Delaware’s Artificial Reefs Are Fishing Hot Spots

There’s a lot of saltwater out there, however, much of it has few or no fish in it.

That’s especially true in the Mid-Atlantic region, where a great deal of the ocean and bays feature bottoms of flat sand or mud, with few locations for fish to seek shelter or hunt for food.

The constant challenge confronting anglers is to find structure that attracts and hold fish. Unfortunately, some of the very best fishing structure in the entire state of Delaware is often overlooked by many anglers, despite the fact that their locations are well documented and can be easily found by anyone with a GPS and a fishfinder.

Eleven Fishing Hot Spots
The fishing hot spots are the 11 artificial reefs that have been established in Delaware since 1995 by the Delaware Artificial Reef Program. Eight of the reef sites are in Delaware Bay, and three are along Delaware’s Atlantic Coast.

The reefs have been created as the Artificial Reef Program has obtained and sank an incredibly wide variety of material, including decommissioned army tanks and other military vehicles, old tugboats and subway cars, and concrete culvert. As these items are sank and piled up on the bottom, they provide perfect hiding spots and feeding locations that attract many of our favorite species, including tautog, sea bass, seatrout, stripers, bluefish and flounder.

Concrete culvert is pushed off a barge and sent to the bottom where it will become part of an artificial reef in Delaware Bay.

The Delaware Artificial Reef Program each year publishes an updated Delaware Artificial Reef Guide, which is made available to fishermen, divers and everyone else at no cost. Every First State angler should have one and refer to it often.

The Guide features a chart, illustrations and GPS coordinates, which make it easy to find the reefs and easy to visualize their positioning on the bottom. Also included are the exact distance of each reef from the nearest port, the depth of the reefs, the type and amount of materials used to create each of the reefs, and the dates of deployments. There are even lists of the species of fish that divers have spotted on each reef site.

Anglers can receive a free copy of the Delaware Artificial Reef Program in the mail by calling 302-739-4782.

Creating A Reef
The eight artificial reefs in Delaware Bay, from just off Port Mahon all the way down to the mouth of the bay near Lewes, are made up of mostly concrete products, including culvert pipe. However, one of the lower bay reef sites is also the final resting place for the 70-foot tugboat “Golden Eagle,” which was sunk there in 1996. The reef sites in the bay attract primarily seatrout, stripers, bluefish, tautog and croaker.

Jeff Tinsman is the Director of the Delaware Artificial Reef Program, and he has dived on several of the reef sites. He said reefs in Delaware Bay last season featured hordes of 1-inch juvenile sea bass, indicating a very good year class of sea bass. Reefs provide protection for small fish, giving them a better chance at survival during a time in their life when they are very vulnerable. And also, studies have shown that the food source on artificial reefs is often hundreds of times richer than the surrounding area.

The three reefs along Delaware’s Atlantic Coast are from 4.5 nautical miles to 16.5 nautical miles from the Indian River Inlet. Tons of concrete products, stabilized tire units and ballasted tire units were used to create the sites closest to Indian River. The site that’s 16.5 nautical miles from Indian River is also the largest of Delaware’s artificial reefs, covering 1.3 square miles. It’s in 68 feet to 88 feet of water and is made up of dozens of tanks and armored personnel carriers, a 90-foot sunken barge, a navy barge, and more than 400 old subway cars.

Tinsman said he has seen schools of sea bass cruise from one subway car to another, and he said sea bass also love to move in and around the open back of the armored personnel carriers. Big tog also hang out on the ocean reef sites, and Tinsman has also seen flounder lying on top of the subway cars.

Use A GPS, Fishfinder
To effectively find, anchor up and position your boat over a reef, you’ll need a GPS, a fishfinder, several marker buoys, and a Danforth anchor or “rebar” anchor. Marker buoys can be made from empty detergent bottles with 50 feet to 100 feet of heavy monofilament line tied to the handle and wrapped around the bottle. Heavy sinkers are tied to the other end of the line.

When the boat arrives at the desired latitude/longitude coordinates, toss over one of the marker buoys, even if the reef is not showing on the fishfinder. The bottle will spin on the surface as the sinkers fall toward the bottom and line is pulled off the bottle. Slowly circle the marker buoy while watching the fishfinder. As soon as the reef shows on the fishfinder, toss over a second buoy and immediately record the latitude/longitude coordinates.

Next, position the boat upcurrent of the buoy that’s marking the reef, and drop the Danforth anchor and make sure it’s holding. And then play out rope until the boat drifts back to the buoy. When the boat is beside the buoy, tie the anchor rope to the bow cleat. If the boat does not drift back near the buoy, then it’s time to bring in the anchor, reposition the boat, and drop anchor once again.

The hooks on a “rebar” anchor are made with metal bars used to reinforce concrete, known as “rebar.” When using a rebar anchor, move the boat upcurrent of the buoy marking the reef, drop the anchor overboard, and allow the boat to drift back toward the buoy while the rebar anchor is dragged along the bottom.

Rebar A Good Anchor
The goal is to have the rebar anchor latch onto a piece of the reef. Then the anchor rope is shortened as much as possible and tied off so the boat sits directly over the reef. When finished fishing, pulling on the anchor rope should cause the rebar hook to bend, freeing it from the structure. The rebar can be bent back into shape and the anchor used again.

Big seatrout are caught on the 11 artificial reefs that have been created in Delaware Bay and along Delaware’s Atlantic Coast.

An effective reef fishing technique, especially for stripers, seatrout and bluefish, involves jigging straight up and down on the structure with Hopkins spoons, Strata spoons, Stingsilvers, Crippled Herring jigs, Diamond Jigs, Jacky Jigs and other metal lures and spoons. I recommend jigging with no-stretch, super-sensitive braided line such as Stren Superbraid, with a 3-foot leader of 30-pound to 50-pound test fluorocarbon or monofilament.

The lure can be jigged up and down right in the structure, or directly above it. Strikes can come at any time, but be especially prepared for action as the rod tip is lowered and the jig flutters down toward the reef.

Delaware’s Artificial Reef Program and the fantastic fishing the reef sites provide is paid for with federal funds, known as “Wallop-Breaux” funds, it receives under the Federal Aid in Fisheries Restoration Act. The concrete products, army vehicles, tugboats and other materials used to create the reefs are donated to the state and used to create some of the best fishing spots in the state.

Locating The Reefs
The Delaware Artificial Reef Guide features a chart, illustrations, and GPS coordinates, which make it easy to find the eight artificial reefs in Delaware Bay and three along Delaware’s Atlantic coast. To receive a free copy of the guide in the mail, call 302-739-4782.

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