Drive-on beaches need surf-fishing requirement

September 11, 2021

I was surprised by the editorial in Friday’s edition of the Cape Gazette advocating for the elimination of the surf-fishing requirement in order to drive onto state park beaches. Then, in the bimonthly edition of the DMS Newsletter there is a press release from Charles Turnbaugh and his Delaware Beach Access Coalition Inc. He also requests the elimination of the requirement to be actively engaged in surf-fishing in order to purchase a permit to drive on the beach.

On the surface, this may sound like a good idea. Everybody knows that most people who drive on the beach during summer weekends are not dedicated surf-fishermen. They are there to enjoy family time on the beach. That’s fine. However, if you remove the requirement to surf-fish, you will encourage a different crowd. Young people like to party; at least we did when I was young. The beach is the perfect location, and with no requirement to surf-fish, here they come.

The surf-fishing requirement also gives the enforcement officers a reason to check everyone on the beach, and that keeps all of us in check.

Then we get to the rest of Mr. Turnbaugh’s press release. He wants the area of Fenwick Island State Park one-and-a-half miles north of the town of Fenwick Island, including the existing swimming area, to be designated a nature preserve/pedestrian area only. Would you like to guess where Mr. Turnbaugh’s condo is located? That’s right. Directly opposite that area, where he has been trying to get rid of mobile surf-fishermen for years.

Mr. Turnbaugh is a Washington, D.C. lawyer, and I must assume he is very smart and well versed in the ways of politics. He has been trying to get us mobile surf-fishermen off the beach in front of his condo for years, and this is his latest effort. I hope this one meets the same fate as all the others.

Fishing report

Fall is supposed to be the best time of the year for surf-fishing the Delaware coast. Bait fish will be moving out of the bays and tributaries, and hugging the shoreline as they move south for the winter. This movement is no secret to the predators, and they will be along to take advantage of the mobile feast.

Lately, I have better reports of 3- to 5-pound bluefish from the beach. These are far from the blitz conditions we experienced in the past, but better than the barren waters we have seen in recent years. One angler actually caught five blues in one session on Fenwick Island.

The best bait for blues is fresh mullet or bunker. Fish the finger mullet whole on a mullet rig. Cut the bunker into strips and fish them on the mullet rig as well. Keep a spinning outfit rigged and ready with a metal lure such as a Hopkins, in case the blues do start feeding on the surface.

Big flounder will be moving into the ocean to spawn and are available to anglers fishing the Old Grounds. Don’t forget the large flatfish we used to catch in November and December at the Cape May Rips when we trolled plugs and spoons or live lined eels for rockfish. A live spot dropped at Site 10, Site 11, the Rips or the Old Grounds could hook you up to the largest flounder of your life.

Flounder are still being caught at Indian River Bay, the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal and the Lower Delaware Bay. Why these fish remain in water as warm as 80 degrees is something to ponder over the winter, but for now, just know they are there. One lady fished Canary Creek with minnows for two days at the end of August to catch several flounder up to 4 1/2 pounds.

Croaker have made a comeback this year, and right now they are found at Indian River Inlet and in Delaware Bay as well as in the ocean. Fish in the 8- to 12--inch range will give you quite a fight and plenty to eat. 

My grandfather used to bring home lard cans full of big croakers from Delaware Bay that my grandmother would fry up in lard and serve with green beans cooked with fatback.

Big spot have been keeping the folks at the fishing pier in Cape Henlopen State Park happy. Bloodworms or Fishbites will attract all you can carry when these fish are in a feeding mood. The pier also sees good fishing for flounder and croaker. Minnows or Gulp! for the flounder with bloodworms or Fishbites for the croaker. Some days are better than others, for reasons known only to the fish.


  • 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

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