Bassin' the Nanticoke River
The Nanticoke is so “fishey” and so loaded with habitat
so a low water tide-frame
river gets mixed reviews from the many fishermen that pursue
largemouth bass in the region. She “grades-out” from awful to
awesome, depending upon whom you ask, and often the same angler
will use both terms from time to time.
The Nanticoke River
is a beautiful tidal tributary on the Delmarva Peninsula with a Delaware origin and flows
southwesterly thru vast marsh and wetlands. Part of what makes
fishing difficult on this system is the vast amount of cover in
the form of spatterdock, fallen trees, boat docks, sea walls and
in the upper reaches, submersed aquatic vegetation.
Smith first called this river ”Kuskarawaok,” and it was he who
named one of the
local Indian tribes the “Nantiquakes.” We know it as the
River, a 63-mile tributary to the Chesapeake Bay. The major tributary is Marshyhope Creek
(MD), about 38-miles long, and another tributary to keep in mind
is Broad Creek (DE).
owns much of the river but Delaware owns the river beginning about two
miles upriver of Sharpstown (Route 313 Bridge.) Anglers must
posses a Chesapeake Bay Sportfishing License and if you intend
to fish the Delaware portion—you will
need a Delaware Fishing License (new in 2008.) By the way, you
can obtain these fishing licenses on-line. Just “Google” the
state and add “fishing license.”
current is “swift” with about three-feet of difference between
high and low tide. The Nanticoke
has channel markers up to Seaford, DE,
and the Marshyhope has none. Fishing success is pretty dependant
upon “tide,” so it’s a good idea to choose a day that has a low
tide within your planned fishing hours. Low water is more
productive than high water. You can obtain tide information from
my website, www.penrodsguides.com, and many of
the newer GPS/sonar units contain tide data within the mapping
cartography, especially the Lowrance HDS products. You may also
www.saltwatertides.com and select the proper date and water.
several good boat launch facilities: Federalsburg, in
Maryland; Seaford Public Launch, in Seaford, Delaware;
Sharpstown Launch in
impossible to cover all the potential bass-holding areas within
such a vast river system—so I’ve settled on three areas; Middle
Marshyhope, Seaford area and Middleford Branch.
I use Gator
and Shimano or Daiwa reels—and I’ll carry both spinning and
baitcasting models. I like a rather long baitcasting rod,
usually 6-foot, six-inch to 7-foot—and 6-foot spinning rods. One
baitcasting reel will have 60-pound test braid (for frogs,
buzzbaits and brush,) and several with 15-pound test
monofilament (crankbaits, weighted plastics and spinnerbaits.)
My spinning rods will have 10-pound test mono on the reels (Case
Magic Stik, tubes and drop-shot.)
All anglers have their own favored lures but Captain
Brian Barnes suggests
that you heed his advice.
summertime lure suggestions are: four and six-inch Case Magic
Stiks (green-pumpkin/gold and purple;)
Mouth spinnerbaits (Penrod Special) and buzzbaits (3/8th
ounce, white or black skirt;)
Rapala DT6 crankbaits (Hot Mustard;) Rapala Rattlin’Rap
Mizmo tubes (green pumpkin and Penrod Purple) and
Case Sweet-P’s (purple
and Green Pumpkin/gold.)
that you launch from the Seaford,
Delaware, public launch which is located
from Route 20 to Shipley Street and follow signs to the
launch. Non residents must have a launch permit. You will need a
Delaware Fishing License.
upriver (to the left), past the old railroad bridge, to the
drawbridge. The attendant will lift the bridge when he sees you.
It’s OK to sound your horn. Not very far upriver, she splits—you
want to take the left branch, the one many refer to as the
Middleford Branch. The other leg, actually Deep Creek, which it
isn’t, is referred to as the Concord Branch. There are no aids
to navigation but you can safely run this water on plane as long
as you pay attention. I suggest that you stay on plane until the
river narrows. There are two “No Wake” areas and one of them
“sneaks-up” on you. You will have passed some very fishy-looking
habitat—but it’s the “narrows” that provides the best fishing.
The Nanticoke is not a world class fishery but once you
unlock her intricacies—
you may think it is.
Life Outdoors Unlimited guide,
Captain Brian Barnes, this is his go-to area for high water
success. Brian is our
expert and can be reached at 302-745-4668. He is also the owner
of Big Mouth Lure Company.
The river is narrow enough to fish cover on either side of the
boat and the shores are tree lined with abundant overhanging
bushes and trees. There is something to cast-to every few
feet—and casting accuracy is crucial. You need to be proficient
with the “skipping” technique to get your offering under and
into the ambush lairs. We use spinning tackle for this and even
the best will snag underwater wood or snag brush and branches.
You will also encounter boat docks, sea walls, beaver huts and
submersed aquatic vegetation that I believe to be
summer months we find that wacky rig, Case Magic Stiks are
deadly. You may choose to pitch or flip jigs, worms, tubes or
Sweet P’s. You can spend the entire day here, often fishing back
and forth within a few hundred yards, once you have located a
group of bass.
The “Narrows” cannot support many boats. I suggest that you
keep your outboard motor trimmed up, your trolling motor pointed
into the current and your sonar turned off when fishing.
spend the entire day in this sector also so using the Seaford
Public Launch just makes sense. You will need Delaware Fishing
License. For the sake of this article, I will set the parameters
for the “Seaford Area” as that section of the river between
Broad Creek and the railroad bridge. It’s “busy” here on
weekends, and there is substantial, commercial use of this
waterway so beware the tug boats and barges.
To fish the upper reaches of the Nanticoke complex—the
“bridge-master” must cooperate.
In Seaford, there is just so much cover to fish in the form
of big docks, bridge structure, dolphins and pilings, channel
drops and spatterdock. I will not be very specific because it
all looks productive—and can be.
On the “red”
side of the river (right side going upriver,) look for the red
channel markers that are close to the shore/vegetation. Those
areas are especially productive during low tide as bass and bait
retreat to those drops when the vegetation is drained.
find green channel marker “65” and turn right into a tributary
called Walker’s Gut. The water
will be very low during low tide so I suggest that you fish this
area during mid to high tide. The “gut” will split, and you can
fish both. The leg to the right leads to
Walker’s Boat Storage and Repair. There
is a tree across the left leg several hundred yards inbound that
will probably halt your way.
you will come upon the Woodland Ferry and you must be cautious
here. This is a “No Wake” zone at all times. The ferry (Tina
Fallon) is attached to a cable as it is underway. Do not try to
go through this area until the ferry is docked and the operator
had lowered the cable. There are yellow caution lights attached
to the wood bulkheads. If the yellow lights are flashing, wait.
This is a very dangerous hazard and should not be taken lightly.
By the way, those bulkheads offer very good fishing
opportunities but please never interfere with the ferry
of the ferry, on the red-side, you will find three “T” shaped
boat docks where you should spend some time and red channel
marker “59” is a good stop. There is a hull of an old boat
there—and just dowriver, a short distance you will encounter
some unseen ballast from that old boat.
channel marker “51” marks the entrance into Broad Creek, a fine
fishery also, but that’s another story. By the way, the
spatterdock on the red side of the river, downstream of the
Broad Creek entrance is certainly worthy of some time.
Now you can
bet that I have missed, intentionally and not intentionally,
many very good fish-holding areas in this sector—but you have
the better ones for now. The spatterdock is always worth some
time and may be your best bet during high water. I didn’t go
into specifics as to the lures I recommend but every lure I have
mentioned—and depicted via photograph, can be used with benefit
here. The Rapala DT6 is especially potent on those channel
drops. During high water, when fishing success is often poor,
note those areas where you did catch a fish or two and be sure
to return when “prime-time” comes around.
Middle Marshyhope Creek
Federalsburg Launch, sometimes referred to as the VFW Launch has
been improved a few years ago. It can accommodate 10-15 vehicles
and boat trailers and there are no launching issues during low
water. This sector is under Maryland jurisdiction so a Chesapeake Bay
Sportfishing License is required. By the way, there is no
reciprocity between Maryland and
12 miles from the launch to the
(to the right)—and it all looks good. There are many miles of
opportunity to the left. Remember that this creek had no aids to
navigation, and this article deals with water and habitat
have to start your outboard after you launch if you choose,
because there are more fallen trees on both sides of the river,
for miles, than you can possibly fish—and everything looks so
fishy. There are tidal guts, tidal coves, great spatterdock
fields and even a gravel pit pond (entrance has bulkheads) that
is a good spawning area.
I want to
spend much time between the bridges though. The first bridge is
referred to as the Herlock
(Route 392,) and the second bridge is referred to as the Brookville Bridge
(Route 14.) There is about four miles between them. I love this
area. Both sides of the creek alternate between marsh grass and
the first bridge, look to the left side and find a wood latticed
duck blind site. You will want to spend time here, and don’t
just concentrate your efforts on the spatterdock because there
are substantial submersed stumps about 10-feet off the
vegetation line. This is a good weighted-plastic opportunity—but
it’s very rewarding when a crankbait is employed.
downcreek, look for a long wooden seawall on the left side, with
a fairly large brown colored house on shore. That’s simply a
landmark. Go to the other side of the creek and find a tidal
gut. You will want to fish the entrance of that tidal gut, but
upriver, just a short distance (100-yards), find a massive
beaver hut. This cover extends into six or seven feet of water
and is often a day-saver.
I’m out of space. I could write an entire book on the river and
not cover it thoroughly, but I’ve hit some high-notes in this
essay that should reward you. You actually have three day-trips
within this writing that I consider to be the cream of the crop.
To those that say that theNanticoke
is a tough fishery—I say yes. For those that say the
is an awesome fishery, I say yes. Still, there can be no doubt
that this river and some of her tributaries are a wonderful
creation and a tidal treasure. Like any water in the country, to
be successful, you have to pay your dues. Just remember; there
are no magic lures, just magic places, and you have to “find”