Neither nor’easter surf nor rising tides could keep 325 area fishermen from competing in the 12th Annual Spring Surf-fishing Tournament sponsored by the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce on May 7.
The tournament was postponed from its scheduled 7 a.m. start, due to high tides covering the beach. But about 11 a.m. the judges gave the OK and lines were tossed into the rough surf.
Every fisherman has his own experiences and techniques they try to apply to catch fish. In the case of retired Pennsylvania police officer and current Long Neck resident George Mood, he sticks to what he knows: clams.
“I’ve been fishing in New Jersey for about six to seven years now and the rockfish really like the clams. They’re a delicacy and the fish can’t eat them unless the clams are broken on the rocks,” said Mood. “Bluefish are opportunists and they will eat anything they can. These conditions make it ideal, because the stormy conditions can confuse bait fish and they wander into shallow water, which brings predators.”
After baiting his hook and meticulously tying down the clam with string, Mood heaved his line past the breakers and said, “Now let’s see if Delaware fish like New Jersey clams.”
Mood currently works as a detective in charge of extraditions in Montgomery County, Md., and likened catching fish to catching criminals.
“I recently recovered a man in Georgia wanted for triple homicide, and catching him was very satisfying. Catching a big fish is almost as exciting as catching a criminal,” said Mood. “I don’t mind letting fish go to make more fish, but I’ll never let a criminal go,” he added.
To catch the fish, first you have to know how to find them — and Lewes native Jason Douglass seems to have the idea.
“Surf-fishing is like hunting,” said Douglass. “You’re supposed to go up and down the beach and look at different spots. Once you find the spots, it turns into golfing. You have to hit the spot where the fish are,” explained Douglass.
Dover resident James Brown added, “You also have to be patient when surf-fishing. These fish have the entire ocean to find food, whereas bass live in smaller bodies of water which makes it easier to catch them.”
The fishermen around Fenwick on Saturday morning didn’t have much luck getting past the rough breakers, despite using heavy weights (5 to 8 ounces) on their lines. But there had to be fish somewhere, and at the Indian River Inlet they were hopping on the line.
Tom Guare of Ocean View reeled in a 25-inch bluefish using whole mullet for bait. Guare’s fish was just a few inches short of Ted Chick’s $1,575 Calcutta-winning 29-inch bluefish. In addition to catching the largest bluefish, Chick also received $1,000 for catching the largest fish in the tourney, but the 29-inch fish wasn’t nearly big enough to bag the big prize due any fisherman reeling in a state record-breaking bluefish.
Clark Crockett racked up 116 points and took home $750, while Charles Davis followed close behind with 113 points and earned $500. Also taking home cash prizes were David Smith, earning 81 points and $350, and Emerson Wells, who took home $150 for his 74-point total.
The biggest little winner of the day was 9-year old Kendra Williams. She was the only female angler who caught a fish, so she took home the ladies’ $250 prize for her 17-inch bluefish. She was also the only child younger than 14 who caught a fish, so she received a surf rod and reel as well.
The other children’s prizes were awarded by lottery. All of the children’s prizes were donated by the memorial fund established in memory of Edward J. McHale Jr.
The south side of the Indian River jetty proved to be a fertile feeding ground for the bluefish. Georgetown native Steve Merrick caught three bluefish in the all-day tournament — a 26-inch bluefish being the biggest.
“It was really good yesterday up at Fenwick. I caught a 30-incher up there,” said Merrick. “I had to throw a couple back. It seemed like I was getting bites every time I cast.”
While pickings were slim at the tournament (only 40 fish caught all day), the temperature of the water might have been a factor in why they weren’t biting as hard.
“When the water is cold like this the fish don’t feed, they chew. In the fall, the fish chomp on anything,” explained Merrick. (The Chamber’s 26th Annual Fall Surfishing Tournament is set for Oct. 8 and 9.)
As the spring season begins, it seems that for the moment there are more quality fish than quantities of fish.
“I haven’t seen as many fish as past seasons, but they definitely are bigger,” said Merrick.
Sometimes experience can be overrated and a little luck comes in handy. But if you talk to Berlin, N.J., native Gary Born, he’ll tell you otherwise.
“There is no such thing as luck when it comes to fishing,” said Born. “With this northeast wind, this pocket should be filled with fish.”
Last year, Born swept area tournaments clean by winning the Fall Delaware Classic, Bethany Classic, and Delaware Mobile Surf-Fisherman individual and team tournaments.
“I was hoping to follow up last year’s win, but I haven’t been able to catch anything today,” said Born. “Just when you think you have them figured out, they throw you a curve.”