Delaware Bay is anything but dead

July 19, 2019

It would seem the pronouncement that Delaware Bay is dead is like Mark Twain’s death notice, a bit premature. Granted, the past few years have not given fishermen much to cheer about, but so far in 2019, the fishing has been pretty darn good and continues to be so right up to today.

The year began with an excellent run of black drum at Broadkill Beach that lasted for several weeks. For the most part, these were 20- to 40-pound fish with a few larger ones mixed in, but no one was complaining. The occasional rockfish and big bluefish were caught along with the drum, but the drum were the big story.

Once the drum moved off the beach, the larger females began to feed at the Coral Beds and other locations in the bay. This run may have been a bit off from previous years, but there were still enough big 40- to 80-pounders to give anglers plenty of action.

Once the drum left, the kings moved in. This has to be the best run of kings I have ever seen in Delaware Bay. Back in the late 1940s and early 1950s when I first fished the bay out of Slaughter’s Beach with my grandfather in a wooden boat with a 7-1/2 horsepower Elgin motor, we caught croaker and the occasional trout, but never a king. Before that, when my grandfather fished with his friends from work, they caught porgies. Today, we have two head boats running out of Lewes that are doing very well catching kings and one or two keeper trout. Charter boats from Lewes are finding kings, trout and triggerfish. Flounder have become a bycatch at the reef sites.

We have triggerfish on the reef sites and rock walls. These fish do take a bit of work to catch. You will have to anchor, much as you do for tog, then chum with clam and drop clam baits back to the fish on small, but strong hooks. If you can get the triggers in a feeding mood, they will come to the surface behind the chum pot and gobble up baits as fast as you can drop them back.

Can’t forget the big bluefish that paid a visit this spring. Not quite as many as in years past, but still a thrill when they attacked baits and lures.

The fishing pier at Cape Henlopen State Park has seen some excellent fishing for blues, flounder, kings and spot. Right now, the spot fishing is very good, but you must be there at high tide. Bloodworms and FishBite bloodworms have been the top baits. Live minnows worked close to the pilings have produced most of the flounder. The majority of these fish will be shorts, but a few keepers are caught on most tides.

Kayak anglers find good flounder action working the pilings at the end of the pier where the burned-out portion was removed. Not an expert here, but I suspect they are jigging with Gulp! or live minnows.

The Lewes-Rehoboth Canal and the Broadkill River continue to give up flounder this late in the summer. Don’t know how long this will continue after the current hot spell, but if the flounder do leave, let’s hope the croaker move in.

Lewes Beach has even gotten in on the good fishing. Spot, kings and even a keeper trout or two have been caught right in town.

Back when I first became a part of the fisheries management equation, I believed that with proper management, fish stocks would stay constant. I thought the idea of cycles was ridiculous. I am much older and I hope a bit wiser. There is no doubt that fish come and go in cycles, and there is little, if anything, man can do to change this fact. We can stop overfishing when a species is in a down cycle. We can protect fish habitat. We can build reef sites. But we can’t stop the cycles.

People still judge the Delaware Bay by the presence of trout or weakfish. Back in the 1940s and 1950s, they were a rare bycatch. When I came home from the Navy in 1965, we caught a few small trout, and then they began to grow in number and size. Then they all but disappeared. Today they appear to be coming back. Only time will tell if trout are on an up cycle.

As far as Delaware Bay being dead, I think that myth has been dispelled. The reef sites may never replace all the live bottom destroyed by the conch dredgers, but they certainly help. The water quality gets better every year and, it seems, so does the fishing.


  • 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 several publications and 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

Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter