Looking back on the year that was 2020

December 26, 2020

For most people, 2020 was not a good year. The COVID-19 virus put a serious hurting on many of us and took so many lives that complaining about missed fishing opportunities seems trivial. Nevertheless, I signed up in February to fish on the Angler out of Ocean City on the first day of sea bass season, but by the time May 15 rolled around, the virus had cut down on the number of passengers allowed on the boat, and I missed the cutoff.

Then there were my boat problems. It started with a bad water pump. I tried to contact the person who had worked on my motor for several years, but he never returned my calls. Then I was able to get an appointment at Pier Point Marina in Dewey Beach, and they were able to get the motor fixed. By the time I got back to trying it out, the water pump wasn’t working again.

Back to Pier Point Marina where they discovered an insect had decided to lay her eggs in the water discharge hose. Another $50 and I was back in business.

By this time, the fishing anywhere that I could reach with my 16-foot tin boat was hardly worth the effort. I did plan a couple of trips, but the weather and a stomach virus canceled those. The end result was my boat never saw the water during 2020.

I was able to go on a couple of successful fishing trips. The first was on the Katydid with the Monday Group as a guest of Mike Pizzolato. We had excellent flounder fishing ending up with a boat limit.

The good flounder fishing was a bit of a surprise. Flounder are supposed to be in a down cycle with several very poor reproductive years. There seemed to be good numbers of these fish around from the Back Bays and the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal to the Old Grounds. There were some big ones caught. I believe the largest in Delaware was 11 pounds, while a 13-pounder was caught in Ocean City.

Black sea bass provided great sport for those who could reach the reef sites off the Delaware coast. Boat limits were made on a regular basis right up until the season ended. Toward the end of the year, a few sea bass to five pounds were caught as boats had to run farther offshore to find fish above the 12.5-inch minimum size. Those deep wrecks are where the larger sea bass live. My two sons and I had a very successful trip Nov. 27 on the Angler out of Ocean City.

Trout, gray trout or weakfish, depending on where you live, made a bit of a comeback in 2020. Not to say they were anywhere near their abundance from the 1980s, but I had more fish over three pounds in my reports than I have seen in 20 years. All we can do is hope and wait.

My first love is surf or jetty fishing, and at least for me, both were very disappointing in 2020. I did catch a few shad from the inlet, but I caught nothing from the beach. In fairness, I only fished the surf a few times, as my reports indicated it just was not worth the effort. I mean, when the winner of a local surf tournament catches exactly three scoring fish, what chance does a poor old guy like me have?

Offshore fishing held up about as good as usual. Tuna and marlin were caught along with dolphin and tilefish. There was renewed interest in daytime swordfishing as more boats installed electric reels. I have nothing against electric reels if your only interest is putting meat in the box, but please, don’t tell me you caught a swordfish when it was the electric reel that did all the heavy lifting.

Although we are supposed to be in this great depression, the White Marlin Open had a record number of boats, and they bet over $6 million on the outcome. Someone must be doing well.

Another bit of good news from 2020 is that more people bought fishing licenses than they did in 2019. It seems fishing has become something folks can do with their families outdoors without fear of contracting the virus. Boat and fishing tackle sales were also up.

I have suffered through a few recessions before, and the recreational fishing industry is the first to feel the impact and the last to recover. That hasn’t happened this time, and I am not sure why.

I can only hope the vaccine works, and we can all get back to our regular lives and fishing in 2021.


  • 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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