My new Delaware surf fishing license entitles me to drive my big white pickup truck out onto the beach at Gordon’s Pond for an afternoon of sun worship and surf fishing. In addition to a license, the state requires each vehicle to be equipped with a jack, a board, a spade, a rope or chain, an air pressure gauge. The state also says you must be “actively fishing” when you’re on the beach.
“Actively fishing.” It’s a suggestive term, one the state doesn’t bother to define. Most people interpret it to mean you must use bait. They say you can’t just throw a line with a big ol’ hook into the surf and forget about it.
Well, I’m not most people, so for my first four wheel fishing foray, I brought out fancy umbrellas, Adirondack chairs and rocking chairs, fresh flowers, and an oil painting of Thomas Jefferson (the patron saint of tailgate parties, so I learned at the dear old University of Virginia). In the shadow of the concrete WWII observation towers, we served up classic American sandwiches, three kinds of potato chips, grapes, watermelon, and a selection of sweets. Raising red plastic go-cups of libations, we celebrated “fishing,” past, present, and future, and threw out a line with fresh mullet bait.
Gay guys have been “actively fishing” at Gordon’s Pond for decades. In the 1970’s, the beach had a quiet reputation as a gay place for au naturel sun worship without any hassles. There were a lot of dunes back then, two rows in fact, and plenty of cover. One friend, who will remain anonymous, recounts how as a randy teenager he used to sneak down from Dover to “put out his bait and troll.” The beach’s reputation went public on July 26, 1981 when the Wilmington Sunday News Journal ran an article entitled “Gays Have Found a Refuge in Resort Town Atmosphere.” In the story, guys are quoted as comparing the beach at Gordon’s Pond to an open air bathhouse.
Like the infamous wooded “meat rack” on Fire Island, the tidal pools at Herring Cove outside Provincetown, and the Ogunquit beach dunes, Gordon’s Pond remains an outdoor space where gay and not-so-straight guys “go fishing,” albeit more on the trails around the Pond than on the beach itself. Of course, the park officials don’t like it. I personally neither defend nor condemn these satyric escapades. I just wonder about all the mosquitoes back there….
Anyhow, gay guys aren’t the only ones to “actively fish” at Gordon’s Pond. Back in the 60’s, the beach was the epicenter of Rehoboth’s straight singles scene. It was called Whiskey Beach then, and on summer weekends hundreds of twenty- and thirty-somethings would gather to dance, drink beer, play frisbee, and flirt. When first daughter Lynda Bird Johnson and her fiancee Marine Captain Chuck Robb (yep, the future U.S. Senator from Virginia) partied on Whiskey Beach in the summer of 1967, it made headlines in Washington and in Rehoboth. The press coverage disturbed Rehoboth’s town fathers and the chamber of commerce which lamented the scene and the fact that one of Rehoboth’s beaches was degraded by the name Whiskey Beach. What’s funny is that the kids on the beach had nothing to do with the name. Whiskey Beach, according to the signs the State has placed at Gordon’s Pond, got its name because it was a drop off point for illegal bootleg liquor in the 1920’s.
Washington insider, confidante, and writer Sally Quinn was a young reporter for the Washington Star when she reported the goings on at Whiskey Beach back in 1969: “guys looking for groovy chicks and girls looking for attractive guys.” Sounds like “fishing” to me. Sally sure didn’t mention anyone reading books or playing backgammon.
FYI, the swinging singles scene at Whiskey Beach ended in the early 70s when the State began developing the park at Gordon’s Pond. The commotion migrated south to Dewey Beach where it has lived happily ever after.
Today the beach at Gordon’s Pond is pretty tame. Guys bring their dogs and read quietly beneath umbrellas. I highly recommend it, especially if you’re “actively fishing” for a beach devoid of sharp gravel, screaming children, and queens on cell phones. You know what I’m talking about…
Just bring plenty of bug spray – the higher the DEET concentration the better. And, most importantly, try not to get your “line” tangled up with anyone else’s.