Outdoors: Southern Delaware more than beaches

“Beaches are just the beginning,” was the motto the Southern Delaware Tourism folks emblazoned on the folders provided to our group of writers on a three-day, late April familiarization tour of southern Delaware outdoor opportunities and introduction to the Delaware Outdoor Trail program. I’ve been fishing and birding in southern Delaware for 50 years, but the area is so rich in outdoor opportunities I figured I could learn something. I did, too, despite nearly three straight days of rain. (I would add to that motto, “ And summer is only one of the seasons.”)

Surf Fishing

Delaware has excellent surf fishing at Delaware Seashore State Park especially in May and again in October through December, and it’ a lot closer than Cape Hatteras. To cite one outrageous example, Pennsylvanian Ben Smith landed a new Delaware state record 52-pound striper on December 8, 2012 surf fishing at Delaware Seashore State Park.

There are a number of first-rate tackle shops in the Rehoboth-Lewes area, e.g. Old Inlet Bait and Tackle on Highway One, that provide tackle and instructions. Delaware Seashore State Park is a narrow, 6 ½-mile coastal strip mostly between Dewey Beach and Bethany Beach with 12 entrances for fishing, hiking, swimming and other activities. It also offers outdoor programs. Laura Scharle led us in a 3-hour introduction to surf fishing, which had even the complete beginners handling the big surf rigs competently.

Cape Water Taxi and Tours

This outfit offers a variety of pontoon boat cruises between Lewes, Rehoboth and Dewey Beach through the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal and even some to Millsboro. Their eco-tours should be a mandatory bucket list item for anyone interested in birding or introducing kids to the outdoors. See capewatertaxi.com.

Birding and Nature Tours

Southern Delaware is laced with ponds, state forests and wildlife areas and includes the famous birding meccas Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge and Slaughter Beach plus the Dupont Nature Center. Spring and fall are prime seasons for migratory shorebirds. See delawarebirdingtrail.org.

State Parks

As stated, they are numerous. Despite the weather, we visited two of the deservedly most popular. Trap Pond State Park near Laurel features camping, playgrounds, baseball fields, a frisbee golf course, picnic pavilions, hiking, birding, boating,canoeing and kayaking, freshwater fishing and other activities. Cape Henlopen State Park, between Lewes and Rehoboth, features most of the above activities plus swimming, and biking and good saltwater surf and pier fishing Instead of freshwater fishing and boating. As for birding, the Gordon Pond area is a favorite haunt of renowned outdoor photographer, Kevin Fleming. (See kfleming@dmv.com.) Both parks have a limited number of cabins with heat and air conditioning. See www.destateparks.com for park locations, facilities, fees and reservations.

Paddle Boards, Kayaks, Sailboats

DelMarVa Board Sport Adventures gave us a demonstration of paddle boards, the latest craze in watercraft. A paddle board, also known as a stand up paddleboard (SUP), is very much like a light (24 to 34-pounds), short (10 ½ to 12-foot), surfboard on which the user stands and propels himself with a long paddle adjusted to the user’s height.

Besides the fun and fitness factors, DelMarVa’s literature shows people doing yoga and fishing with their SUPs. O.K., the last two strike me as gimmicky, but I have seen fishermen with SUPs on a reservoir this year. I think these would be great for young and fit types, and I can see pre-teens through young adults picking up basic paddling as quickly as the DelMarVa folks say.

There are a number of vendors along the beaches of southern Delaware who offer rentals of SUPs, kayaks, surfboards, small sail boats and bikes. A great feature with many vendors is that one can rent for hours or days and take the craft away from the rental sites. Some will even deliver the rental to your site. Many of these vendors also provide organized tours.

This portability opens great opportunities for touring, birding and photography, e.g., exploring the “canoe trails” and ponds or the many paved trails of Prime Hook. For bikers, the 6-mile Junction Breakwater Trail from Lewes to Rehoboth is a must.

History and Other Activities

Westminster native, Jenny Manning, led us on a tour of the Lewes Historical Society Complex. In addition to tours of the half-dozen buildings of the Complex, the Society sponsors several larger historical tours and sponsors a number of special events throughout the year. Two that particularly intrigued me, both in June, are “The Family Boat Building Weekend,” during which a small group builds a 12-foot Bevin Skiff, and the popular “Mid-Atlantic Sea Glass Festival.” The Society also sponsors the Lewes Vintage Base Ball Club.

Restaurants and Tour

This area refers itself as “the culinary coast,” so we took a 3-hour “walking food tour” of Rehoboth restaurants. See www.EatingRehoboth.com. Lewes is also featured in this company’s tour. We sampled a dozen fine restaurants in our three days, but my favorite was Abbots Grill in Laurel. This was the best fish I have ever eaten.

Delaware Outdoor Trail

On April 22, Delaware Tourism announced creation of the Delaware Outdoor Trail, a program featuring four types of outdoor activities — walking/hiking/running activities, biking activities, wildlife viewing activities and water activities. A participant can go to VisitDelaware.com/Outdoor and download a Delaware Outdoor Passport. Official trail signs with codes for each site and activity are in 43 locations across all three Delaware counties.

The goal is to complete suggested activities in at least five sites in each county to be eligible to receive a Delaware Outdoor Passport prize. Some sites offer more than one type of activity, e.g., all four are found in Cape Henlopen State Park. This is a fun, fitness and tourism activity that would likely appeal to youngsters and the goal-oriented. This trail is added to four other Delaware trails — Culinary, Wine and Ale, Geocaching and History. 

Bill May is a Times outdoors writer. His column appears every other Sunday. Reach him at 410-857-7896 orsports@carrollcountytimes.com.¿

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