Fishing Oak Bluffs
January 13, 2017
From striped bass to fluke and everything in between, the Vineyard ranks as one of the top fishing destinations in the Northeast, if not the world.
Striped bass usually arrive in force around early June, hot on the heels of herring and alewives, which, having spawned in fresh water, are dropping out of the local creeks and rivers. Schoolies from 5 to 20 pounds are often abundant inshore at this time, with cows of 40 pounds or more a real possibility.
Vineyard Sound usually shines as a striper spot at this time, largely due to the schools of squid that normally invade the local waters in late spring. Middle Ground Rip, Hedge Fence Rip and West Chop are perennial early-season hot spots, where stripers and bluefish can often be seen chasing squid out of the water in the first wave of the rip line. Everything from parachute jigs fished on wire line to squid flies fished on intermediate lines will do the job in these spots if the bass are present. Position the boat ahead of the rip and let your fly or lure (big soft-plastics and pencil poppers work great for this type of fishing) swing downcurrent and into the feeding zone.
Of course, no discussion of Vineyard fishing would be complete without mentioning the famous Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, now in its 65th year.
The shallow sand flats just east of Oak Bluffs, outside Eel Pond, and along the edge of Cape Pogue can host some large fish in June. Set up a drift in 3 to 10 feet of water along the shore and fan-cast flies, soft-plastics and topwaters. And keep an eye out for cruising fish. A bit farther afield, fly and light-tackle fishermen often score well with schoolies in the early season by fishing the outgoing tide at the opening to Lagoon Pond, just east of Vineyard Haven. Tashmoo inlet also produces well on the outgoing, especially at night. Slug-Gos and small, soft-plastic swimbaits work very well when fished around this type of structure. Four- to six-inch Clouser minnows and white Deceivers fished on intermediate line around structure will take fish on fly gear.
Come July, daytime bass action becomes harder to find, as the fish move deeper. From July onward, the bigger bass often hold tight to the western and southern sides of the island, from Devil’s Bridge out to Nomans Island and back to Squibnocket Point. Trolling tube-and-worm combos on wire or fishing live pogies and eels are the keys to taking big fish in these spots. The rips off Wasque Point, on the island’s northeast tip, can also hold lots of bass in early summer, especially if squid are abundant.
From the end of June through July, bluefish mix in with the bass. While bait fishermen consider them a nuisance, blues are a blast on light tackle. You can usually scare up a blue or two by trolling a swimming plug along any of the local rips (e.g., Middle Ground, Lucas Shoal, Hedge Fence, Squash Meadow, Wasque). Wire-lining with parachute jigs and swimming plugs works very well when the fish are holding deep. Of course, if you spot a bunch of birds diving on the surface, get there fast and throw some metal lures or topwaters and you could be rewarded with some incredible action.
While the bass and blues garner top billing, anglers interested in catching a few fluke (summer flounder) for dinner have come to the right place. These fish can be taken by drifting strip baits (squid, bluefish and searobin work well) on the bottom from July through August (check the state regulations, as fluke size, seasons and bag limits change from year to year). Almost any area with good current flow and a steep drop-off will hold fluke. You’ll find fish right out in front of Vineyard Haven Harbor, along the breakwater and outside the Lagoon and Tashmoo Pond inlets, but for your best shot at a doormat cruise west and try your luck in 80 to 120 feet of water in Lamberts Cove off Paul Point. Head further west and you might do even better from Gay Head to Squibnocket Point, or run out to the steep drop-offs along Lucas Shoal in Vineyard Sound. The drop-offs around Muskeget Channel and the Hooter buoys can also produce doormats.
Come mid- to late August, Vineyard anglers begin to keep a watchful eye out for Spanish mackerel, bonito and false albacore. These speedy fish have been hit or miss in New England waters over the last few years, but when they do show up their arrival sparks a frenzy among light-tackle enthusiasts.
The fish can be notoriously hard to catch, and tend to pop up sporadically as they push baitfish to the surface and slash through the balled-up schools. After a few seconds of frenzied slashing attacks the fish disappear, only to pop up a few seconds later just out of casting range. This behavior leads many boaters to chase after the fish in “run-and-gun” mode, which isn’t always the best way to score, as the engine noise tends to put the fish down.
If the fish refuse to stay up for very long, a good approach is to hang back and see if they establish a pattern. Often a school will “cruise” a particular section of shoreline, following some type of contour line. If you figure out their route, you can take fish by simply anchoring up and blindcasting until the school swims past.
Good spots to looks for albies and bones near Oak Bluffs include the Oak Bluffs ferry terminal, East Chop, Sate Beach, The Gut and Cape Pogue.
The best lure depends on what the fish are feeding on, which is usually sand eels, peanut bunker, bay anchovies or spearing (silversides). Small metal lures such as Deadly Dicks, KastMasters, Swedish Pimples and Hopkins spoons often work well. Four-inch white Slug-Gos and 5″ Zoom Flukes, fished weightless on a worm hook, are dynamite, but hard to cast long distances. In the fly department, small white (No. 2) Bonito Bunnies, Deceivers and Skok Mushies can be deadly. Again, try to figure out what the fish are eating and select your fly accordingly.
Of course, no discussion of Vineyard fishing would be complete without mentioning the famous Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. The Derby, as it’s simply called, attracts anglers from around the world during its month-long run from mid-September to mid-October. Top prizes routinely include a fully rigged boat and a pickup truck.
During Derby Time, it’s all about fishing for many locals. Early to mid-fall used to be prime time to catch all of the top species that live around the Vineyard. Unfortunately, the last few seasons have been rather lackluster in terms of the number and size of the fish caught, but the Derby has always been about more than just catching fish.
Bait & Tackle:
- Capt. Jaime Boyle, Boylermaker Charters (508-922-1749)
- Capt. Tom Rapone, Highly Migratory Fishing (508-922-1754)
- Capt. Rob Morrison, Gut Feeling Charters (508-726-6312)
- Capt. John Potter, Skipper Partyboat (Oak Bluffs) (508-693-1238)
A Recreational Saltwater Fishing Permit is required to fish the marine waters of Massachusetts out to 3 miles from shore. Cost is $10 for both residents and non-residents. The permit expires on December 31.
No permit is required for the following individuals:
- Persons under 16 years of age.
- Persons fishing on a charter or partyboat.
- Persons who possess a saltwater fishing license from Connecticut, Rhode Island or New Hampshire.
- Persons who, regardless of age, otherwise meet the definition of a disabled person.
- The permit fee is waived for anglers 60 and older; however, these individuals must still register with the state. A small fee will be charged by the vendor to process the permit if purchased online.
For more information:
To purchase a license online:
Seasons, Catch & Size Limits
For a current list of fishing regulations, by species
- Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries: Fishing Regulations