Shark Fishing in Delaware From The Surf

mullet, cob mullet, cast netting, rehoboth bay
Cast netting mullet in Rehoboth bay

It has been a slow week for fishing.  The charter boats are doing okay in the Delaware bay, the surf is hot for an hour or two, and then shuts down mostly at the top of the outgoing tide, and the back bays have been full of croaker.  In fact it seems the one fish no one has any problem catching this year are croaker, they are all over the place, big ones.  Spot are much bigger this year as well, which makes one wonder what the fall fishing will bring to our shores.  Big bait means big fish.  Flounder fishing has been great at the Indian River Inlet, and out front at places like site 10 and the Old Grounds.  The back bays are seeing some flounder, mostly short ones, and not as frequent as the hot spots.  They have been moving out to the ocean.  A few keeper striped bass and shorties are being hit at the Indian River Inlet, mostly on flies.  A few have been caught on bucktails and swim shads.  Slot fishing for striped bass has been decent in the Delaware Bay and tributaries, as well as shorties.  A few bluefish were pulled from the surf this weekend, but for the most part bluefish have been scarce this year.  Trout or weakfish are still popping up and they have made a nice come back these past two years.  Many of us would like to see them in numbers and sizes from the late eighties.  A few old salts I have spoken with say the last time they caught any good trout was 1986.  There is a petition going around to shut down the creel limit on weakfish for three years.  I personally think this is a good idea, it also includes reducing or doing away with residential gill netting.  I know a few will not like that idea, but in long term thinking it just makes sense.  The more we work on conservation now, the better things will be in the future.


bluefish, dewey beach, surf fishing in delaware, dsf
Scott baker with a Bluefish caught on Dewey beach, photo by Angel Contreras

The only big news I have to share with you is the mullet are running.  When Scott and the boys fished with Delaware Family Fishing the other night and picked up two Mahi and two skip jacks, they saw tons of mullet schools near the point in Cape Henlopen on the way back.  I have some friends that are cast netting mullet in many areas of the back bays and sloughs.  The sizes are decent and up to cob size.  It seems everything is bigger ths year in the bait fish categories.  The croaker are huge, spot are ginormous, and we have cob mullet already.  I have yet to see any pompano, or lizard fish.  The waters have just not warmed up enough near shore.  The westerly winds keep pushing the warm water out making way for deeper cooler water.  The surf has been averaging 73 degrees, last year at this time it was 80 degrees.  This is when DSF was fishing for sand tiger sharks to tag them for DSU.  That was an interesting time and I look forward to fishing again for the school very soon.  I have been working on getting some better information to the anglers about shark fishing in Delaware and the rules that need to be followed.  We all have our own ways of interpreting the guide book, or anything for that matter, and the information put in there is vague, but it is hard to get all the information in the book.  There are more detailed rules for handling sharks online at the DNREC website.  I took it upon myself to speak with some of the boys from enforcement the other day.  I wanted to get some clarifications for rules, especially concerning the surf.  Many people send me shark pictures each week, and honestly ninety nine percent of them are illegal catches.  I will explain why in this interview with DNREC Fish and Wildlife enforcement.

dogfish, smooth dogfish, dsf, delaware surf fishing, bethany beach, night surf fishing
Smooth dogfish caught in the surf

I met Sergeant Troy Trimmer and Sergeant Greg Rhoades the other day for an interview about clarifying the rules for shark fishing and possession.  There are a few in the guide book, but again how the angler interprets these are up to them.  The officers know this, and told me they can not put all of the rules in the book.  The guidelines per Delaware State law are online at and after reading them they would definitely not fit in the book, and would take a few paragraphs to explain.  Though the laws are more detailed on the State of Delaware’s site, there are a few that need to be clarified for the surf or shore angler.  I asked the officers to help out so there is no more confusion.  I would like to thank the officers for meeting me and taking a day away from their normal routine.  These boys spend a lot of time on the go trying to enforce the state’s laws.  They have a tough job, and I learned just how tough as the interview progressed.  The word proactive came up a few times, let’s face it they deal with people who have knives and/or guns all day, it was a good point.
 The guide book states that the shark is to be immediately released, what is the definition of immediately released?  “As soon as the shark is identified, it is to be immediately released if it is a prohibited species, if you do not know then immediately let it go”.  

What is meant by maximum probability of survival?  “sharks that are beached might have a 50/50 chance of surviving.  This rule was put into use a few years ago when many sharks were washing up onto the beaches in Ocean City, MD.  We found that the ones that were being caught in the surf in Delaware and beached, were dying.  The weight of the animal crushes its internal organs and the shark may swim away only to die later from injuries sustained due to the beaching process, and then wash up on public beaches.  Once the rule was in effect and enforced the sharks stopped washing up on the beaches”.
I know that beaching a shark is prohibited  by the rules concerning prohibited species, due to the fact that would be removing the animal from the water.  Where do you consider the water to end, and the beach to begin?
 (boaters are not to remove the shark from the water either).  “The whitewater in the surf is the closest to shore you can bring in the shark, the definition of land comes into play here”
Where exactly is that?  The wash, as I have always called it, is where the sand is exposed between waves is that considered the white water?  No, the whitewater is in just that, the whitewater where the waves flatten out behind the first wave.  this way the shark is still in the water at all times.  Remember as the animal must be identified first it is not to be removed from the water in case it is a prohibited species”.   

Is it illegal to fish for or target prohibited species?   “No”

I have heard of some people being fined for pictures with prohibited species out of water, is this a fine-able offense?  ” Yes it is considered possession of a prohibited species in Delaware“.

Related Articles
1 of 1,118

What are the fines involved if one does ?  “The fines can be from $76.50 to $700 including court costs.  The actual fine itself is $25″.  That seems rather cheap considering the fines for other offenses in Delaware.  “Yes, that is something we would like to see raised so it is more of a deterrent”.  Let me know if we can help in anyway to get this raised that seems awfully cheap to protect a natural resource.    


tilefish, deep sea fishing in Delaware, DSF, delaware surf fishing, delaware fisher woman, delaware fishermen, striper king gear
Chris Ragni and little Mikey with a nice big blue line tilefish

This information is what I really wanted to know, and I thanked the officers for taking the time to clarify some of these regulations.  I tell people all of the time, that they are sending me pictures that are illegal.  I hope this backs up those statements.  I did  ask the boys what information they would like to put out there for the angler.  Aside from this clarification of the rules that would help them (in enforcement) and Delaware anglers keep to the rules.  Their main concern is conservation of resources.  The Delaware bay is a breeding ground for many of these sharks, particularity the sand tiger shark.  One of the things they wondered is it really necessary to catch a shark?  Since many are protected, this is their nursery, and their numbers are on the decline.  They see plenty of people out there shark fishing that do it the right way, like getting waist to chest deep in the water to release the animal.  Charter captains, like Brian Wazlavek have a true respect for the animal, and take great care in the release after catching a shark.  I can attest to the fact that releasing the sharks while in the water is probably more thrilling than actually catching.  Just get waist to chest deep one time with a ten foot sand tiger shark, and you will know what I am talking about.  The term pucker up comes to mind.  If the thrill is in the catch, I suggest you get up with Captain Brian Wazlavek of Delaware Family Fishing.  He can put you on the sharks, and will properly fish for and release them.  Playing cowboy so you can brag to your friends, or take a picture with the mouth pulled back and a beer can on its head is not respectful of the shark caught.  This is also not true fishing, in my opinion.

clamming in Delaware, rehoboth bay, dsf, delaware surf fishing
Clamming in Rehoboth bay during a great sunset

The officers are not saying they want to see shark fishing shut down, but there is always that one person that messes it up for everyone else.  For the most part people have respect for the creatures they are catching.  “There is just always that two to five percent that make it a problem for everyone”.  If the rules are not followed at any time, anything can be shut down, and this is true for any regulated industry.  Recreational fishing is a very large part of this community, and we don’t need more legislation creating more rules.  The majority of anglers are good people and follow the rules.  A good way an angler can help with these sharks is to study the species and be able to identify them.  If you don’t know let it go.  That is good advice, if you don’t know what you are fishing for it would be a good idea to study up on what you are dealing with.  I receive many pictures each week of misidentified sharks.  Bull sharks and sandbar sharks are confused the most.  I have a few friends that are experts at identifying sharks, and will try to have something soon for the site to help with identification.  I hope this clarifies any confusion with the rules and regulations regarding shark fishing in the future, from the surf.  One thing that was mentioned is the fact many people are not wearing their PFD’s when they are kayaking out bait.  Please be sure to wear your PFD (Personal Flotation Device).  When I asked what they thought of using a boogie board to take out baits, the response was a roll of the eyes and some laughter.  “Well, that is one way to go if you want to get bit”  Apparently that is not a good idea either.

sandtiger swallows dogfish, ORB lab, niversity of Delaware, DSF, delaware surf fishing
Sandtiger shark swallowing a dog fish, this picture has gone viral online.  Photo from the University of Delaware ORB Lab

Speaking of kayaking and PFD’s you are not required to wear your PFD in a kayak, you are just required to have it on board.  Just like with a regular boat, the same rules apply.  However if you think about it, when you fall out of a kayak, and the current takes you away, how are you going to get to your PFD.  Not to mention, have you ever tried to put one of these things on while in the water?  The officers told me they will be taking a harder look next year at kayakers, and SUP’s for PFD’s (say that three times fast).  People are constantly doing not so smart things, and are not familiar with these waters.  Recently they (F&W) intercepted a guy in a blow up kayak with three small children heading to the outer wall.  Yeah, I was shaking my head in disbelief as well.  Mostly for the fact who in their right mind takes three small children in a kayak to the outer wall, and especially in a blow up kayak.  One small rip and that guy would be sinking real fast, in very heavy current.  Then how does he hold onto three kids and keep himself afloat?  When this was pointed out to him, he quickly realized this was a bad idea.  The boys gave he and the kids a ride back to the beach in Lewes, and dropped them off with a stern warning.  The outer wall is no joke, especially in a kayak.  Definitely a great place to fish, but if you plan on going out on a kayak to a place that far into the bay and dangerous, it is better to plan the trip.  Keep in mind when you are on our waters, the people that look out for you have a job to do, and when you cause them to do the enforcement part of their job you could be putting another person’s life at risk.  Think before you act, and remember when it comes to our toothy friends, if you do not know, let it go.

Fish On!!

Rich King

Comments are closed.