Comedian Steven Wright once observed that there is a fine line between fishing and standing on a riverbank like an idiot. For many Delawareans and out-of-towners at the Delaware coast, that fine line may extend to the beach, headboat and charter craft. When it comes to saltwater fishing, however, there are not only a lot of choices, there is definitely a lot more required in technique, balance, strength and, definitely, equipment.
Maybe the best way for first-timers to experience fishing on open water is to simply buy a headboat ticket. A headboat is really just a juiced-up party barge that can carry 60 fishermen and more. Captain Ted Moulinier of Anglers Fishing Center (www.anglersfishingcenter.com) in Lewes says there are many advantages associated with headboating, especially for newcomers to the sport of fishing.
“You don’t need a reservation, you don’t need a license, and you don’t need any equipment of your own,” Moulinier says. “Our headboat capacity is 77 and you simply show up prior to sailing and buy a ticket.”
Rates are just north of $50 for an adult ticket, around $35 for children. Headboats cling closer to shore than charters and wander in Delaware Bay as well, though some headboat trips will go as far as 12 miles out into the ocean. Equipment and bait will run another $5. Striped bass, tautog, sea bass and flounder are the catches of the day for most headboat expeditions.
“We also offer a three-hour shark fishing expedition that’s especially geared for young children,” Moulinier says. “We get them as young as two, and they get hooked for life.”
For the more athletic and adventurous, there is the charter boat. Two years ago, Charlie Helmer closed his restaurants to follow his dream of running charters. He operates the Tranquila Sport Fishing (www.tranquilasportfishing.com) deep-sea charter out of Lewes.
Charters are private boats and crews hired by small parties. Itineraries are flexible, based on the group’s desires.
“I have a 53-foot Ricky Scarborough Sport Fisherman model with a 10-cylinder, 820-horsepower engine that can cruise at up to 34 knots,” Helmer will tell you modestly.
What that means is that Helmer can get you where the big fish are and get you there fast.
“It’s built to handle the rougher weather, too,” Helmer says. That’s good to know. Weather at sea can change dramatically. What you experience dockside may not be the same weather you’ll have on the ocean.
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“Depending on just how rough it might be out there, I’ll either cancel at the dock, or at least advise what the conditions are likely to be and let the clients decide,” Helmer says.
His boat has all the comforts of home, too, including a television, stereo and air conditioning.
Helmer generally takes up to six fishermen per trip. He runs from May to October for offshore fishing and through December inshore.
“For white marlin, yellowfin tuna, dolphin and sharks, we’ll generally head out for what’s known as Baltimore Canyon,” Helmer says. That amounts to about four hours of travel round trip, and about eight hours of fishing.
The time seems to be worth it. Helmer’s groups have caught white marlin weighing in at 100 pounds. In early and mid-summer, Helmer says bluefin tuna will tip the scales at about 150 pounds.
If you’re just starting out and a 150-pound fish may be a little more than you care to bite off, Helmer does run inshore, family-oriented trips for rockfish and flounder in Delaware Bay.
As for limits, all bill fish (marlin, etc.) are catch-and-release, though you can usually keep up to three yellowfin per fisherman. Inshore limits are also restricted, with up to two striped bass of at least 28 inches and up to four flounder of at least 19.5 inches per angler.
Helmer’s rates range from $900 for an inshore trip to $2,000 for an offshore day trip to $3,000 overnight. Helmer likes the overnights, and not just for the money.
“There are more fish, including sharks,” he says. “I’m equipped with special night lights that allow you to see the fish in the water as they come for the bait.”
Finally, if you’re the type to get queasy from merely looking at a painting of the ocean, you can still pull lip with some thrill and excitement from the shore.
“For about $60, you can get a decent rod, reel and frozen mullet, and you’re all set,” says Captain Bill Baker, owner of Bill’s Sport Shop in Lewes. As you progress, however, you may find yourself spending a bit more, which will result in greater success.
“More expensive rods provide a lighter tip for better feel and sensitivity for the bite,” Baker says. “You can hold a lighter rig for a longer time, and you get a better fight as well.” Such a rig may run you up to $250.
More knowledge goes into shoreline fishing, increasing your sense of the hunt. “You need to know how to read the waves and know the tide charts,” Baker says. “Fish bite better one hour before the tide changes. And incoming tides bring the bait fish, which attract the game fish.”
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You may still need to deal with significantly large fish. For instance, striped bass, or rockfish, are among the most popular catches in and around Indian River Inlet. The state record for striped bass is 51 pounds, 8 ounces. Compare that to the 10-pound, 5-ounce record for the freshwater largemouth bass and you begin to get the picture of the kind of strength you may need to land some of these beasts.
The best shoreline fish, in addition to stripers, include flounder, bluefish and sea trout. Indian River Inlet offers saltwater opportunities not always available to saltwater fishermen, especially in terms of access. You can fish right from the shore and still get a cast of 150 yards out, where the fish will be bigger and more sporting to land.
There is technique involved in good casting. Baker recommends “loading up” for the cast by laying the bait and the tip of the rod on the sand, to avoid whipping. Braided line casts better and farther than monofilament.
The right bait is as varied as fish in the sea. Typical baits include bloodworm, frozen mullet and fresh bunker. With these baits you can cast and then set the pole in a harness or holster and wait for the bite. Artificial baits are good, but require the angler to constantly cast and retrieve, which can cause fatigue.
The Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife publishes a detailed fishing report, including all freshwater and saltwater regulations, license requirements and restrictions. To get one, visit www.dnrec.state.de.us/fw/fishing.htm. And good luck.
Getting a little tired of Big Al always chirping about the big one that got away?
His tales may not be as tall as you think. Check out some of these state records for saltwater species.
White marlin 120 pounds, Baltimore Canyon, 1972
Blue marlin 820 pounds, Poorman’s Canyon, 1986
Mako shark 975 pounds, Poorman’s Canyon, 1981
Tuna 322 pounds, Baltimore Canyon, 1992
Flounder 17 pounds, 15 ounces, Indian River Inlet, 1974
Striped bass 51 pounds, 8 ounces, Indian River Inlet, 1978