Angry seas are not a safe place

November 26, 2016

If anyone needed reminding that the sea is a very dangerous place, the events of the past few days should do just that. The cold front that passed through Saturday evening proved to be deadly.

Over in Maryland, we lost three souls at the mouth of the Potomac River when their 30-foot boat began taking on water and then capsized. The fishermen were participating in the MSSA Rockfish Tournament and had started back to the dock at the end of the day. The wind ahead of the front began to blow at gale force out of the south then turned north at the same or even greater speed. The men were able to put out a radio call declaring an emergency before going into the water. By the time rescue teams arrived on the scene it was dark and they could not locate the boat or any of the victims.

The next morning the one survivor was found clinging to the overturned boat and two bodies were recovered.  As of early this week, one person remained missing.

Farther up the bay, another tournament boat was heading in when they saw a man in the water. In spite of some pretty nasty seas, the captain was able to bring the man onboard. The victim had been thrown into the water when his 14-foot sailboat capsized.

In Delaware, a man and his dog had to be pulled from the mud near Ocean View. The pair had been duck hunting, and when the man tried to help his dog out of the mud, both became stuck. The west wind low tide prevented rescue attempts by boat, so a Coast Guard helicopter was called in to pull the pair to safety. 

This sort of weather event is not unusual. In 1989 during the World Championship Weakfish Tournament, a similar front came down from the north, claiming one life in the Delaware Bay and five in the Chesapeake.

As happened last Saturday, the day began with warm temperatures and light winds. This brings out a lot of folks who want to fish or sail. The wind comes up very quickly, first from the south, then from the north. By the time many boaters realize they are in trouble, it is too late.

Let’s hope this is the last big front of the season, and I don’t think many people will be going out on the water until spring. Spring is another season with drastic weather changes, so try to remember the lessons of the fall and pay attention to the weather.


There is a movement afoot to designate the Baltimore and Norfolk canyons as marine sanctuaries. The aquariums in Baltimore and Norfolk are requesting this action to prevent the oil companies from drilling in those locations. Should their proposal be granted, both would receive additional funding from the federal government to establish a task force to monitor the areas.

I guess I am some sort of cynic. I think this proposal is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. There are several groups of so-called environmentalists that would like to put the ocean off limits to the public. They recently found success by having the president declare the canyons off New England as a national monument. These waters are now closed to commercial fishing. I am sure some people think this is great, more fish for us, but any area that is closed to commercial fishing is on the short list to being closed to recreational fishing.

While recreational fishing interests have become a bit more powerful in the halls of Congress, we are still a small bit player. What makes this proposal different is if we lose the canyons to recreational fishing it will have a severe impact on the large- and small-boat building industry. It will also grab the attention of some very wealthy individuals who don’t want to see their favorite sport destroyed. I believe it is just possible that some of these wealthy folks have made contributions to our senators and congressmen, and may ask these folks to oppose any movement that might result in the loss of offshore fishing.

In addition to fishing interests, the oil companies will not be happy if they lose areas where oil or gas may be found. This lobbying group has a great deal of power. It will be interesting to see how the process plays out.

Fishing report

When the wind lays down, tog and sea bass have been caught.  The exception was last Saturday before the front moved in, when fishing was pretty poor everywhere. The best tog fishing has been inshore while the sea bass are farther out beyond the 20-Fathom Line.

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving and that the rockfish show up before Christmas.

  • 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