Cape Henlopen has angles covered


August 15, 2004|By Kevin E. Washington | Kevin E. Washington,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Chesapeake Bay frequently has miraculous fishing, but to get to it, most often you need a boat. This has been a perplexing problem for me and many anglers - especially those who haven't grown their nest egg large enough to own the proverbial hole in the water.

Travel to North Carolina or Florida, and flats that welcome boatless anglers exist in abundance.

But in the Mid-Atlantic, my best opportunity to enjoy what I call Florida-style, walk-into-the-water flats fishing - for weakfish, stripers, croaker and flounder - is to head to Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware.

Quite a few flats exist in the Chesapeake, but thanks to the development around the bay, many require you to catch a boat to the fishing grounds.

Cape Henlopen makes a wonderful choice for boatless fly and spin anglers who want to take on fish but avoid the wave action of the beaches or the jostling of anglers slinging lead from piers.

Cape Henlopen, for those unfamiliar with Delaware, is across the Bay Bridge, then across the Eastern Shore along Route 404, then to Route 9 to the farthest edge of Delaware - right where the southern part of Delaware Bay begins. From May until Oct. 31, you'll need to pay a $5 out-of-state resident fee to get into the park. Four-wheel drive permits are also available.

When I fly-fish, I take a 9-weight setup armed with an intermediate line (as well as an extra spool outfitted with a floating line in case I wish to use poppers at night).

Don Avondolio, president of the Saltwater Fly Anglers of Delaware (http://www.leedesigngroup. com/sfaod), says his group makes a trip to the flats every other week and anglers frequently score.

"You can wade those flats for months - you can fish from May through Christmas some years," says Avondolio, a fly-fishing aficionado who lives in Lewes, Del.

But like many great fishing spots, you need to show up on days when you won't be battling with families and boats for the fish. Too much activity from vacationers on Friday, Saturday and Sunday makes Cape Henlopen a less-than-ideal location, Avondolio says.

In fact, the perfect time to arrive is Monday through Thursday when high tide coincides with dawn or dusk - with a trip at dusk your best time to catch weakfish as the sun slides below the horizon, especially in May.

The best season is late fall as fish migrate. The fall is also the end of the Piping Plover nesting that takes place out by the hook of Cape Henlopen. Until fall, wading anglers must stay out of the nesting area - which means you can fish along the right side of the Cape Henlopen fishing pier during the summer, but you will find your greatest area for exploration to the left of the pier.

"Some of the better fishing is after Thanksgiving," Avondolio says. "Around Thanksgiving, you'll get everything from bluefish, stripers, croaker to miscellaneous stuff."

If you enjoy wading the flats, you can get out almost a half mile into the bay, Avondolio says. I never tried to go so far, but that's because I arrived for most of my jaunts at high tide, when you can even fish from dry sand.

Avondolio points out that you won't need to make long 90-foot casts, either. "If you're used to making 30- and 40-foot casts, say on a trout stream, you can make those here and get into fish," he says.

If you make a trip to Cape Henlopen on your own, you'll want to get there at low tide to see the sloughs, ditches and other features of the flats. This is where fish hold when they come onto the flats.

My ideal time to go this summer has been about 9 p.m., dusk, with a 10 p.m. high tide.

I've taken a couple of 15- to 18-inch stripers at that special time and quite a few 8- to 10-inch croakers. The croakers were caught on 2- to 3-inch clouser minnows in chartreuse and white shortly after dark. I like to use black flies at night, and the stripers were caught on black deceivers.

To effectively call fish to your flies or lures, I like to use the combination teaser and dropper fly that Lefty Kreh, a prolific author and former Sun outdoors editor, recommends in many of his books. The setup is simple, and it works for both fly and spin fishermen, as long as the tag end lure isn't too heavy. Tie a popper to the end of your line, then find a weighted fly (a small clouser or jiggy fly) that won't sink the popper and tie that onto a 12- to 15-inch strand of leader material with a loop knot. Tie the tag end of the leader to the curve of the popper hook.

This is the reason I like to carry a 9-weight rather than a smaller fly rod, because it is exponentially easier to cast the popper and its companion with a 9-weight than a 7-weight rod, which could be used on the flats given that you rarely are fighting the wind.

When the popper is stripped forward, any shy fish that doesn't want to come up on top will hit the end fly, which darts in a jigging motion if it has a weighted head. If you want to use a fly without a weighted head, you can, but the second fly's action will be much subdued.

I've found several poppers that I like for this work. They're called bubble head poppers because they have holes in the top or at the back to force water to swoosh through the fly. Backwater Angler at 538 Monkton Road in Monkton carries at least two types of bubble heads.

While I like to fly-fish, I'm not a fly-fishing snob, so when things are slow on the flats, I'll drive over to the beach with a few spin-fishing outfits to surf-fish. If I find no action in the surf, which rarely happens, I'll drive back to the pier, where the lights are attracting baitfish and the baitfish attract game fish, such as stripers and weakfish.

The past two times I've been out on the pier, people have been hauling in small croaker. While the action appeared to be intermittent, one recent Tuesday night, a woman had 42 croaker in her bucket.

If you want to share a fly-fishing hotspot with Kevin E. Washington, please e-mail him at kevin'e'

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