The Valley / Delaware Bay, Delaware
By Eric Burnley
When it comes to striper fishing in the Delaware Bay, Capt. Pete Haines on the Top Fin is the go-to guy. He has fished the region since his boyhood, graduating past the rank of mate to captain. Operating from the Angler's Marina in Lewes, Haines fishes the lower bay and the rips that form at the junction of the bay and ocean. Call 302-245-4222.
While Delaware Bay offers many fishing locations to choose from, the area also draws many anglers during the April to June and October to December striper runs. A small armada of boats from 16-foot skiffs to 60-foot sport-fishermen head to the striper grounds on any given day, hampering the fishing.
For that reason, Haines prefers to fish the Valley - an area that lies between the R6, R4 and 8A buoys at the mouth of Delaware Bay - where the deep water mutes the noise from above. The bay drops off from 20 to more than 100 feet, and the stripers - most of which top the 28-inch minimum, with many breaking 30 pounds - hug the bottom.
Peaks and gorges throughout the region create rips on the surface. New and full moons produce strong currents.
Haines prefers to fish the Valley during incoming water, but in the charter business, he fishes when he must and deals with what the elements give him.
Captains drift-fish the area, although many make the common mistake of drifting off the action after they hook up and begin fighting a fish. Haines suggests they "short-drift" instead, quickly returning to the location where the hookup occurred.
Haines uses 20-pound-class, 7-foot conventional rods with Shimano level-wind reels. And while he says braided line might work well for private-boat anglers where all hands bring experience, it can be problematic on a charter with six novices. He also keeps a supply of pretied rigs on spare rods and reels to replace those that become severely tangled.
Haines' standard fish-finder rig begins with an 8-ounce bank sinker and a 4/0 Owner chemically sharpened circle hook tied to 4 feet of 25-pound-test fluorocarbon leader. He ties the tag end of the leader to a small swivel and then clips it to the 20-pound mono main line.
Eels find their way onto Haines' hooks more than any other bait. Spot will work, but because they cost as much as $2.50 each, the $1.25 eels prove more practical. If eels don't work, he rebaits one or two rigs with a whole clam or crab.
The Top Fin also runs tautog trips during striper season, so Haines capitalizes on the presence of big rockfish over the same structure that holds tog. While anchored on a reef site or wreck, he deploys clams, eels or crab baits from his outriggers. The riggers keep the striper lines far enough from the boat to prevent tangling the tog baits that are fished straight down.
About the Author: Eric Burnley, a full-time outdoor writer and Delaware native, covers fishing from New York to North Carolina. He's also the author of three books: Surf Fishing the Atlantic Coast, The Ultimate Guide to Striped Bass Fishing and Fishing Saltwater Baits.