Fly Fishing Duxbury Bay, MA

Capt. Dave Bitters is all smiles after landing this Duxbury striper. Photo Tom Richardson

If you spend much time on Duxbury Bay, chances are you’ve seen Capt. Dave Bitters zipping around the maze of flats and channels in his beige-hulled Carolina Skiff. Such navigational confidence is only gained through extensive time on the water, and Bitters—a self-proclaimed bayman—has over 30 years under his belt. He knows every creek, mussel bed, boulder and guzzle in the bay, and puts his encyclopedic knowledge to work each season as a light-tackle guide.

Bitters mostly fishes within the confines of Duxbury, Plymouth, and Kingston Bays. While many local anglers blast off for supposedly greener pastures to the east, Bitters often does just as well—or better—within 10 miles of the town launch ramp. However, he admits that the window for scoring big within the shallow bay system is pretty short.

The Bayman Special is Bitters’ go-to fly in the bay.

Spring Rules

“Spring is best for big fish, especially when it comes to fly fishing,” he says. “May 15 to June 15 is prime time. Before or after that, it’s usually a gamble.” There are exceptions, however, such as the 2011 season, when the fishing remained solid well into July.

Early-season success in the “tri-bay” area mostly hinges on finding bait, which means finding birds. Using binoculars, Bitters scans the water for flocks of gulls and terns working pods of baitfish. His practiced eye can usually tell from miles away if the birds are over fish or merely picking off bait stranded on the flats.

Once he determines if there are stripers below, he starts a drift upwind or upcurrent of the activity and begins casting as he drifts past. If the stripers are feeding on top or just below the surface, he’ll use an intermediate line. If the water is very shallow or he needs to keep the fly above grass beds, he’ll go with a floating line. If the fish are holding deep—say over 10 feet—he’ll resort to a deep-sink line, although he admits that fly fishing becomes a lot less fun at that point.

Tom Richardson displays a nice bass taken on the fly behind Clark Island.

Rigging Up

When it comes to terminal rigging, Bitters admits to being “a utilitarian fisherman,” preferring to use straight 20-pound-test Berkley Big Game Green as a leader. He eschews fluorcarbon, which he feels is too brittle.

While it’s possible to find fish feeding under birds anywhere in the bay from May through June, some go-to areas include the edges of the Cowyard (a large flat northwest of Bug Light), the waters between Saquish Head and Gurnet Point, and the channels that snake north into Kingston Bay. However, even if you find fish feeding on top, that doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to score.

The bass can be very fussy at times, often warranting a change in retrieves, sink times, and/or flies. “When selecting flies, remember that bass generally focus on size, shape, and color, in that order,” advises Bitters. “You gotta keep moving, keep changing things up. Some pods of fish are going to behave differently than other pods. Every day is different. Yesterday’s fish are just that.”

Low tide in Duxbury exposes vast sand flats where bait is often trapped. This can a be a productive time to wade-fish along the channel edges, where stripers look for a meal. Photo Tom Richardson

Structure Hunting

Once the fast-paced early-season period of chasing big fish under birds comes to a close, Bitters subscribes to a more methodical approach. “In summer, striper fishing in the bay is all about structure, although you will catch fewer fish. In the bay we have what I call ‘micro structure’—isolated rocky areas, mussel beds, and grass beds that attract and hold bait and stripers. I have about 50 of these structure spots that I regularly fish in the bay.”

Accumulating such a large list of spots took Bitters years, but a good way to find your own is to study a chart or satellite image of the bay and look for rocky shorelines, deep holes, dark patches of bottom, and points of land. Fish at low tide and carefully explore the bay in a small boat or kayak to find areas of mussel beds and eelgrass. These spot generally hold fish when covered by five to ten feet of water.

An angler battles a bass in the channel near Bug Light. Photo Tom Richardson

Hot Summer Nights

Bitters points out that night fishing on foot can be effective during midsummer, especially along the marshy backside of Duxbury Beach. This spot is best fished on a high tide, although you will need a parking permit to access the area. The waters around High Pines can be especially productive.

Another popular wade-fishing spot is the sandbar in front of the lighthouse at the western end of the Powder Point Bridge. This spot typically fishes best at false dawn and at night, but use caution, as the current can be swift. Fish the downtide side of the bar for the best action.

A dropping tide trapped this school of juvenile menhaden (peanut bunker) on the flats, exposing them to predation by gulls. Photo by Tom Richardson