Fishing the Barnstable Marshes

The Barnstable Great Marshes are a peaceful and scenic place to fish. Photo Tom Richardson

Anglers in Barnstable Harbor have it pretty good. From sprawling sand flats to deep channels, this beautiful and varied body of water offers a variety of venues in which to pursue striped bass, but it all begins in the Great Marshes west of Maraspin Creek. The maze of meandering tidal creeks and coves not only provide miles of scenic, protected fishing, they also hold some surprisingly large fish, including cows up to 40 pounds. Reliable action typically kicks off in early to mid-May, with prime time running through Father’s Day.

The author with a healthy bass taken on a pencil popper.

When fishing the marshes, the trick is to follow the tide, moving deeper into the marshes on the rise and dropping back on the ebb. Pay attention, though, because it’s easy to get stranded by the falling tide.

Look for fish to take up feeding stations near points, undercut banks, sandbars and bends, as well as around the juncture of feeder creeks. It’s also possible to spot fish waking and tailing in shallow, mud-bottomed coves, so keep your eyes peeled for any surface disturbance. On the dropping tide, a good strategy is to anchor the boat at a strategic point and wait to intercept fish as they move out of the marsh.

Best Flies, Lures

A variety of lures and flies work well in the marshes. In the fly department, poppers, snake flies, Clousers, Rhody Flatwings, Deceivers and squid patterns all work well in the early season. Mushmouths, squid and mackerel patterns, and big black snake flies will sometimes get fish to take on bright days. When the sand eels move in, usually around mid-May, Jiggies, Clousers and other thin-bodied flies work well. Prime patterns include white, white/yellow, chartreuse and chartreuse/white. Crab flies and baby-flounder imitations can work on the shallow mud flats. Depending on wind conditions and fly size, 9- and 10-weight rods with intermediate or floating lines should suffice in the marshes.

Photo/NEB/Tom Richardson.
Schoolies are abundant throughout the Great Marshes system. Photo by Tom Richardson

Soft-plastics such as Slug-Gos, Fin-S-Fish, Hogies, Got Strypers, and Ron-Z lures, all in the 6” to 9” range, also take their share of fish. Top colors include bubble gum, pearl, chartreuse and olive. Fish these lures on light spinning or baitcasting gear (8- to 12-pound test) and work them on or just below the surface with short twitches or the rod.

Hard-plastic topwater lures such as small Cordell Pencil Poppers, Rebel Jumpin’ Minnows, Zara Spooks and similar walk-the-dog type baits can be productive as well.

Once the water warms in late June, most of the bigger bass vacate the marshes and move to the more exposed waters east of the harbor and along Sandy Neck. If you like the thrill of sightcasting, try drifting or wading the white-sand flats on the ocean side of Sandy Neck, as well as the sprawling flats to the east. It shouldn’t take long to spot stripers cruising over the light-colored bottom. If new to the area and its huge tides, use caution. Wade-fishermen must make sure they don’t get stranded by the incoming tide, while boat fishermen must keep an eye on the ebb.

Primary access to the marshes can be found at the Blish Point State Landing on Millway Road, a paved public ramp with ample parking and an attendant. This lot fills up fast on summer weekends, however, so get there early.

Local Resources

Goose Hummock Shops, Dennis, (508) 255-0455

Black Eel Outfitters, Dennis, (508) 619-7681

Boat & Kayak Rental:

License Required:

  • You can order a Massachusetts saltwater fishing license online at MassFishHunt.

Learn more about boating in Barnstable here.