Some tips for surf fishing

June 5, 2020

With the weather and the water temperature finally warming up, surf fishing should begin to improve. It has already shown signs of life with excellent numbers of black drum caught at Broadkill Beach and a pick of blues, kings and small trout along the ocean beaches.

Since Gov. John Carney has lifted the 14-day quarantine for out-of-state visitors, I feel certain the beaches will start to get crowded and not every one who has a surf-fishing permit is actually interested in surf fishing. I have no problem with this. If someone is willing to pay for a surf-fishing permit just to sit on the beach and read a book or watch their kids play in the sand, more power to them. That money makes beach access a valuable commodity to the state and therefore they are unlikely to ban drive-on surf fishing. I do ask those non-surf fishermen to please invest in a reasonable surf rod and reel, and use a large enough sinker to keep their token rig from drifting down the beach and getting tangled with mine.

Now, for those who might actually enjoy catching a fish from the beach, a few tips. First, the vast majority of fish that swim close enough to shore during the summer for us to reach from the beach will be small. Big blues, rockfish and black drum come by in the spring or fall, so using a rig with a wire leader and a 10/0 hook baited with half a bunker is only going to make you very popular with the local crab population. Instead, try using a top-bottom rig with a #1 or #2 hook or even a Chestertown hook baited with a bloodworm, piece of clam, a sand flea or FishBites. Last year, I used FishBites bloodworm and clam exclusively, and caught everything from trout to pompano.

The next radical idea I have for you is instead of casting out and then putting your rod in a sand spike, try holding it and slowly cranking the rig back to shore. This requires using a bank sinker instead of a surf sinker such as a Hatteras or pyramid. I will cast out as far as I can, which seems to be less and less every year. Then I will take a few cranks on the reel and let the rig sit for a few seconds before making a few more cranks. This not only keeps the bait away from the various critters that would love to steal it, but also the movement across the bottom stirs up sand and attracts the fish that I would like to catch. I will keep this up until the rig is almost at my feet.

Surf-fishing is always better early and late in the day. Fish come to shallow water under low-light conditions because that’s when they feel safe. During the summer, the non-surf fishermen don’t come to the beach much before 10 a.m. and they are usually gone by 5 p.m. Kinda works out for all of us.

If you are a dyed-in-the-wool fan of artificial lures, you can work a bucktail across the bottom and perhaps find a flounder or two. Casting a Kastmaster or Hopkins metal lure might produce a bluefish. In truth, either technique is likely to produce more exercise than fish.

We are blessed to live here with so much open beach where we can fish. Even if you don’t have a surf-fishing vehicle, you can walk on in many locations. It is a sport I have enjoyed for more than 60 years and hope to enjoy for at least a few more.

Surf-fishing permit update

Sales of surf-fishing permits have reached 15,500 this year, and with a cap of 17,000, the Division of Fish and Wildlife has made some changes as to where you may purchase new permits. Only the following state park offices will be selling surf-fishing permits until the 17,000 limit is reached: Bellevue State Park, Cape Henlopen Sate Park, the Indian River Life Saving Station, and Killens Pond State Park. No online sales.

Fishing report

Fishing has been pretty good. Flounder and some small trout have been caught out of the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal on minnows, squid, Gulp! and shiners. The fishing pier at Cape Henlopen State Park recorded the first spot of the year along with a few bluefish and flounder. 

Indian River Inlet has seen blues and a few hickory shad caught during incoming water. Bucktails and metal lures for the blues, and shad darts or small metal spoons for the shad. Flounder have been caught out of Rehoboth Bay, with the VFW Slough mentioned in some reports. Try minnows and squid or Gulp! here. Massey’s Ditch has seen some small rockfish caught on bucktails.


  • 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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