How to Fish Cape Cod
April 9, 2019
Cape Cod is every bit an angling Mecca as the Florida Keys or the Outer Banks, drawing fishermen from around the world looking to pursue striped bass, bluefish, tuna, cod, sharks, flounder, tautog, sea bass, false albacore, and bonito. If it swims in the Northeast, you’ll find it off Cape Cod!
If you’re planning to visit the Cape this season, here’s a guide to help you take advantage of its many fishing opportunities. Oh, and remember that you’ll need a Massachusetts saltwater license, available here.
Barnstable fishing action kicks off in late April with holdover bass deep inside the marshes and creeks to the west of the harbor. These fish aren’t large, but make excellent light-tackle targets for winter-weary anglers. “Fresh” fish arrive in May, swarming through the network of tidal creeks that wind deep into the Great Marshes. The action comes to a head in June, when bass up to 40 pounds enter the harbor to hunt for prey in and around the deep holes, points, channel edges and sod banks. The shallow mud flats can also hold fish on the upper stages of the tide.
Wellfleet needs no introduction among anglers, as it has long served as a prime jumping-off spot for those in search of everything from striped bass to bluefin tuna. Stripers are the primary target of inshore fishermen, with migratory schoolies arriving in early May. Small to midsize fish can be taken throughout the Wellfleet Harbor and its tidal creeks up until mid-June. According to local angler Andrew Cummings, dependable early-season action can be found in the sluiceway of the Herring River (home to a robust run of bluebacks) and on the flats off Lieutenant Island on the upper stages of the tide. Other popular spots include the tip of Great Point and around Billingsgate Island.
Boasting an excellent launch ramp, Pamet Harbor is a fantastic jumping-off point for trips to Stellwagen Bank and the world-famous striper grounds off the tip of Cape Cod. However, you don’t have to run that far to find good fishing! The swift currents of the inlet make this a great spot to fish for stripers and blues, especially at night or at dawn, as evidenced by the number of shore fishermen you’ll see lining the jetties throughout much of the season. Best action generally comes on a dropping tide.
You don’t have to be an expert fisherman to see why Provincetown is such a great fishing spot. Many species of migratory bait and game fish—including striped bass, bluefish, sharks and bluefin tuna—have to swim past the tip of Cape Cod as they make their way to and from their summer feeding grounds in the Gulf of Maine.
Hardy souls can enjoy early-season (April and May) action with cod, haddock and other groundfish. These tasty bottom fish can be caught close to shore in many spots off P-Town, although stocks are a shadow of what they were half a century ago. Simply sending down a heavy jig-and-teaser combo baited with clams can produce good results in 90’ to 120’ of water off Race Point, the edge of Peaked Hill Bar and down to Highland Light. If you can get the numbers of some productive wrecks, you’ll improve your chances considerably.
The powerful currents and shoals off Chatham that have spelled the doom of so many mariners over the centuries also make this area an incredibly productive fishing ground. During summer, the chill, nutrient-rich waters of the Atlantic and the warmer waters of Vineyard Sound clash off Chatham to spark plankton blooms that in turn feed a variety of baitfish. These draw larger predators, most notably striped bass, bluefish and tuna.
Stripers can be found almost anywhere around Chatham, including the protected waters of Pleasant Bay and Stage Harbor. The former tends to fish best in late spring and early summer. Look for bass to work their way well into the marshes and creeks at this time, where they can be taken on a variety of poppers, stick baits, soft-plastics and flies. Work these lures around mussel beds, deep holes, channel edges, creek bends and pilings—any place the stripers can lurk to ambush a meal. The expanse of flats south of Broad Creek and east of Hog Island inside Pleasant Bay may also hold fish in the early season. Fan-cast this area with soft-plastics and topwater plugs until you encounter fish.
The waters off Hyannis are duly famous for producing striped bass and bluefish, but they also offer some first-rate bottom fishing for black sea bass and scup—2 species that can be found close to shore and are easy for kids to catch.
Sea bass fishing in particular has been so good in the last few years that you’re likely to find them over any rocky area or sandy shoal in Nantucket Sound, according to Capt. Joe Huckemeyer, the owner of the Helen H Deep Sea party boat and charter fleet. “The southern portion of the Bishop and Clerks—a string of rocks 3 to 4 miles south of Lewis Bay—holds lots of fish,” says Huckemeyer. “It’s an easy place to fish, but watch out for the rocks, many of which lie just below the surface.”
Falmouth Harbor is a great place to launch for trips to Nantucket Sound, the islands—and beyond. Things kick off in mid-May when big schools of squid move into Nantucket Sound. When water temps hit the low- to mid-60s, this area sees some of the best early-season bluefishing in the Northeast. Big “racer” blues invade the beachfronts and flats from Waquoit to Wianno, providing unparalleled topwater action. Simply set a drift or troll, and you should have no problem scoring with the voracious choppers.
Once the early squid bite dies down, stripers begin to migrate through the area, although not in the numbers typically seen in nearby Buzzards Bay. June brings more consistent striper action, as the bigger fish take up station in the rips and along the rocky shores and holes of the Elizabeth Islands. Woods Hole, Quicks Hole and Robinsons Holes are all great places to find big fish in June, but simply plugging along the south shore of Nashaun Island or the rocks in front of Nobska Light can also yield action.
Cuttyhunk has been synonymous with fishing since the mid-1800s, and over the years the island has achieved legendary status among sportfishermen, especially those in search of trophy striped bass. Many recall that local angler Charlie Church caught the then-record striper of 73 pounds from the waters of Canapitsit Channel back in 1913. A half-century before that, however, a group of wealthy businessmen had already established an elite bass-fishing club on the island that flourished until 1921. Today, you can rent a room in the same building once occupied by the movers and shakers of the late 19th Century, and wet a line in some of sport fishing’s most hallowed waters.
Red Brook Harbor
Lots of fishermen know that Red Brook Harbor makes a great base of operations for trips into nearby Buzzards Bay, the Cape Cod Canal, the Elizabeth Islands, Martha’s Vineyard and the offshore waters south of the Vineyard. Indeed, the fact that Kingman Yacht Center hosts 3 full-time charter boats bears testimony to the proximity of hot spots, but you don’t have to run far to find good fishing.
The local action starts in May with tautog, seabass and striped bass in Buzzards Bay. From mid-May through mid-June, the rocks off Wings Neck Light hold some large stripers for anglers who like to cast plugs and eels. Best tide here is the outgoing. Get there at false dawn, before the other boats, if you want to score a keeper. The shallow reef extending northwest off Wings Neck into the Canal is a great spot for drifting live menhaden and eels.