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Offshore fishing from the beginnning

Burnley Leadin

    When I look back at the beginning of offshore fishing out of Indian River Inlet, I realize that offshore was considerably closer to the beach than it is today.
    We had bluefin tuna all along the Buoy Line that ran from B Buoy about 8 miles due east of the inlet to the Delaware Lightship about 20 miles out on a 120 heading. The actual Delaware Lightship was long gone, but everyone still called the large buoy that replaced it the Lightship.
    The original offshore captains had wooden boats built on the deadrise pattern. Many ran gas engines and were very slow by today’s standards. Capt. Ben Betts on the Ethel and Capt. Bill Massey on the Aquarius were two of these pioneers. Massey’s Canyon was named in honor of Bill Massey because that was as far as he could run on the fuel the Aquarius carried. When he arrived he would put out the lines and tell the party they were in the canyon. In those days it was possible to catch marlin, tuna, wahoo and dolphin that close to shore, so who could argue that it wasn’t the canyon?
    I moved from fresh to saltwater when I returned from the Navy in 1965. I started out fishing the beach and the Indian River Inlet Jetty, but soon turned my attention farther east.
    By this time there were more fiberglass boats including the Bluefin with Capt. Art Halsted. This was a 31 Bertram and I thought it was the most beautiful boat on the water. I still say they may make boats as good as the 31 Bertram, but they will never make one better.
    Capt. Buddy Hurlock owned the private boat Slow Poke, a 40 Post. I was lucky enough to work across the street from Hurlock Roofing in Wilmington and became friends with Buddy and his family. This led to me being invited to fish on the Slow Poke, where I got my first taste of offshore fishing. The first time I saw a white marlin come into the spread I was hooked.
    Docked right alongside the Slow Poke was the Stape, a 43 Post, owned by Charlie Stapleford, a car dealer from St. Georges, Del. You could always count on a pretty good party developing between these two boats once the fishing was over for the day. The Snow Goose, a 38 Hatteras owned by Jimmy Snow, was another private boat that caught a lot of fish and Jimmy was never too far away when the party started.
    Jimmy Snow was a farmer from Little Creek who just happened to have grain fields plagued by an overpopulation of Canada geese every fall. Many of the same fishermen who hung out at South Shore Marina hunted on Snow Farm as a public service to help Jimmy with his waterfowl problem.
    In those days most of the offshore boats ran out of South Shore Marina. This operation was owned by Barbara Porter, who was quite the fisherwoman. She had more fishing experience than most of us and ran the marina and tackle shop, where you could always count on her guidance as to what to buy and how to use it. Barbara served as the Delaware representative to the first Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council in the 1970s.
    No story about offshore fishing from Indian River Inlet could be complete without the mention of Capt. Buddy Wagner. When I began running offshore, Capt. Wagner was the undisputed champ when it came to catching tuna, marlin, bluefish or just about any fish in the ocean. He came from a long line of commercial fishermen, and when he wasn’t taking charters, he was fishing for the market.
    In the 1970s and '80s we had the South Shore Boat Owners Association. At one point in time Buddy Hurlock was president, my wife Barbara was treasurer and I was a member of the board of directors. Each year we ran a marlin tournament and Capt. Buddy seemed to win this contest more times than not. He was also a regular fixture at Snow Farm in the fall. Buddy has passed, but his family is still involved in the fishing industry.
    Capt. Doc Peoples had the Spectacle that ran as a combination charter and private boat. Doc was an eye doctor and the brother of Barbara Porter. The Spectacle was still running last year, but like most of the larger boats, Doc has moved it to the Northside Marina.
    Capt. Pete Floyd and his wife Capt. Donna Floyd began their charter boat career running the Skipjack from South Shore Marina, but when weakfish invaded the Delaware Bay they moved the operation to Lewes. The Skipjack soon had a reputation for producing fish from the bay to the canyons.
    Unfortunately, Capt. Pete passed away in December 2014. His presence and knowledge will be missed not only by his family, but by everyone whose lives he touched.
    I really got serious about offshore fishing when my brother-in-law Paul Coffin purchased a 1973 22-foot Mako. That first year we stayed inside the Buoy Line, but by 1974 we were anxious to try the offshore waters.
    Our biggest obstacle was not the distance we had to travel, since we were too young and stupid to be afraid of running 30 to 60 miles into the ocean on a 22-foot boat. Our biggest obstacle was a complete lack of knowledge when it came to fishing for billfish and tuna.
    The Mako had two 75-hp Evinrude motors and Paul had installed a second fuel tank in place of the cooler found ahead of the center console. There was a valve located under the console to change from the main tank to the auxiliary.
    Sometimes the fuel needed a bit of encouragement to begin running from the second tank, and one of us would have to go under the console and use our mouth to create a little suction. You had to be quick to avoid getting a mouthful of fuel, and as a general rule neither of us were that fast.
    The first season proved to be a long shakedown cruise. We discovered the name-brand outriggers Paul purchased would snap off in a rough sea. They were replaced by riggers heavy enough to cause the boat to list if we took one off. Heavy they may have been, but break they did not.


A Deepwater Ghost Story

angler with gaff

"Things that go bump in the night" takes on a whole new meaning when you're hooked up to a giant bluefin.

Make Your Own Adventure

truck & trailer

Trailering your boat to a new fishing destination can give you experiences you will never forget.