Thanksgiving hunting and fishing traditions

November 21, 2020

Over the years, we have had different holiday traditions for Thanksgiving morning including hunting and fishing.

When I was growing up in Claymont, I could walk to the end of my backyard on Wistar Street, cross the dirt road and start rabbit hunting. Today, I would have to cross I-495.

I still hunted the same locations when I got out of the Navy in 1965, but moved to the Snow Farm in Smyrna when I was invited there by Capt. Ben Betts, and the next year, I was offered my own pit.

That tradition continued until 1989 when we moved to Virginia Beach. The fishing was so good at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel that blues and rockfish replaced Canada geese on Thanksgiving morning.

Some of the most memorable trips occurred after my son Roger went to work on the head boats out of Lynnhaven Inlet. It seemed there was a core group of anglers who fished on Thanksgiving morning. One gentleman was so crippled by arthritis that he had to use a wheelchair to get around. He would drive up to the parking lot, work his way around the car to the trunk and remove his chair, load his fishing stuff and his lunch, then get in and make his way to the boat. Once there, the mates and younger passengers would pick him up and lift him onboard along with his chair.

Another regular was a nurse who was just a tad on the heavy side. One morning, the tide was way out and the captain asked everyone to go to the bow so the props would be clear of the bottom. When we were back in the cabin, the gentleman in the wheelchair made a comment that once the nurse was on the bow, the props were clear. She replied that if he wasn’t already in a wheelchair, she’d put him in one.

That tradition continued until 2000 when we moved back to Delaware. By then, the Canada geese were gone, and with one son in Virginia Beach and the other in New Jersey, getting together for Thanksgiving has not been easy. I still try to go fishing on the beach or at the Indian River Inlet, and this year, I reserved three spots on the Angler out of Ocean City for the Friday after Thanksgiving for the boys and me. However, with the virus spiking, that may not happen.

If we don’t get to fish or hunt this year, I still have many fond memories of the fishing and hunting trips that we have done, and those will have to last until we get back out in 2021.

Good news ... maybe

NOAA has announced the proposed 2021 summer flounder, scup and black sea bass specifications. They are proposing increases to the previously approved 2021 catch limits based on the new risk policy that defines the acceptable risk of overfishing while providing more opportunities for fishermen.

At first glance, you might think we are going to get more fish out of this. That would be naive.

There will be a joint meeting of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Management Commission and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council Monday, Dec. 14, where the final state limits will be decided.

If we overfished black sea bass in 2020 but the new catch limits cover the overfishing, we just might get lucky and remain with the same size and bag limits in 2021. Perhaps we underfished summer flounder. Then we could see a slight improvement in those regulations. All of this is just wishful thinking on my part. Nothing will happen until the meeting Dec. 14.

Fishing report

It looks like there will be a break in the wind this weekend, so anglers should be able to get out on the open waters of the bay and ocean. The surf should also be moderate, but going by my most recent reports, there is nothing there to get excited about. The only draw to the beach would be the honor of catching the first big rockfish of the fall.

Before the last big blow, black sea bass were thick at the Del-Jersey-Land Reef. Most of these fish were small, but it was steady drop-and-crank fishing and enough keepers to make the journey worthwhile.

Tog fishing remains good at the Outer Wall. Just like all fishing, some days are better than others. Green crabs and sand fleas are the best baits. Those who have good numbers for snags in the ocean and bay caught tog as well, with a generally better class of fish.

The tog fishing at Indian River Inlet continues to produce small fish with the occasional keeper. I had one report of a 45-inch rockfish caught at the inlet Tuesday morning.


  • 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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