Surf-fishing has long history in Delaware

August 28, 2021

There has been a lot of discussion about beach access on social media and even on the local TV news, with those who are new to our area as well as a few old-timers complaining about too many people on the beach during the summer weekends. I think they need to sit back and realize that the beach in Delaware State Parks is open to everyone, and those areas accessible to surf-fishing vehicles with the proper permits are going to be crowded on summer weekends.

I started driving on in 1973 when I bought my first four-wheel drive vehicle, a 1971 International Scout. There was a small group of us who would go up to Three Rs Road on the weekends and fish while our kids played in the sand and surf. If we wanted to fish seriously, we would get up on the beach by ourselves around daybreak and fish for a couple of hours. Then we’d go back to our camper at Bay Shore, have breakfast, load the family in the Scout and head back to Three Rs. There we would spend the rest of the day fishing, swimming, playing and enjoying the beach. We were not the only ones doing this. Many fellow members of Delaware Mobile Surf-Fishermen did exactly the same thing.

Today, the population of Sussex County has exploded from what it was in the 1970s and ’80s. There are also many more makes of vehicles that can handle the sand than there were back then. This has led to the overcrowding we have on the beach during summer weekends.

I don’t see any chance that the number of surf-fishing permits is going to decline in the near future. The state issued 17,000 permits and sold out early in 2021. Then they issued 1,000 more, and those sold out in a few hours. Finally, they put out a pilot program selling permits that are only good during weekdays in the summer.

The park rangers have been running checks to make sure that everyone who has a surf-fishing permit is actively engaged in surf fishing while on the beach. As easy as that is to comply with, they have issued several citations and have even thrown a few people off the beach.

My biggest worry is the number of people, especially kids, swimming in the ocean without lifeguards. The undertow and rip currents can suck out a grown man, let alone a little kid, but so far, we have been lucky.

If you are a dyed-in-the-wool serious surf fisherman, get up on the beach before daybreak, fish until 10 a.m., then come back around 6 p.m. and fish until dark. You won’t encounter any crowds, you will have the best chance of catching a fish, and you will be fishing during the coolest part of the summer day.

Fishing report

The passing of the tropical storm off our coast did nothing to improve the fishing. The fact that it coincided with the full moon means it pushed the tides up into the marsh, bringing plenty of grass into the bay and ocean.

The Delaware Bay reef sites continue to produce croaker, kings and spot. Bloodworms, Fishbites, Gulp! and clams all work on these small fish. Flounder are also on the reef sites and will take minnows, Gulp! or strips of squid. Triggerfish and sheepshead have been caught at the Inner and Outer walls and the Ice Breakers on sand fleas. A few keeper tog and lots of oyster crackers are in the same locations.

The reef sites in the ocean hold flounder, croaker, and sea bass, and the Del-Jersey-Land has dolphin. Flounder are found around B and A buoys and the Old Grounds. You may catch 10 shorts for every keeper. Gulp!, minnows and squid strips have been the best baits.

Fishing from shore along bay or ocean beaches, or at Indian River Inlet is slow at best. Spot, croaker and kings are in the surf, while a few sheepshead and tog have been caught from the rocks at the inlet.

I must mention the exceptional blue marlin catches made out of Ocean City, Md., during the Mid-Atlantic tournament. First, the Wolverine out of Beaufort, N.C., brought in a 958-pound blue and everyone thought they had that category locked up. Then on Friday, the Billfisher out of Ocean City, Md., brought to the dock a giant 1,135-pound blue that not only won the tournament, but also set a new Maryland state record. To catch two blue marlin in the 1,000-pound class in less than one week off the Maryland coast is something that has never been done before and may never happen again.


  • 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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