April 2005
Early-Season Flounder at the Cape
Henlopen Pier

By Keith Kaufman

Anglers fishing bait and lures from the Cape Henlopen Pier at Lewes, Delaware, enjoy exciting early-season action with flounder.

Finally, the winter of 2005 is history. Good riddance! Now it's time for some serious springtime fishing. While many Delaware anglers are just itching to fish Brown Shoal, Ship John and other spots out in Delaware Bay, some of the best fishing in the days and weeks ahead will be found in shallow water, close to shore.

Water temperature is critical when it comes to catching fish early in the season. Find the warmest water around, even if it's only a couple of degrees warmer than surrounding water, and you'll likely find baitfish, and flounder and hopefully seatrout too.

The water in Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean is still downright chilly in April and much of May, however, shallow water along the beaches and shoreline is usually slightly warmer, because shallow water can be warmed quickly by the sun. Shallow water will be the warmest during high tide, late in the afternoon, on bright, sunny days.

One particularly productive early-season shallow-water location in lower Delaware Bay is the pier at Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes. The pier is located near the mouth of Delaware Bay, inside of the cape of Cape Henlopen.

The deeper water on the ocean side of the cape and at the mouth of the bay is cool early in the season; however, the relatively shallow water around the pier will warm considerably during high tide. Flounder will take up ambush positions in this shallow water near the pier so they can gobble down baitfish, especially when baitfish are swept from the shallows during the beginning of an outgoing tide. This makes flounder very vulnerable to baits fished by anglers on the pier. The pier can be one of the most productive fishing locations in the entire Delaware Bay at this time of year.

The best bottom-bouncing rigs for pier fishing are lightweight and simple to make. The end of the line from the reel is threaded through a light egg sinker. A small swivel is tied to the end of the line. Tied to the other end of the swivel is a 3-foot leader that has a hook tied or snelled onto the other end. Productive baits for pier fishing include squid strips, live minnows, and when they're available, strips of fresh snapper bluefish and croaker.

The most common fishing method is to cast out from the pier, and slowly retrieve the rig so the sinker drags and bounces along the bottom. If a strike or extra weight is detected, pause for several seconds before setting the hook. However, it's also recommended that you try fishing straight down, without casting, as flounder can often be found lurking directly underneath the pier.

Algae, mussels and crabs grow on, and hang on, pier pilings. Baitfish will swim around the pilings and pick away at these tasty treats. Hungry flounder will hide on the bottom around the bases of the pilings, and they'll explode up and off the bottom to ambush baitfish that swim overhead. When the pier isn't crowded, drop your rig straight to the bottom, then slowly walk along the rail, gently jigging the rig as you go. This will enable the bait to cover a lot of bottom, just as it would from a drifting boat. Walk along all sections of the rail where there are no fishermen, and bounce the rig past as many pier pilings as possible.

Night shift on the pier can also provide exciting action. After dark, clouds of baitfish can often be seen in areas where lights on the pier shine into the water, and it's a good bet that hungry flounder are close by. Cast the bait rig described previously, or a small soft plastic bait on a light leadhead jig, into the dark water beyond the baitfish in a lighted area. Slowly retrieve the bait or lure through the lighted water, pausing occasionally so it can sink to the bottom. Then twitch and drag it along the bottom a short distance before starting the slow retrieve again. For best results, the size of the leadhead jig and plastic bait should closely match the size of the baitfish that are visible in the lighted water.

The pier at Cape Henlopen offers easily-accessible, inexpensive and exciting early-season fishing action. Other productive shallow-water lower bay locations include the Lewes/Rehoboth Canal in Lewes, the Broadkill River, and Broadkill Beach.

Last month, when I contacted the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (Division of Fish and Wildlife), they told me the 2005 flounder regulations feature no closed season, a 17-1/2-inch size limit, with a four fish daily possession limit. They also told me the regulations were subject to change. Seatrout regulations include no closed season, a 13-inch minimum size limit, and an 8 fish possession limit. For updated information, visit their website at www.dnrec.state.de.us, then click on "DNREC Divisions," then "Division of Fish & Wildlife." Or call (800) 523-3336.

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