Time-Honored Delaware Tradition

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? Must be how the adage started: A bad day fishing is better than a day at work.  

Seems like there’s a whole lot of fishing going on and not a whole lot of catching. Lots of theories abound, including using the wrong bait or even a reduction in available fish so close to the beaches. 

Regardless, surf fishing in Delaware is a generations-old tradition that will likely continue for many more generations. Part of the lure to our beautiful beaches is that Delaware remains one of the few states to designate certain drive-on beaches for surf fishing. If you can get a license, that is. 

Unlike a standard Delaware fishing license which allows crabbing and fishing in Delaware waters, a surf permit is increasingly difficult to come by due to the burgeoning popularity of the sport. In 2022, for example, all 17,000 licenses were sold out within a couple hours during the recent online and in person at state parks lottery – a new system implemented this year. 

That did not sit well with a number of people who have been surf fishing for years, but the state stresses the importance of protecting sensitive areas of the coast for the benefit of wildlife and beach erosion issues. However, a new pilot program for off-peak surf fishing was started in which the licensee can only fish during weekdays and non-holiday weekdays (should the holiday fall between M-F). So far, no limitation on these off-peak licenses has been established. 

This seems like a reasonable approach, say some who avoid the weekend beach crowds anyway. Surf fishing 7 days a week IS allowed between the Tuesday after Labor Day through the Thursday before Memorial Day. An additional bonus of off-peak licenses saves the angler a little bait money! 

Surf fishing licenses are priced as follows, and are valid from January 1 through December 31. One and two year permits are available, and also allow the holder to enter any of Delaware’s state parks without paying the daily admissions fee (another reason the permits are so coveted, especially if you use the parks frequently – not just the beaches!). 

1-year permit: 

  • $90 for DE resident 
  • $80 for DE Senior resident 
  • $160 for out-of-state Senior 
  • $180 for out-of-state resident, non-senior 
  • $ 0 DE Firefighter/EMT 

2-year permit: 

  • $180 for DE resident 
  • $360 for out-of-state resident 
  • $160 for DE Senior 
  • $320 for out-of-state Senior 

Off Peak permit: 

  • $70 for DE resident 
  • $140 for out-of-state resident 
  • $60 for DE Senior (62+) 
  • $130 for out-of-state Senior (62+) 

There are plenty of rules to abide by, and things to learn about driving in the sand, if you’ve never tried (the state parks offer classes on this before the summer season begins). Only certain beaches allow surf fishing. The holder of the permit must be actively fishing, even though the rod can be mounted in the sand. Pets are allowed, but on leashes only. 

The secret seems to be, whether you catch anything or not, the point is enjoying the beach. Entire families can accompany the fisherman for a day on the beach, complete with elaborate cookouts, creative and patriotic flags flying in the sea breeze, and sophisticated tents to stay out of the sun. 

Next time you see a lone surf angler or an army of them on the weekend, remember that it’s a unique Delaware tradition and quite a sight to behold. 

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