Cape Henlopen State Park

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A view of Fort Miles within Cape Henlopen State Park

Cape Henlopen State Park History

Cape Henlopen, Delaware has been a public use area since the colonial era. William Penn, founder and proprietor of Pennsylvania filed a decree that Cape Henlopen be set aside for the use and enjoyment of the citizens of the colony. At the time, the Delaware Colony was part of Pennsylvania and known as the “Lower Three Counties”. Penn’s decree established Cape Henlopen as one of the first publicly used parcels of land in America. 

Because it is located at the entrance of the Delaware Bay, Cape Henlopen was an important strategic location during the American Revolution. It’s importance continued through the War of 1812, Civil War, WWI, and WWII. The Cape Henlopen Lighthouse was the sixth lighthouse built on the eastern seaboard. Constructed from 1767-1769, the lighthouse was in operation until damaged in 1920 by a storm. Eventually the dunes gave way and the lighthouse collapsed. It is now buried under sand and surf.

Prior to World War II, the U.S. Army built Fort Miles at Cape Henlopen. Several bunkers, the “famous” concrete observation towers and the pier remain today. 

General Park Information

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A rare albino white tail deer in Cape Henlopen State Park

Cape Henlopen State Park has several areas to fish including a fishing pier, ocean access, and bay access. The fishing pier and beach areas are open 24 hours and year round. However, to access these areas one must enter the park during normal operating areas of 8:00 a.m. to sun down.

The park also houses camp grounds, a disc golf course, numerous walking trails, and designated hunting areas.

As with all Delaware state beaches, entrance is free during the off-season, but costs $4 for Delaware-tagged vehicles and $8 for out of state vehicles. The “season” runs from May 1st  to October 31st. Season passes may be purchased at a cost of $27 per in-state vehicle and $54 per out-of-state vehicle. These passes provide access to all state beaches and parks in Delaware. As with all of the Delaware state parks, if you possess a surf vehicle permit access to the park is free.

Herring Point

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A cargo ship exits Delaware Bay along the coast.

Herring Point is accessed by following Dune Road through the park. Prior to reaching the beach access areas one will find several air stations, pull off areas and a road side parking area. Remember that you MUST have a surf vehicle permit to drive on any of the park beaches in Delaware. Two beach access roads lead to the ocean side beach at Herring Point. The first is on the left right at the air station area. The second access is at the end of Dune Road. Just follow the road right on to the beach. Herring Point offers excellent fishing throughout the year. During the early spring months black drum and winter flounder can be taken with fair regularity as well as occasional striped bass. As the surf warms up through the spring and early summer months, the stripers begin to show up again as they begin their spring run north along the Atlantic Coast. Blue fish, summer flounder, dog fish, rays and numerous other species are regulars as well. Progressing through the summer months, anglers will see spot, croaker, king fish, mackerel, and the occasional rudder fish. Once again the cycle will pass and the fall will bring all of these species together in through October with blue fish becoming the primary catch followed by the fall striper run south. Winter can also be rewarding however the Atlantic surf can be unforgiving. Look for the moderate climate to stretch your days at least through December. Winter isn’t as long here in Sussex County, Delaware as say in Pennsylvania so your fishing days will once again return in March.

Cape Henlopen Point

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Cape Henlopen Point – East Breakwater Light on the “outer wall” and USCG Cutter

To reach the Cape Henlopen Point follow Post Lane through the park to Queens Road and then to Post Road. The beach access road is on the right hand side of Post Road just past the air stations. If you miss the access road you will drive to the parking area that offers a vista of the City of Lewes, Harbor of Refuge, Delaware Bay and Atlantic Ocean and the two lighthouses that guard the harbor and point. This is a worth while spot to stop and take it all in. The Cape Henlopen Ship Reporting Station is also located here. Built from a converted WWII fire control tower, the station monitors inbound and outbound shipping traffic for the Delaware Bay. We highly recommend this spot for photo opportunities, although no photograph could compare to the natural beauty of the Cape. 

Once you reach the beach a vast area of fishing awaits. You can choose to fish the Atlantic side of the Cape, the Point or the “back of the point” in the harbor itself. Keep in mind that each of these areas are fished in different ways. The ocean side often demands the angler’s full attention as the surf is most often turbulent near the Point. The waters just off shore are deep due to the Dealware Bay’s exit and serves at the main shipping channel to the upper Delaware Bay. Follow the beach north for approximately one mile and you will be located directly on the Cape Point. This area offers an excellent transition area where larger fish are able to follow the tides into and out of the harbor in search of bait fish. Turn west 100 yards and the calmer waters of the harbor hold bait fish of all sizes. The bottom in this area varies from light structure, to troughs and flat sand and thus offers a habitat for nearly any game fish to stalk its prey. The far west side of the Point is the “back of the point” and offers the calm tidal habitat similar to Delaware’s inland bays. Although the tide can empty out and leave only inches of water in this area, the fishing during certain times of the year can be rewarding. At we highly recommend experiencing all that Cape Henlopen Point offers.

Cape Henlopen Fishing Pier

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The quarter-mile long fishing pier at Cape Henlopen State Park, Delware

For those anglers who like to fish from piers, Cape Henlopen Fishing Pier is a dream. At a quarter mile long and 24 hour access the fishing opportunities are many. The Park Service offers transportation to visitors with disabilities on to the pier from April 1st through October 31st so everyone can enjoy all that the pier has to offer. Fishing, crabbing, photography, dolphin watching, and bird watching are all popular. At the pier almost every game fish in Delaware’s tidal waters can be found. From summer flounder to blue fish, striped bass and the stealthy speckled sea trout. The pier is a popular spot to fish for croaker and spot can be taken on small hooks or sibiki rigs. During the warmer months rays of all manner can be spotted and if you’ve never witnessed a flounder swimming at the surface, this is the place to see it. You may see the majestic osprey circling also. The ospreys target the inner harbor in search of their meals. It is an amazing sight to see an osprey dive into the water and fly away with a flounder in its talons. 

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Delaware Breakwater Light – also known as Lewes Light.

During the warmer months the pier area is home to flounder that migrate into the area to spawn then feed through the fall. As the water at the pier is shallow and warm in comparison to the outer breakwater,  this area is teeming with life. From glass shrimp and clams to all varieties of bait fish and crabs the pier serves as a veritable aquarium. However, do not be fooled by the tranquility you will experience. It can be harsh on the pier as well. The hot summer sun can take its toll on anglers. We recommend packing a chair, cooler with drinks, and plenty of sun screen. Remember that you will be surrounded by water as if you were on a boat. As the season cools sun burn isn’t the only extreme. The winds can become fierce and sudden fast moving rain storms can appear. Pack your foul weather gear and dress in layers. Regardless of what species you are fishing for, live bait tops the list at the pier. Minnows will almost certainly reward anglers with flounder while mullet will attract blue fish. Croaker can be taken on squid strips, blood worms, and other small natural baits. But watch while using chunked bait as this can attract the large rays. So be prepared to hear your line sing should you catch one. 

Final Thoughts

Cape Henlopen State Park (CHSP) is a gem among the treasures that are Delware’s State Parks. CHSP offers more than any one person could experience in a day. Keep in mind of all the activities that are available; fishing (of course), hiking, historical discoveries, biking, hunting, camping, bird watching, or just relaxing. Your time spent here will be worth the trip. And while you are away, Cape Henlopen will be calling you back.

Fish On!!!

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