Fishing Barnstable, MA

Striped bass of all sizes invade the flats and creeks off Barnstable beginning in late May. Photo by ## Tom Richardson##

Although some Barnstable-based fishermen begin their season by targeting groundfish in Cape Cod Bay in April, for most folks the local fishing scene starts with striped bass. Reliable action kicks off in late April, when holdover fish can be taken deep inside the marshes to the west of the harbor. These fish aren’t large, but can make for some fun light-tackle action. “Fresh” fish arrive in mid-May, swarming through the network of shallow tidal creeks that wind through the Great Marshes. The action comes to a head in June, when fish up to 40 pounds enter the harbor to hunt for prey in and around the deep holes, points, channel edges, sod banks in the marsh creeks.

Once the water warms in late June or early July, most of the bigger bass move “outside” to the Bay side. If you like the thrill of sightcasting in crystal-clear water, make a drift over the white-sand flats on the north 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. Use caution, though, and fish the incoming tide, as it’s easy to get stranded on the ebb. Look for fish to move out of the channels and onto the flats as the tide rises. Sand eel flies, swimming plugs and small soft-plastics will all take fish on the flats. If you’re having trouble spotting fish, look for diving terns over the flats or along the channel edges; they will usually lead you to a school of feeding bass or bluefish.

The channel off Sandy Neck is a busy place, but routinely produces keeper bass on eels and chunks through the season.

The deep main channel of the harbor, especially the section off the tip of Sandy Neck (Beach Point), is a popular spot among local anglers, many of whom anchor along the drop-off and fish chunks of menhaden or live eels on the bottom. Those using live bait often score well by making repeated drifts through the channel, keeping their baits close to the bottom. Either way, a dropping tide seems to produce best, but expect heavy boat traffic in summer.

By the way, fluke fishing can also be productive in and around the edges of the channel. You can catch the flatties on a bucktail jig spiced with a squid strip or a whole baitfish, or try a 3-way rig with a small live bait or whole squid.

Chunkers, live-baiters (bunker and eels) and wire-line trollers pulling jigs and tube lures often score with big stripers and bluefish from midsummer through fall by fishing the deep humps, contour lines and wrecks in Cape Cod Bay, although dogfish can be a problem when using natural bait. If you don’t mind crowds, you can join the fleet of charter boats on Billingsgate Shoal, just north of Barnstable. This is a busy place, but routinely produces keeper bass on eels and wire line through the season. Big bluefish are also prevalent in the “outside” waters at this time, and are easy to catch on trolled swimming plugs or topwaters. Again, look for diving birds to point the way to fast topwater action. Sometimes you’ll even see the blues swimming in “wolfpacks” just below the surface, which often happens in the early season.

Come midsummer, the focus of many hardcore anglers shifts to bluefin tuna, which can sometimes be found within easy striking distance of Barnstable Harbor from late June through October. These fish range from 50-pounders all the way up to giants, so you’ll have to be prepared for anything. Anglers are well advised to bring the heavy guns—50-wide conventional gear and stout standup rods—when chasing these fish, although fish  up to 300 pounds have also been taken on ultra-heavy spin gear and topwater plugs. Look for birds to point the way, or simply follow the fleet of “run-and-gun” small-boat anglers chasing the fish around bay.

The southern edge of Stellwagen Bank is a relatively short run from the harbor, and one of the best spots to find tuna throughout the season. Look for busting fish around the feeding whales, or send down a butterfly or RonZ jig if you mark bait and fish down deep. Live pogies and mackerel, as well as trolled squid bars and single Slug-Gos, can take fish too.


License Requirements

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:

Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries: Permits

To purchase a license online:

Mass Fish Hunt License System

Seasons, Catch & Size Limits

For a current list of fishing regulations, by species