape May, Wildwood boasts some of the best surf fishing in the region. The jetties here are particularly productive, with anglers frequently landing Sheepshead and Black Drum.
  • Brandywine Shoals. If you have a weak spot for Weakfish, look no further than the Brandywine Shoals. Amid the tidal currents, Bluefish also thrive, and deeper wrecks are havens for elusive Blackfish.
  • Cape May Rips. These dynamic sandbars, stretching from Cape May to Cape Henlopen, present a natural spectacle as waters rush in and out, drawing baitfish and, in turn, attracting schools of Striped Bass.
  • Five Fathoms Bank. A summertime hotspot, this bank is where anglers often encounter formidable Bluefish, speedy Tuna, and even the occasional Shark.
  • Canyons. The thrill of big game fishing awaits 80+ miles offshore from Cape May. The deep trenches of Baltimore, Poor Man’s, and Wilmington canyons are hotspots for Marlin, Tuna, and Swordfish.

When to Go Fishing in Delaware Bay

Spring is the best time to start the season with some Shark fishing possible in March, before switching to Tuna in May. Come summer, the bay can become pretty busy with fishers.

A group of anglers back at the dock in Ocean City, MD, after taking part in the "Tuna and Tiaras" fishing tournament, standing around a board advertising their catch, along with three Yellowfin Tunas hanging from a rope
Photo courtesy of Hocus Pocus Sport Fishing

In June and July, numerous tournaments dot the calendar, such as the Canyon Club Overnight Tuna event and the Stone Harbor Marlin Tournament. Additionally, families often look forward to the South Jersey Offshore Showdown. However, the crowning jewel of the fishing events, the MidAtlantic, unfolds in August, drawing the most attention.

During the fall months, you can fish for various game fish in the bay or hunt for Marlin, Tuna, and Mahi Mahi offshore. Meanwhile, inshore, you can fish for Blackfish all the way into November. Winter might not be the most productive fishing season in Delaware Bay, but it can still offer decent inshore catches. You can look for Striped Bass, Blackfish, and Bluefish, or go Crabbing.

Not all waters of Delaware Bay are open for fishing year-round. Some areas are designated for environmental conservation or may have security restrictions. It’s never a bad idea to be extra careful about where you cast your lines!

Delaware Bay Fishing Rules and Regulations

An infographic featuring the flags of Delaware and New Jersey along with text that says "Delaware Bay Fishing Regulations What You Need to Know" against a dark blue background with a vector of a boat and the FishingBooker logo

Navigating the waters of Delaware Bay requires more than just a keen sense for where and what is biting. It demands an understanding of the rules and regulations that ensure sustainable and responsible fishing.

Anglers fishing in Delaware Bay must be aware that the bay is shared by two states – Delaware and New Jersey. If you’re on the Delaware side, you’ll need a Delaware fishing license, while those fishing from the New Jersey side will require a New Jersey license.

Size and possession limits are among the most crucial aspects to consider. While the specifics can vary based on species and current conservation efforts, there are definitive guidelines for each fish type, setting the minimum size that can be kept and the daily bag limits.

Certain species may have seasonal restrictions. For instance, some fish might be off-limits during their breeding seasons. Additionally, Delaware Bay is home to several protected species that, if caught, must be released immediately. Plus, some trophy catches might need to be reported to the Delaware or New Jersey authorities, especially if they’re of significant size.

Fishing in Delaware Bay FAQs

Delaware Bay: A Natural Masterpiece

A view across the water towards Cape May Point Lighthouse with the sun setting to its right on a clear day, creating an orange hue in the sky

Delaware Bay is more than just a fishing destination, it’s a call to the heart. Its waters are an invitation to all anglers, no matter if you’re seeking tranquility or thrilling action. Fishing in Delaware Bay is about casting that first line, feeling that tug, and accepting the challenge. If you’re ready, book a charter and answer the call of the bay!

Have you ever been fishing in Delaware Bay? What’s your favorite spot? Share your stories with us in the comments below!

The post Delaware Bay Fishing: The Complete Guide appeared first on FishingBooker Blog.

By: Lisa
Title: Delaware Bay Fishing: The Complete Guide
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Published Date: Tue, 10 Oct 2023 18:22:14 +0000

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