Surf Fishing: Why Everyone’s Hooked

When walking the beaches of Delaware as a shoreline pedestrian, you inevitably come upon fishing poles and invisible lines you must look for so not to get entangled.

Which brings up a curious subject: what exactly are they fishing for, and what is the allure of surf fishing when it seems so unsuccessful?

Here is how the conversation usually goes.

“Hey, how’s it going?”


(It’s funny how when people are fishing, it’s always good. Must be how the adage started: A bad day fishing is better than a day at work.)

“Any luck?”

(Also funny how the results get tied to luck?)

Almost always, you’ll get one of the following answers: “No.” “I cut my catch into bait.” “Caught a this-or-that fish and I threw it back.” (often a sand shark or something that is inedible.)

Seems like there’s a whole lot of fishing going on and not a whole lot of catching. So, we decided to ask folks why they fish if they almost never catch anything and find someone who really does catch fish fairly consistently to find out what the secret is. Our hunch is that the question shouldn’t be “Any luck?” but “Given your skill did you catch anything?”

All of those people who are required to have a pole in the water at all times, whether they are actively fishing or not, do not typically go home with dinner. They actually catch a lot of horseshoe crabs (poor things) and baby sharks, well documented by selfies every day on the beach, before they are released as required back into the water. There is no secret to good surf fishing, although some avid fishermen swear by early morning or late evening hours for success.

But that is not the point of surf fishing. Getting your family or friends onto the beach, without lugging all of the heavy beach gear from the sweltering parking lot is really the point, like a tailgating party for you sports fans – all day at the beach, plus all the fun with all your stuff easily accessible! Technically, those people with their surf fishing licenses have to be fishing at all times, and must also have a fishing license – hence the lines in the water.

There are people who take the surf fishing sport quite seriously. Then there are those with the more popular “casual fishing” approach (pole in the water), as required. Either way, it is a unique and quite-Delawarean tradition. (PS: If you are walking in those areas, just be careful you don’t get hooked!)

If you’re wanting to get started the Rehoboth Beach / Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce has this great info to share:

“Surf fishing is popular in the Rehoboth area and there are many places to cast your line. The most popular spots are Tower Road, 3R’s Road, the area just north of Indian River Inlet, Cape Henlopen Point, Haven Road and the Navy Jetty area within Cape Henlopen State Park. In May, surf fishermen can usually count on sea trout or weakfish in the Broadkill Beach, Beach Plum Island, Roosevelt Inlet and Lewes Beach areas. Another source for fishing or surf fishing is Old Inlet Bait and Tackle Shop. Click here for information.

If you have a 4-wheel drive vehicle, you may drive on the beach in designated surf fishing areas with a Surf Fishing Permit. This permit is issued at most DE State Parks & some fishing/outdoor supply stores for the sole purpose of surf fishing. You also need a license for saltwater fishingThe Surf Fishing Vehicle fee is $90 for Delaware resident and $180 for non-resident. Delaware resident 62 and over, $80, non-resident, $160.  The permit attaches to your car like a license plate and allows beach vehicle access at Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes, Delaware Seashore State Park south of Dewey Beach & at Fenwick Island State Park south of Bethany Beach. Surf fishing vehicle permits are issued for the calendar year. Visit the Division of Parks & Recreation’s Web site for additional rules & regulations.”

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