Delaware River Stripers

By Keith Kaufman

May and June are prime time for catching stripers at the Yellow Can, Phoenix Wreck, Reedy Island Bar, Bullpen and other productive locations in the Delaware River.

It goes without saying that Maryland’s portion of Chesapeake Bay is immensely popular and incredibly productive for springtime striper fishing. But it’s not the only location where stripers can be caught this time of year. In northern Delaware, the lower Delaware River provides outstanding striper fishing of its own.

The Delaware River has been in the news recently for reasons other than fishing. First, there was that unfortunate oil spill that dumped heavy crude into the river. The last report I have received is that the crude has sank to the bottom where it has been sticking together in small balls which have been rolling southward along the bottom. Obviously a very regrettable and environmentally damaging incident, but it’s not hindering anglers. Heavy rain at the end of March and beginning of April resulted in flooding problems. But despite the oil spill and high, muddy water, stripers have been caught in the river this spring. The weather also improved considerably in mid-April (when this story was written), and conditions were returning to normal. As long as the weather cooperates, there’s no reason not to expect strong Delaware River striper action this month and into June.

The Delaware River also made the news last month when a 10-foot beluga whale made its way into the river and was spotted as far north as Trenton, New Jersey.

The whale attracted huge crowds of curious onlookers. But it’s the big stripers in the river that we’re mainly interested in, so let’s take a look at Delaware River hot spots, productive fishing techniques, and important new regulations.

The new regulations require Delaware River striper fishermen to use only non-offset circle hooks. No other type of circle hook or standard “j” hook can be used when fishing for Delaware River stripers. When you hold up and look at a non-offset circle hook, the point of the hook lines up with the shaft of the hook.

I interviewed Mike Bowen and Tommy Davidson, the fishing experts at Eastern Marine on Route 72 in Newark, for more information on how and where to catch big Delaware River stripers. This story will focus on the river south of the C & D Canal, which features plenty of wrecks, jetties, shallow bars and other structure where stripers congregate.

The best access to the locations included in this story is provided by the relatively small boat ramp at Augustine, and the considerably larger boat ramp at the Governor Bacon Center in Delaware City. The ramp at Augustine is directly across the river from the Salem Point power plant is New Jersey, which is visible for miles in every direction. The entrance to ramp at the Governor Bacon Center in Delaware City is just off Route 9.

Looking a chart of the Delaware River, find Reedy Island in the river. There is a submerged jetty that extends from Reedy Island south, just off Port Penn, Delaware. The jetty is a good spot for anglers hoping to catch stripers on artificial lures. Anglers work over and around the underwater rocks with bucktails, and soft plastics on a leadhead jig, such as the Stanley WedgeTail 5-inch shad, or WedgeTail 7-inch herring. Sometimes a steady retrieve will trigger the most strikes, while other times it may be best to occasionally stop the retrieve, allowing the lure to sink to the bottom. Then quickly raise the rod tip to make the lure jump off the bottom, and then resume a steady retrieve.

For the following locations, the most common approach is to anchor up and fish bait on the bottom. There is a shallow bar, known as Reedy Island Bar, just north of Reedy Island, and the bar attracts and holds stripers. Another rockfish hangout is the Phoenix wreck. Just southeast of the Phoenix wreck is a buoy, commonly referred to as the “Yellow Can”, and it’s a productive striper location. Bowen and Davidson said big stripers are also caught at the Bullpen, which is just east of Reedy Island and features a set of visible pilings that stick out above the surface of the water, especially at low tide (they look like the remnants of an old dock). An area known as “The Pipes”, where drainage pipes can be seen on the Delaware shore of the river, just north of Augustine Beach, also gives up nice rockfish each season.

A vast majority of anglers use cut bunker or bloodworms. Beginning in June, anglers will begin using peeler crab baits. A bunker is usually cut into three or four large, meaty pieces. The head of a bunker, hooked through the snout or just above the eyes, makes a very tempting bait for hefty, hungry stripers. The thick shoulder section from just behind the head of a bunker also makes a good bait. Many anglers will slice a few bunker into small pieces (about the size of a nickel), and occasionally toss a handful of the chunks into the water to establish a trail of scent and taste in the water in hopes of luring big fish to the bait.

A fish-finder rig is commonly used when soaking bait on the bottom. The rig typically includes an 18- to 24-inch piece of 30-pound to 50-pound test fluorocarbon or monofilament leader with a non-offset circle hook, which is snelled or tied to one end. The other end of the leader is tied to a barrel swivel. Before the swivel is tied to the end of the line from the reel, the end of the line is first slid through the plastic sleeve of a fish-finder. Then the line is threaded through one or two small plastic beads, and then the end of the line is tied to the swivel. A 3- to 4-ounce sinker is snapped on the sinker clip of the fish-finder. A fish-finder rig enables a striper to grab the bait and move off with it without dragging and detecting the sinker, as the line will be pulled through the sleeve of the fish-finder.

Conventional reels spooled with 17- to 20-pound test monofilament (I like 17-pound Suffix line), or braided line (Stren, Super Braid, Power Pro, Fire Line, Spider Wire), are commonly used. After dropping a bait to the bottom, most anglers turn on the clicker and place the rod in a rod holder. This “deadsticking” approach works very well, as the clicker will scream when the striper has grabbed the bait and begins to move off with it.

Productive times include the very early morning hours, and evenings. Moving water is most important, whether it be during an incoming tide or an outgoing tide. Just before high tide, when the current has slowed but not yet stopped, can be an especially productive time.
Striper fishing is open all spring and all year at these spots. (There is a springtime closure on striper fishing on a section of the Delaware River, but it does not include the locations mentioned in this story.)

For additional information on catching Delaware River stripers, or for charts, tackle and bait, visit Eastern Marine on Route 72 in Newark, call Mike or Tommy at (302) 737-6603, or check in at www.easternmarine.com.