by Roy Miller (Volunteer)
Fall can be the best time of the year for fishing in Delaware’s Inland Bays. Falling temperatures trigger resident and migratory fishes to feed in earnest prior to either migration to the south or further offshore. Migratory forage (bait-size) fishes like striped and white mullet and juvenile Atlantic menhaden that have spent the summer in the Inland Bays will be concentrating in larger schools preparatory to moving out through Indian River Inlet and south along the coast line.
The mullet run will be closely followed by migratory game fishes like striped bass and bluefish. These schools of migratory bait as well as those bait species that do not normally leave the Inland Bays like Atlantic silversides, mummichog, striped killifish, and bay anchovy, are especially enticing to predators like striped bass and bluefish in the fall as these predators feel a biological compulsion to put on weight before colder temperatures slow their metabolic rates. These striped bass and bluefish will gravitate toward Indian River Inlet and often will hold along structure in the Inlet until late in the fall, feeding and fattening up on the abundant schools of bait-size fishes.
Anglers count on these predators to show up in the Inlet at this time of year and target them both from boats and along the Inlet rock bulkheads. Veteran anglers rely on deer hair bucktails and soft plastic crank baits to temp the striped bass and bluefish, as well as natural baits like small spot and live or dead mullet. In addition falling temperatures and shorter days trigger other popular recreational species that frequent the Inland Bays like summer flounder, Atlantic croaker, tautog, and the once abundant, but now somewhat infrequent, weakfish (sea trout) to go on the feed prior to moving out of the Inlet to their winter haunts further offshore and south. The tautog will hold tight to the submerged rocks feeding on small crabs and shrimp, whereas the striped bass and bluefish will move around more with the bait fish.
Fall is a good time to plan on a fishing trip to Indian River Inlet, but don’t wait too long or you may miss the main offshore migration of both predators and bait.