The Fisherman’s Holiday

As we entered the Atlantic and the big ocean swells effortlessly lifted our 85-foot head boat, Thelma Dale IV, I recalled the words of one of my favorite authors, Tom McGuane: “I fish all the time when I’m at home, so when I go on vacation, I make sure to get in plenty of fishing.” That has always been my guiding philosophy.

Our annual family vacation at Bethany Beach had been for many years, at my insistence, a time for a lot of oceanside and Assawoman Bay angling and crabbing. But traveling to Delaware’s Atlantic beaches trailering boats and packing trotlines, fishing tackle, crab steamers, deep fryers and the other accouterments of our seafood-intense lifestyle had become too complicated.

Packing up and hauling all that gear plus the necessaries for our family of five was always a challenge, but lately our beach-bound numbers have grown. The family retinue for our traditional week at the beach now included the significant others and/or inseparable friends of all of our three boys.

So for the past few years, I have found it prudent and sanity saving to abandon my angling theme and opt instead for relaxing in the sun and enjoying the expanded family circus. This year a pleasant surprise was in store for me.
I had been invited on an old-fashioned ocean head boat trip for some summer flounder fishing, something I hadn’t done in decades. My sister-in-law, Jenny, and her husband, Rick King, who live nearby in Lewes, had made arrangements for me to join them on the Thelma Dale IV (; 302.645.8862), a head boat charter that Rick had mated on for many years growing up.

Out On the Water

The appointed day arrived with fresh, 25-knot winds and big ocean swells, but the seaworthy Thelma Dale hardly acknowledged the sea change as we throttled out into the Atlantic for the hour-long run to the flounder fishing grounds.

Lining up at the rail as we arrived at our destination, we all rigged short, stout boat rods with sturdy reels. Rick, Jenny and I knotted on a length of 50-pound leader adorned with brightly dressed, 4/0 Kahle-style flounder hooks. We added eight ounces to handle the depths and brisk ocean currents.

Baiting the wide-gapped hooks with fresh squid strips, we thumbed them down 90 feet to the bottom and began to fish the drift.

Searching back through the cobwebs of my cluttered and hazy memory, I struggled to remember how this was done. I had not fished this deep, with gear like this, for over 30 years.

Eventually my old head boat skills would kick in, but not before Jenny led us off with our first flounder. Rick and I struggled along fishless for quite some time until we finally began boating a few flatties of our own. Sadly for both of us, that day all would measure about a quarter-inch less than the minimum size of 18.5 inches.

At the trip’s end with a goodly number of the delicious tasting flounder having come over the side to many of the boat’s two dozen or so occupants, Jenny was still the leader on our team both in numbers and size. The largest of her bag, a particularly nice 22-inch fish, was already singled out for dinner at the Kings’ that evening.

With nothing but close calls for Rick and me, we could only admire her catch at the cleaning table. It seemed that the majority of the keepers on our boat had fallen to Jenny and the other female anglers on board.

While Jenny was icing her fillets, Rick and I considered how to close the gender gap on future fishing trips like this. Our conclusion was that if I wanted to be certain of flatfish in my cooler, perhaps the next time I should convince Jenny’s sister, my wife, to come along with us.