Reminiscing on past Thanksgivings

November 29, 2019

Thanksgiving is a time for many of us to join with our families to give thanks for what we have and enjoy each other’s company. That’s the way it has always been in my family, and now that I am enjoying my golden years, these times with my sons and their families mean so much.

The outdoors have been a part of Thanksgiving for a very long time. When I was growing up on Wister Street in Claymont, I would be up early and grab my Winchester Model 12, then head out the door to chase rabbits in the fields between my back yard and the Delaware River.

That ended when I joined the Navy in 1961, and I spent the next four years eating Thanksgiving turkey off a metal tray. I’m not complaining. At least no one was shooting at me.

Back home, I fell in with a bad gang, led by my soon-to-be brother-in-law Bobby Woods and the Bonner brothers, Will and Tommy. We spent many hours, Thanksgiving mornings included, hunting everything from rabbits to deer and even started loading our own shells.

Then I was invited by Capt. Ben Betts to join the club that hunted geese at Jimmy Snow’s farm in Smyrna. Tommy Bonner was always one of six members in my goose pit and we were neighbors. At one point, we disassembled my son’s plywood fort to make more goose decoys. Darn kids still bring that up!

Every Thanksgiving morning, I would bundle both of my boys up and take them to the goose pit. They were too young to shoot, but they would watch and learn. As they got older, I gave them Remington 870 pump shotguns that they still have. Both have taken deer with those guns.

When we moved to Virginia Beach in 1989, I had to give up goose hunting on Thanksgiving. I was, however, able to take up fishing. 

In those days, bluefish ruled the Lower Chesapeake Bay and they would crush top-water plugs. I would take Ric and Rog on my 20-foot Bertram, and we would have a great time catching blues before coming home tired and cold to eat turkey.

This continued until the blues turned into rockfish and both boys went off to college. Roger worked on head boats while at Old Dominion, and at Thanksgiving, Ric would come home from Radford and we would go out with Rog to catch rockfish on bucktails. That was a blast!

That came to an end when Barbara and I moved back to Delaware in 2000. Roger moved to New Jersey, where he lives with his wife and my two grandchildren, Charlotte and CJ. Ric is still in Virginia Beach where my granddaughter Dasha is in her freshman year at Virginia Commonwealth University.

This year, I will be in Virginia Beach and hope to fish on Thanksgiving with Ric, but looking at the marine forecast, I may end up watching the Macy’s parade. Whatever happens, nothing can erase the many good memories of Thanksgivings past when we hunted and fished together.

The regulations may be a-changin’

It looks like there may be some bad news ahead for flounder fishermen. While not set in stone, one possible regulation floated by the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission would set a coast-wide season between May 15 and Sept. 15 with a two-fish bag limit and a slot limit between 17 and 20 inches. In other words, summer flounder would be closed in Delaware.

Chances are this would not happen in 2020, but could become law in 2021.

Should the harsh regulations on summer flounder become law, it will be devastating for small-boat fishermen like myself. Flounder are the only fish we can target for most of the year, unless we get a run of croaker or the weakfish return in quantity and quality. It is kind of difficult for me to run my 16-foot Starcraft out to the Del-Jersey-Land Reef for sea bass.

Flounder tournaments would be another casualty of these regulations. No more Flounder Pounder.

I am not sure how they would affect for-hire boats. Flounder fishing has been so poor out of Delaware the past few years that many charter boats targeted sea bass instead. I am certain some trips would be lost, but how many could be convinced to target another species, I don’t have any idea. I am sure private boaters would continue to go after flounder.

Right now, this is just one of several possible new summer flounder regulations. The final rule may be made sometime before spring, and I am sure there will be a public hearing or announcement to make the bad news official.


  • 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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