Delaware Saltwater Fishing Regulations: What You Need to Know

Are you planning to go saltwater fishing in Delaware? Whether you’re a resident or a visitor, it’s important to understand and follow the state’s fishing regulations. This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about Delaware’s saltwater fishing rules, including licensing requirements, size limits, seasons, and more.

Fishing License Requirements

In Delaware, a general fishing license is required for fishing, crabbing, or clamming in tidal and non-tidal waters for anyone aged 16 and older. Residents and non-residents must also obtain a free Delaware Fisherman Information Network (FIN) number each year before fishing in tidal or non-tidal waters.

There are a few exceptions to the license requirement:

  • Residents and non-residents are exempt if they have a vehicle with a valid Delaware surf fishing vehicle permit, but only when that vehicle is located on a designated Delaware State Park beach. Other occupants will still need a license.
  • Residents 65 and older do not need a permit but must provide proof of residency.
  • Residents do not need a permit to fish on their own farmland of 20+ acres.
  • Other exemptions apply for legally blind residents, residents fishing in fee-based areas, certain veterans and military personnel.

Delaware fishing licenses can be purchased online, at DNREC headquarters in Dover, or from authorized agents throughout the state. License fees are $8.50 annually for residents aged 16+ and $20 annually for non-residents. Short-term licenses and boat fishing permits are also available.

Seasons, Size Limits and Creel Limits

Delaware’s saltwater fishing regulations include specific seasons, minimum size limits, and daily creel (catch) limits that vary by species. It’s crucial to check the current regulations before each fishing trip, as they are updated frequently.

Some of the key regulated species include:

  • Striped Bass: 28-37″ slot limit, 1 per day, July-Aug closure
  • Summer Flounder: 16.5″ min, 4 per day
  • Black Sea Bass: 12.5″ min, 15 per day, May 15-Dec 31 season
  • Bluefish: 3 per day for shore/private boat, 5 per day for charter/headboat
  • Tautog: 15″ min, 5 per day, July-Aug closure
  • Weakfish: 13″ min, 1 per day
  • Shark, Tuna, Swordfish: Check federal HMS permits and regulations

Other species like spot, croaker, kingfish, sheepshead, and certain sharks have no size/creel limits. However, endangered or protected species like sturgeon, river herring, and dusky sharks cannot be harvested.

Best Places to Go Saltwater Fishing in Delaware

Delaware may be a small state, but it offers plenty of great saltwater fishing opportunities along its Atlantic coastline and Delaware Bay shores. Some top spots include:

  • Indian River Inlet: Known for striped bass, bluefish, flounder, and shad. Fish from shore or the inlet bridge.
  • Delaware Seashore State Park: Surf fish along the beaches for kingfish, croaker, bluefish, and more. Drive-on beach access with permit.
  • Cape Henlopen State Park: Excellent fishing from the beaches and jetties at the point where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic. Target stripers, blues, flounder, and shad.
  • Broadkill Beach: Lesser-known spot that produces good numbers of flounder, croaker, spot, and kings.
  • Delaware Bay Beaches: Woodland, Collins, Bowers, and Slaughter beaches are top spots for surf fishing along the bay. Great for spring/fall striped bass and drum.

Charter and head boats are also available for fishing the inshore waters, Delaware Bay, and offshore wrecks/reefs. The Indian River Marina is a popular departure point.

Recent Delaware Fishing Regulation Changes

Fishing regulations can change from year to year based on the health of fish populations. In 2023-24, some notable changes were made to Delaware’s saltwater fishing regulations:

  • Striped Bass: The slot limit changed from 28-35″ to 28-37″ and the spring season was shortened to April 1-30 (from April 1-May 31). The summer no-harvest period was extended from July 1-Aug 31.
  • Summer Flounder: The minimum size increased from 16.5″ to 17″, and the spring size limit is now 16″ (from 17″). The daily limit remains at 4 fish.
  • Black Sea Bass: The minimum size increased from 12.5″ to 13″ while the daily limit decreased from 15 to 10 fish.
  • Bluefish: The daily limit decreased from 3 to 2 fish for shore/private anglers and from 5 to 3 fish for for-hire anglers.

These changes were required by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) to reduce harvest and rebuild certain stocks.

Artificial Reef Program

The Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife maintains a network of 14 artificial reef sites in Delaware Bay and along the Atlantic coast. These reefs, made of concrete rubble, ballasted tires, and sunk ships, provide habitat for many fish species and offer great fishing opportunities.

Reef sites are located between 4 and 26 miles from shore at depths of 30-120 feet. Popular inshore/bay sites include the Redbird Reef and Del-Jersey-Land Reef, while top ocean sites are Fenwick Shoal and Boom Wreck. Flounder, black sea bass, tautog, and triggerfish are common catches.

Responsible Fishing Practices

To help conserve Delaware’s saltwater fish populations for future generations, anglers should practice responsible fishing techniques such as:

  • Using non-offset circle hooks when fishing with bait to minimize gut-hooking
  • Handling and releasing fish quickly to increase survival rates
  • Following proper catch and release methods for out-of-season or undersized fish
  • Avoiding spawning areas and seasons for vulnerable species
  • Properly disposing of fishing line, hooks, and other trash to prevent wildlife entanglements
  • Reporting tagged fish to help with research efforts

By following size and creel limits, fishing seasons, and ethical angling practices, we can all do our part to protect the health of Delaware’s marine resources.

Conclusion

Delaware’s saltwater fishing regulations play a vital role in maintaining healthy and sustainable fish populations. By staying informed of the current rules and following them closely, anglers can enjoy great fishing opportunities while helping to conserve our valuable aquatic resources for the future.

So before heading out on your next Delaware fishing adventure, be sure to get your fishing license, check the latest regulations, and practice responsible angling. Tight lines!

What is the size limit for striped bass in Delaware?

The slot limit is 28-37 inches, with a daily creel limit of 1 fish. No harvest is allowed from July 1-Aug 31.

Do I need a license to fish in Delaware?

Yes, a general fishing license is required for anyone aged 16+ to fish in tidal or non-tidal waters, unless an exemption applies.

Can I keep summer flounder year-round in Delaware?

Yes, the summer flounder season is open all year. The minimum size is 16″ from Jan 1-May 31 and 17″ from June 1-Dec 31. The daily limit is 4 fish.

What is the FIN number and how do I get one?

The Delaware Fisherman Information Network (FIN) number is a free registration required annually for all anglers aged 16+ before fishing in Delaware waters. You can get a FIN number when purchasing your fishing license.

Where can I find the current Delaware saltwater fishing regulations?

The latest regulations are available on the DNREC Division of Fish and Wildlife website or in the annual Delaware Fishing Guide.

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