Spring a good time to catch large fish from Delaware beaches

Bass on the beach! Curt Stephens was soaking fresh bunker in the surf at Herring Point when he hooked this 23.7-pound striper. COURTESY LEWES HARBOUR MARINA
May 10, 2014

The long-range forecast indicates a break from the cold, wet and windy weather with mild temperatures and almost calm winds for the next week or more. This is what we need to get saltwater fishing on track, and it can’t happen soon enough.

A surprising number of people take to the beach at this time of year to partake in some surf fishing.  It's unlike summer, when the vast majority of folks on the beach arrive around 10 a.m., leave by 4 p.m. and make one cast the entire day. This is why I get there before the sun is up, leave by 10 a.m. and may come back at dusk to fish until dark.

Spring is a good time to catch a large fish from one of Delaware’s beaches. Both bluefish and striped bass move along the coast in the spring on their way to their summer vacations in New England. Bunker provide their main source of food during this migration with peeler crabs, ling and a variety of other critters filling in the empty spots.

It is a pretty big ocean out there, and those of us who fish the narrow strip along the beach are at a distinct disadvantage compared to the mobility inherent with fishing from a boat. Delaware anglers are even more disadvantaged because we have a very unremarkable beachfront with little if any structure that will hold fish.

In spite of this, there are a few locations along Delaware’s shoreline that have produced good results over the years. My personal favorite has been Three Rs Road. It seems to me the beach is steeper there and the water is deep close to shore.

Next up is the Point at Cape Henlopen, but it is closed all spring and summer, so I save it for the fall run. A little to the south of Cape Henlopen is Herring Point where I have had some good action in the spring and fall. Looking south from Herring Point, you will see two observation towers. The beach in that area seems to have a lot of stones along the bottom and can be a good location in the spring. One beach that does not get a lot of attention is Broadkill on the Delaware Bay. Back in the day it was a hot spot for trout, and last spring several big rockfish were taken there. So far this year at least two 6-pound trout have been caught from Broadkill Beach.

Big fish require a big bait to get their attention. The old adage that elephants eat peanuts sounds cute until you remember the same elephants also eat trees, big trees.

My favorite bait in the spring is a whole surf clam. It is a bit difficult to keep on the hook, especially if you are trying to cast very far, but if you put the hook into the foot of the clam it will stay put for a reasonable amount of time. Rockfish are very fond of clams, as are weakfish and drum.

When bunker are running close to shore I will go with a chunk of fresh meat. I cut a whole bunker into chunks and try to keep the guts attached as much as possible. Some anglers swear by the head as the best piece of bait, and if you cut it on an angle with the guts still attached, it will put out a chum slick while sitting on the bottom.

The rig I use is pretty simple. A circle hook tied or snelled to a four- to six-inch length of 80-pound mono leader. The other end of the leader is tied to a black barrel swivel. A fish-finder is put on the running line, then the line is tied to the black barrel swivel. The short leader makes it easier to cast. When a fish hits, allow it to run a short distance before cranking out the slack, and the hook will set itself.

Fishing report

Finally, a weekend of decent weather. The fish have responded to this change in a positive manner.

The first keeper rockfish of the season was caught at Herring Point and more are on the way. Cut bunker chunks and bloodworms will be the most popular bait, but don’t discount fresh clams, as they can attract drum and trout as well as rockfish.

Tog season will close tomorrow, so I hope you have enough in the freezer to last awhile. Fishing was still good for them in the bay and over inshore wrecks and reefs. Bottom bouncers will have to take a break until May 19 when sea bass season opens.

Flounder fishing should improve in the Lewes and Rehoboth Canal, and Indian River as the weather warms and the wind calms down.

  • Eric Burnley is a Delaware native who has fished and hunted the state from an early age.  Since 1978 he has written countless articles about hunting and fishing in Delaware and elsewhere along the Atlantic Coast.  He has been the regional editor for Salt Water Sportsman, Field and Stream, Outdoor Life and the Fisherman Magazine.  He was the founding editor of the Mid-Atlantic Fisherman magazine.  Eric is the author of three books; Surf Fishing the Atlantic Coast, The Ultimate Guide to Striped Bass Fishing and Fishing Saltwater Baits.  He and his wife Barbara live near Milton, Delaware. Eric can be reached at

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