Head boats are perfect for folks without a boat

July 17, 2021

In keeping with the theme of last week’s article, I suspect there are folks out there who are unfamiliar with the area and would like to fish the ocean or bay, but don’t have a boat or, like me, don’t have a boat that is big enough to go out on the open water. This is where a head boat can be the perfect solution. You can find head boats sailing from Bowers Beach to Ocean City that fish half-day or all-day trips for everything from croakers to tuna.

If you are completely new to saltwater fishing, I suggest a half-day trip to begin with. You might also want to start in the Delaware Bay or in the bays behind Ocean City. The reason is if you or your tummy find the experience not to your liking, a half-day trip will be more than enough to suffer through.

Let’s take a quick look at preventing seasickness. First, do not drink alcohol before the trip. Second, have a very light breakfast. Third, take any preventive medication before you get on the boat. Once you get sick, there is nothing that will make you feel better until your feet get back to dry land.

As far as tackle, the spinning outfit we talked about last week will do fine on a trip to Delaware Bay or the bays behind Ocean City – the 6-foot rod, matching reel and 12-pound mono line. Call the boat ahead of time to find out what type of bottom rig to bring and what size sinker to use. Then head to your local tackle shop and buy a few of each.

All-day head boats run to deeper water and fish over rougher structure. This will require heavier tackle.

Depending on the depth and the current, you may need 10 ounces of weight to hold bottom. You must use the same weight as everyone else to avoid tangles. This situation requires a sturdy rod and a reel with 20- or 30-pound braid and a top-shot of 30- to 40-pound fluorocarbon. This is going to set you back several hundred dollars. I suggest using the company rod and reel for your first adventure on an all-day boat. The rental fee is inexpensive, and if you find you don’t like the experience, you haven’t put out a lot of money.

You should plan to travel light when fishing from a head boat. You will need a cooler for your fish, and a tackle bag for your rigs and sinkers. If you pack your lunch in a sealed plastic bag, it can go in the same cooler as the fish. Your water or sodas will also go in the same cooler. My cooler has wheels, and that is a big help when going down the dock, and to and from the parking lot.

The mates on a head boat will make the trip enjoyable, or less than. I have been on boats where the mates have been hard to find, and on other boats where they are right there when you need them. Tip accordingly.

Some head boats board by reservation, while others are first-come, first-served. I like to be on the bow or stern because no matter whether the captain drifts or anchors, your line will always be in front of you.

Prices vary depending on the boat. Call ahead or go online to make reservations.

Fishing report

The open waters of the Delaware Bay or the Atlantic Ocean still provide the best chance for catching fish. Flounder and sea bass remain over ocean structure, with both available at reef sites 10 and 11 as well as the Del-Jersey-Land Reef. The farther offshore you fish, the better chance you have of catching keeper sea bass.

Flounder and a few sea bass have been caught at the Old Grounds. Drifting here with squid, minnows or Gulp! can be productive. When you catch a flounder, hit the MOB button on your GPS and go back over the same area, because flounder will stack up in good ambush positions.

Fenwick Shoals has seen good fishing for Spanish mackerel and bluefish. Trolling with small spoons behind a planer or trolling sinker will produce both. Bottomfishing on the wrecks at Fenwick Shoals has been good for triggerfish.

The reef sites in Delaware Bay hold a variety of fish including croaker, spot, triggerfish, flounder and trout. All sorts of baits will produce good results including Gulp!, Fishbites, squid, minnows, clam and peeler crab.

For those without a boat, the fishing pier at Cape Henlopen State Park is a good location. Fishing is best on high tide when spot, croaker and a few flounder are caught. Try bloodworms or Fishbites for the spot and croaker, with live minnows or Gulp! for the 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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