Fishing mistakes can make all the difference

February 5, 2022

I have been fishing for a long time and in a lot of different places. I have been blessed to have fished with some of the best anglers in both fresh and saltwater. I have also seen people make some very serious mistakes and then wonder why they didn’t catch many or any fish.

Those of us who fish in the Cape Region have to put up with a lot of people on the water. As I’m writing this Feb. 1, Delaware State Parks sold 17,000 surf-fishing permits in less than three hours. I was on my computer at 10 a.m. and still had to settle for a restricted permit.

If you fish Indian River or Rehoboth bays, you will have to contend with all those other fishermen who live or vacation in the trailer parks that surround both bodies of water. Not all of those folks fish. Just go past the sand bars outside Massey’s Landing on a summer weekend and you will see hundreds of people enjoying the water without a fishing rod in sight.

When we had our camper at Bay Shore in Ocean View, I was up before the sun and on the water shortly thereafter. I knew where to fish on every stage of the tide and would be back at the camper in time for breakfast.

My next-door neighbor would come out of his camper sometime around 9 or 10 a.m. He would always ask me if I was going fishing today. I would always reply that I had already been. By the time he got his stuff together and headed to his boat, it was close to noon and the Indian River Bay was wall-to-wall boats. He seldom, if ever, caught anything but a sunburn.

In my opinion, if you are going to catch fish around here, you will have to get an early start. This is true if you fish from a boat or from the beach. An hour before sunrise until 10 a.m. is prime time to fish both locations. I don’t know what it is that brings the crowds rushing to the water between 9 and 10 a.m., but on most days, you can count on it.

Late evenings can also be good. With daylight saving time, you can fish well past 8 p.m. I don’t like being out at night in my 16-foot tin boat, so I reserve my evening fishing for the surf.

The weather can also provide a good fishing day. If it is cool and cloudy, the number of boats on the water and trucks on the beach will be down quite a bit.

Another big mistake I see is people fishing with tackle that is not suited for the occasion. I see folks on the beach trying to fish with freshwater outfits. I know some of them are only trying to fill the requirement to be actively surf fishing, but others do try to use tackle that is way too light.

On the other hand, I see anglers on head boats trying to catch spot and croaker with tackle better suited for blue marlin. 

There is lots of tackle to chose from in price ranges to fit most any budget. A reasonable surf outfit can be bought for somewhere in the $150 to $200 range, and if taken care of, it will last a very long time. A rod and reel suitable for most bottomfishing in the Delaware Bay will go for about the same price. Trust me, fishing is a lot more fun when you have the correct tackle.

You should also pay attention to your line. Dropping your bait to the bottom or casting it out into the ocean and then putting the rod in a holder or sand spike is not going to catch many fish. I always keep my hand on the rod and line. When surf fishing, I crank in a bit of line, wait a few seconds, then crank in a bit more. Bottom fishing requires lifting the rig up and down just a bit so I can tell if something is trying to take the bait or lure. This technique also keeps me from getting snagged on structure as much as I would with the rod in a holder.

It is also a good idea to keep changing baits, and this includes Gulp! I never keep a bait on longer than 10 or 12 minutes. Fresh bait has the best smell and action before it gets washed out or chewed on by crabs or other nasties. Keep all baits on ice before use. Bob Baker showed me how to use small coolers to keep squid, minnows, smelt and other baits next to me while we fished for flounder.


  • 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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