Delaware's Striped Bass Regulations
The recreational fishing season in Delaware?s tidal waters is beginning to heat up as the winter weather slowly releases its grip, according to Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife officials ? and anglers need to be aware of state regulations and boundaries as they cast their lines in the midst of striped bass spawning season, which begins today and continues until midnight on May 31.
The ?reel? action will be in the Delaware River and Bay as the striped bass (locally known as rockfish or rock), make the journey from the ocean to their spawning grounds from April and through May ? the only time of the year that large numbers of stripers up to 50 pounds swim the freshwater portions of the large rivers. Although the striped bass recreational fishing season is open all year long in Delaware, any striped bass caught within the boundaries of the spawning grounds between April 1 and May 31 must be immediately released, with no harvest permitted.
Delaware has three areas that are considered striped bass spawning grounds: Delaware?s portion of the Nanticoke River, the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, and the Delaware River from the south side of the Reedy Point on the eastern end of the C&D Canal upstream to the Delaware line with Pennsylvania. A large female striped bass can carry nearly 1 million eggs for each 10 pounds of body weight, meaning a 40-pounder could produce more than 3 million eggs. And, unlike salmon and other species that die after spawning, striped bass can live more than 20 years and spawn multiple times.
Under Delaware law, anglers may not fish during the striped bass spawning season on any striped bass spawning ground with natural bait using any hook other than a non-offset circle-hook when the hook measures greater than 3/8 inches from the point of the hook to the shank of the hook. Fishermen using any live or natural baits (cut bait, worms, etc.) can use the traditional ?J? hook only if it is 3/8-inch or less as measured from the point of the hook to the shank. Hooks of this size are generally not large enough to catch striped bass, but fishermen can still target other fish such as perch and catfish.
Circle hooks have been proven in scientific studies to greatly reduce unnecessary mortality of striped bass. The Division recommends that non-offset circle-hooks always be used when fishing natural baits because its design usually results in fish being hooked in the mouth, simplifying hook removal and reducing injury to the released fish. Before heading out on the water, anglers should check their tackle boxes to make sure they have these specialized hooks.
In fishing the Delaware River, anglers also need to be aware of state boundary lines. Unlike on the Delaware Bay, where the shipping channel divides the bay into New Jersey and Delaware waters, Delaware maintains jurisdiction from shore to shore anywhere above the northern end of Artificial Island. Delaware has strict laws and regulations in place to protect spawning striped bass within these areas, and anglers should take note or risk enforcement penalties.
For more information, contact the DNREC Fisheries Section at 302-739-9914.