It’s been a rough go at the Indian River Inlet

November 14, 2020

As some of you may remember, I have been fishing Indian River Inlet since the late 1940s. And while I have had some wonderful times, the year 2020 will go down as one of the worst in that long history.

I had a fair start with a good day catching shad in the spring, but after that it was all downhill. I only caught one lone bluefish in June and one tiny shad in July, since then I have caught absolutely nothing. Due to some problems with my boat motor and my health, I have spent most of the year fishing the inlet and the surf. Both have not been kind to me. I gave up on the surf and concentrated on the inlet because, while I didn’t catch any fish, at least I didn’t have to air down my tires and clean out a ton of sand from my truck.

For at least the last month, I have targeted tog. It was an easy decision because the water has been dirty with plenty of weed and there have been no birds working, not even the terns that seem to be constantly diving under and around the bridge.

I am a great believer in artificial bait, so I started by using Gulp! and Fishbites. When they failed to produce, I bought sand fleas. These did draw two strikes. One came while I was distracted and knocked the rod off the railing. By the time I grabbed it and tried to reel in the fish, he had me hung up in the rocks and broke me off.

The next hit came during slack water and I had the rod well in hand. I set the hook and was reeling in the fish when the sinker caught in a rock and resulted in another breakoff. I was beginning to see a pattern here.

Pattern or not, it didn’t matter, because despite repeated trips to the Inlet, both north and southside, I never had another bite that I could say for sure was a tog. I fished the last of the incoming into slack water and the first of the outgoing with my sand fleas on my homemade rigs. I described these two weeks ago. A perfection loop on one end, a double surgeon’s loop in the middle for the hook and another double surgeon’s loop on the end for the sinker. A Mustad 2/0 beak hook and a two-ounce sinker will work. I keep the rig about six to eight inches long.

While I saw exactly one keeper tog caught during my repeated trips, I did see plenty of shorts caught pretty much by everybody but me.

For the most part, everyone was using a long rod to fish the Inlet. They would drop their rig directly off the end of the rod and fish with the line as straight down from the tip as possible. The younger and more agile anglers would climb down the rocks to the edge of the water while the older and wiser folks, like myself, stayed on the sidewalk.

While I didn’t add to my fish larder, I really didn’t need any more fish to see me through the winter. Fortunately, I am well stocked with flounder from a trip on the Katydid and have more flounder and some sea bass and triggerfish from a trip with my son Ric in Virginia Beach. Maybe I should just stick to fishing from a boat.

Fishing report

If you enjoy catching sea bass and tog, the recent warm spell provided some excellent opportunities. Boats from Lewes, Indian River and Ocean City all got into very good fishing with a few remaining flounder, triggerfish and sheepshead mixed in the catch.

The Del-Jersey-Land Reef was the most popular location for sea bass fishing. Reports indicated an abundance of small fish, but the action was a steady drop and crank with enough keepers mixed in to make the run worthwhile.

Reef sites 10 and 11 hold tog for those who fish for them in the ocean. I understand there were some spiny dogs around as well. These sharks are very good eating if you clean them as soon as you catch them and make sure to take out the blood line down the back bone.

According to DNREC and the Coast Guard, the oil spill has been cleaned up along the beach. There may still be the isolated spot here and there and you may want to wear a pair of old shoes in case you encounter one of these spots. Right now, the surf fishing is so poor there is no need to go unless, like me, you just enjoy being on the beach.

The Outer Wall gave up good numbers of tog.


  • 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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