No easy solution to the dredging problem

May 17, 2014
You can't see the cast on Gracie Fetterman's right arm, but that didn't stop her from battling these black drum weighing 33.8 and 34 pounds. Gracie boated the boomers while anchored in shallow water just off Broadkill Beach. COURTESY LEWES HARBOUR MARINA

Fish are being caught from the beach, in the river and canal, and from the pier. We have waited a long time for fishing to improve, and that time is finally here.

Black drum were caught from the beach at Plum Island on fresh clams. A few rockfish were also taken on that bait with the occasional flounder caught on Gulp! Drum were also caught from boats anchored in the shallow water just off the beach.

The surf at Cape Henlopen State Park has given up the occasional rockfish with a few large enough to keep. Clams and cut bunker have been the top baits. Blowfish and blues were caught at Fenwick Island on bloodworms and cut bunker respectively.

The Lewes and Rehoboth Canal and the Broadkill River have seen the occasional keeper flounder, but not in the numbers we would like. The 16-inch size limit should put a few more flatfish in the cooler with live minnows and pink Gulp! the hot baits.

The fishing pier at Cape Henlopen State Park is producing keeper flounder with some of the best action after dark. Minnows and pink Gulp! worked close to the pilings have produced most of the action. A few trout have also been caught from here.

The jetty at Roosevelt Inlet has been the spot for trout, and while not many have been caught, the size of those taken has been impressive. Gulp!, jigs and clam should work on the trout.

Keep in mind that this is spring, and most fish are on the move. We also have had some drastic changes in temperature, and this can shut down a hot bite very quickly.

Inland Bays dredging

On Tuesday evening, I attended a public meeting at the Millville Fire Hall where state Sen. Gerald Hocker and state Rep. Ronald Gray brought together the various agencies responsible for keeping and maintaining the waterways in the state. As I have mentioned before, the federal government has decided not to maintain most of the 27 waterways in Delaware because they do not support enough commercial activity. That leaves the state with the responsibility of maintaining 24 of these, including all the ones in the Inland Bays. Unfortunately, the state does not have the money to do this work on a continuing basis. To add more misery to this miserable situation, the Coast Guard will no longer mark channels in the bays because they are not properly maintained.

Frank Piorko from DNREC led off the discussion with a PowerPoint presentation explaining the problems the agency has when trying to dredge a certain area. The money has to come from the bond bill passed every year by the Legislature, and some years it may be available, and other years it is not. He estimated it will take $3 million a year to have any chance at all of keeping the 24 waterways navigable. Currently there are 60,000 registered boaters in Delaware, and the money they pay in registration fees is dedicated to public safety. This includes the DNREC enforcement officers and all of their equipment.

A raise in the boating registration fee was suggested by some as a funding mechanism, but by my calculations they would have to raise the fee by an average of $45 to $50 a year to cover the $3 million needed. Hocker suggested allowing marinas to sell non-ethanol fuel that would be taxed, and that money would be dedicated to the waterway improvement fund. Another idea involving fuel tax would do away with the individual tax deduction for fuel used in boats and dedicate this money for dredging.

It is easy to see there is no easy solution to the dredging problem. Right now, it is done on a case-by-case basis with the case that makes the most noise most likely to get done. A perfect example is the dredging of the Murderkill River entrance at Bowers Beach. Dave Russell spent considerable time over several years gathering together a network of private and public support to persuade the bond bill committee to approve the money for this project.

The Center for the Inland Bays is trying to do the same for the dredging needed at Massey’s Ditch. This has been going on for several years, and no one is sure they will have any luck in 2014. Even if they get the money, permits will be needed, then contracts will be sent out for bids, and this will take even more time. The sad truth is, it will be a long time before we see any dredging in the Inland Bays, and till then boaters will have the devil’s own time trying to navigate these waters without tearing up their boats and possibly injuring someone.

  • 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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