Remembering Paul Coffin

January 30, 2021

On Monday, Jan. 15, my brother-in-law Paul Coffin passed away. He had suffered with Parkinson’s for several years, but it was COVID-19 that did him in.

Back in the early 1970s, Paul, along with Frank Goodheart, John Nedelka and Lark Benelli, began fishing offshore in small boats. Paul had a 22-Mako, Frank had a 25-Chris Craft, John had a 22-Starcraft and Lark had a 21-Grady White. They all had extra fuel tanks mounted in different locations. Paul put his where the cooler in front of the console would have been. Lark had his under the helm seats.

We all started out fishing for big blues at B Buoy, then it was bluefin tuna at the Lightship. Finally, we began to run to the canyons looking for yellowfin and billfish. None of us knew anything about offshore fishing, and as we went along, we learned from experience. The first outrigger bases on Paul’s boat were expensive, but snapped off in the first year. He purchased a set that was cheaper, but a lot heavier. They were still on the boat when he sold it.

He bought a radio direction finder, but it was mounted so low it picked up the signal from the Lightship about 10 minutes after we saw it. We listened to Phillies games while trolling for marlin and tuna.

There was no GPS or even LORAN back then. The depth sounder was a circular flasher that stopped at 60 fathoms. We ran out and back by compass headings.

The highlight of Paul’s offshore fishing was bringing in the first white marlin in 1975. Lark and I were on the Little Boat as Paul called his Mako. We were a little late leaving South Shore Marina because of a questionable weather forecast, but once underway we headed for the Baltimore Canyon with the Bluefin, a 31 Bertram and the EYE, another 22 Mako just ahead.

When we got to the 30-Fathom Line, there were slicks and birds and whales everywhere. We called the EYE and asked why he didn’t stop there? He said he was there the day before and was covered up with bluefish.

We figured, what the heck, let’s put out a spread and give it a try. Within 15 minutes Paul was hooked up and shortly thereafter had the first white marlin of the year in the boat. We continued to work that area. Hooked a big mystery fish that snatched Lark out of his chair, then we headed to the Lightship, where we deck-loaded the boat with bluefin tuna.

Back at South Shore Marina, Barbara Porter and several of the captains like Bud Hurlock, Charlie Stapleford, Ben Betts and Bill Massey were gathered at the dock to greet Paul and his fish. It was a great day.

Paul went on the fish the local freshwater bass circuit and had great success there as well. He knew the Nanticoke River, Broad Creek and the other local waters as well as anyone.

As the Parkinson’s did its damage, he had to give up most of his fishing, but he still made casts from shore below his apartment along the Nanticoke in Seaford.

Of course, fishing was not Paul’s only talent. He was beyond a doubt one of the greatest salesmen the world has ever known. He, I do believe, could sell water to a drowning man.

Throughout his career he sold insurance, cleaning chemicals, office machines, camper trailers and a few other things on the side. No matter who he worked for, he was their leading salesman.

At one time, I worked for Lowe Brothers Plastering Company. My boss was my sister-in-law Joyce Woods. She and Paul were having a bit of a spat over some trivial matter, and at the time Paul was selling Pitney-Bowels machines. Joy swore she would never have one in her office.

Late on a Friday afternoon, Paul shows up with a Pitney-Bowels postage machine and goes into Joy’s office. He tells her if he can just put the machine in for a week, he can win a trip to Bermuda for his wife, Joy’s sister. He promises he’ll come back next week and take it out. Joy signs the contract and that machine was still in there when I left the company. I can’t recall if Paul and his wife Cheryl ever did go to Bermuda.

Paul was also a fireman with Talleyville in New Castle County. He was captain of the Ambulance Crew. He truly was one of those people who was running in when the rest of us were running out. When Gaylords in Wilmington burned down, Paul braved the flames to save as much fishing tackle as he could carry.

I will miss him.


  • 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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