Surf fishing: Be there or miss the bite

April 8, 2017

As most of you know, Lewes Harbour Marina ran a spring flounder tournament for many years. The contest drew hundreds of anglers, most in small boats, to fish the waters of the Lewes and Rehoboth Canal, Roosevelt Inlet and the lower reaches of the Broadkill River.

Joe and Amanda Morris owned Lewes Harbour Marina and they ran the tournament. Last year Joe died from pancreatic cancer, and this year the tournament will be named in his honor. The Joe Morris Memorial Canal Flounder Tournament will be held from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Friday, May 19. The entry fee is $40 per angler, of which $25 will go to pancreatic cancer research.

In order to fish in the tournament you must pay your registration fee at Lewes Harbour Marina prior to 7 a.m. May 19. Cash awards will be presented at the marina at 4 p.m. May 19.


Shark regulations

The National Marine Fisheries Service has concluded that dusky sharks are overfished and overfishing is still occurring. This conclusion is due to the dusky shark stock assessment conducted in 2016.

In an effort to prevent overfishing and rebuild the dusky shark stock, the following rules were approved April 4.

Non-stainless steel, non-offset circle hooks must be used by recreational fishermen targeting sharks. This rule applies to those who hold a Highly Migratory Species permit with a shark endorsement. The exception would be for recreational anglers using flies or artificial lures.

Effective Jan. 1, 2018, all HMS permit holders must obtain a shark endorsement that will include completion of an online shark identification and fishing regulation training course plus additional recreational fisheries outreach.

These regulations cover all U.S. waters south of 41 43 N latitude. This line begins just south of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. According to NMFS, this is the northernmost range of dusky sharks.

For the purpose of determining when a person is fishing for sharks, NMFS defines this as using natural bait while employing a wire or heavy leader (200-pound test or greater) monofilament or fluorocarbon leader.

If all of this is as confusing to you as it is to me, contact NMFS at You may also call Tobey Curtis at 978-281-9273.


Spring surf fishing

One of the first locations to see fishing activity in the spring is the beach. In years past, anglers have made impressive catches of trout, blues and rockfish from the sand, and not always from the high surf of the ocean beaches.

The shallow water along the shoreline of Broadkill Beach is one of the best locations for early-season action. Back in the day, big weakfish would be caught from here before boaters at more famous spots like the Coral Beds or Brown Shoal had the first nibble. Today it is rockfish and blues that show up with some consistency.

Once the water warms to at least 50 degrees, the first fish should arrive and begin feeding in the shallow water close to the beach. The presence of bunker is another factor that will bring the blues and rock in range of beach casters.

For the most part this is a bait fishery. The fresher the bunker, the better. Clams and bloodworms will also tempt blues and rockfish to bite. Sometimes clams that have long passed their sell-by date can work better than fresh. Known as “Jersey rotters,” these baits are only used by anglers with very strong stomachs.

As with all surf fishing situations, it is be there or miss the bite. Planning ahead using the best available data can help, but as a general rule, the fish pretty much show up where they want, and that is often where you are not. I will pick a location like Broadkill Beach, Herring Point or Three Rs Road, set up shop with a good supply of bait and hope for the best. A light northeast or southeast breeze will help, but so far this spring, the winds have been anything but light.

Rigs for this style of fishing are very simple. The common fish-finder will work on both blues and rock. I tie a circle hook to six or eight inches of 80-pound mono leader. The other end of the leader is tied to a black barrel swivel. The running line from the reel is tied to the barrel swivel after passing through the fish-finder sleeve. A sinker heavy enough to hold bottom is attached to the clip on the bottom of the sleeve. I have been using tongue sinkers for several years and find they out-hold any other style. If I can’t hold with an eight-ounce tongue sinker, it is too rough to fish.  

  • 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 Salt Water Sportsman, Field and Stream, Outdoor Life and the Fisherman Magazine.  He 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