The anticipation for my weekend fishing trip to Delaware Seashore State Park had captivated my attention for the better part of two weeks. With the recent passing of my 97-year-old great-grandfather, who was an avid fisherman himself, the trip was much needed.
Finally, 4 a.m. on April 14 arrived. With the truck loaded full of fishing gear and tackle, I was joined by my best friend, Andrew Neidigh, and his father, Tom. After a few hours from our departure in Newville, Cumberland County, we arrived on the sandy shores of Delaware.
First, we had to stop at Inlet Bait and Tackle in Delaware Seashore State Park, right near the Indian River Inlet where we would be fishing. I purchased a non-resident year fishing license for $22.50. We also restocked some tackle and bunker, which is a fish that is cut up and used for bait. Gear ready, it was time to head to the water and hopefully catch some fish.
Upon our 9 a.m. arrival at Seashore Park, we began fishing toward the bay side of the inlet. A fair number of people were fishing at that location for the time of year but, from my observation, nobody was really having success.
We soon decided to relocate and headed to the ocean side of the inlet. The tide was about to change and that would be our best opportunity to catch a fish coming in with the tide.
The inlet was filling up with people now. Everyone was hoping to catch an early season striper, blue fish, flounder or whatever else they were targeting.
After a few more hours of fishing, we had only caught a few skates, which were fun to bring in but not what we had hoped to catch. Skates are similar to rays in that they both are a flattened fish. I saw a few anglers around us catching tog - also known as tautog or blackfish - but that seemed to be it.
We concluded the day by heading to the pier in Lewes. We had never fished there before but figured we would give it a try.
I was using mainly a bucktail on a slow retrieve and Andrew was using blood worms. We would have preferred to use bunker again or minnows, but we had ran out early and didn't have time to restock.
Andrew had a few bites but was not able to connect. We stayed for a little over an hour, and I witnessed a few flounder caught. Tom talked to a pair of fishermen and learned they had been fishing all day and only had landed three keepers - all that had been caught with the changing of the tide on minnows.
In the morning, after grabbing a quick breakfast, we made our way back out to the Indian River Inlet, supplied with some bunker and squid. We only were staying for a few more hours because we still had to make the trip back home.
I fished from the rocks that lead out to the ocean at the inlet, hoping to catch a fish coming through the inlet. After a few hours, we had caught more skates but no target fish. The tide had changed and it seemed that nothing had come in with it.
Around the rocks, Andy and I saw a large school of bait fish. This confirmed for me that not many, if any, fish had come through. The bait fish would have been an easy meal for a passing striper. Before long, it was time to head home and we would do so with an empty cooler.
On the way home, all I could think about was a story I heard at my great-grandfather's funeral service.
A lady stood up and related how they had taken my grandfather to Delaware to fish for flounder. They had been fishing and the lady had caught a nice keeper. My great-grandfather asked her to rub some of that luck on his fishing pole. Her husband brought the fish over and started rubbing it on my great-grandfather's fishing rod when the fish slipped out of his hands and back in the water. She said my great-grandfather laughed like she had never heard anyone laugh.
I visited my great-grandfather, Mac Lincoln Hoover, many times before his passing and we always would talk about my latest fishing trip. It was like he was there with me as he would lean in to hear what I was saying and comment on the pictures I would bring him. Then he would look out the window and say, "I sure wish I could go fishing today."
Thinking of those memories with my great-grandpa, I realized that my weekend of catching sunburn and no fish was all I could ask for because fishing to me is just about being outside and relaxing with friends.
I went home with a smile on my face, thinking that my great-grandfather finally was fishing again - and I imagine the waters of heaven are loaded with lots of fish. I just hope he will save me a spot beside him and not catch them all before I see him again.
Knowing him, though, he already has a few fishing stories to tell me, and I will have some to tell him. Until we meet again, Grandpa, I love you.