Martha’s Vineyard Fishing Guide
March 23, 2018
Here’s what you need to know when planning a fishing trip to this famous island off the coast of Massachusetts. Text & Photos by Tom Richardson
Martha’s Vineyard has well-deserved reputation as one of the best fishing spots in the country, if not the world. From May through November, all manner of game fish can be found in the waters surrounding this low-lying, 100-square-mile mound of glacial till off the coast of Cape Cod. From striped bass to sea bass, bluefin tuna to white marlin, fluke to false albacore, the Vineyard has a species to satisfy any fisherman’s desire. Here’s a basic, harbor-by-harbor overview of the options and how to make the most of your next Vineyard angling adventure.
The quiet and very salty village of Menemsha, in the town of Chilmark, offers a host of fishing options, inshore and off. Striped bass invade the local waters in May, many of them swimming deep into Menemsha Pond to feast on herring that are dropping out of Squibnocket Pond. While you can’t use herring for bait, the bass will hit topwater plugs and herring-pattern flies fished at night or false dawn in the pond. Once the herring leave, so do most of the big fish, although schoolies are available through the season, particularly at night.
The inlet is a great place to wet a line, as evidenced by the crowd of shore fishermen lining the jetties on any given day. Boaters are urged to respect the jetty fishermen and give them as wide a berth as possible. Bass, blues and other predators are often taken on the Menemsha Bight side of the jetties, particularly on the outgoing tide, and especially in fall. If fishing from a boat or kayak, the best strategy is to position yourself outside the channel and cast into the strong current flowing out of the harbor. Again, be respectful of folks fishing from the jetties.
Other famous spots to find big stripers are the fabled rocks off Aquinnah (Gay Head) and Squibnocket. Use caution, however, as these shallows can be treacherous, especially if a swell is running. Tossing large plugs, live eels and flies among the stones can draw vicious strikes from monster bass (and bluefish). Trolling long tube lures, parachute jigs and bunker spoons on wire or leadcore line can work equally well in depths of 15 feet or more, as long as you’re able to keep your lures from snagging bottom. This is a good strategy when the fish move into deeper zones during the day.
Stripers also gang up in the deep rip along Devil’s Bridge, especially in June and early July when squid are abundant. Try drifting and deep-jigging with diamond jigs and bucktails, or bouncing live eels over the bottom. If you’re not sure where to start fishing, or where to set up your drift, watch how the other boats are fishing the rip. Devil’s Bridge, incidentally, also harbors black sea bass and fluke.
Sight-fishing for stripers can sometimes be pursued on the shallow sand flat called Dogfish Bar, just west of Menemsha Harbor. In this area, set up a drift over the flats and watch for grey shadows ghosting across the bottom….and be ready to fire off a cast with a sand eel fly, crab fly or soft-plastic bait.
Bluefish invade the Menemsha area in June, and can often be found just outside the harbor jetties and throughout Vineyard Sound, especially over uneven bottom, such as Lucas Shoal and Middle Ground. Look for groups of diving birds to point the way to the blues, which will readily attack a popper or metal spoon. If the fish seem to be holding deep, try yo-yo jigging a diamond jig off the bottom and through the mid-depths. Big blues can also be found over Devil’s Bridge alongside striped bass, and around Nomans Island, in midsummer.
Fluke (summer flounder) are another popular local food and game fish. Lucas Shoal (aka “Flukus Shoal”) is a well-known hot spot for flatties, although you’ll likely have to weed through a bunch of shorts before bagging a keeper. You’ll stand a better chance of scoring a large fish if you fish the sloping bottom off Nomans Island. Productive baits include squid or fluke belly strips rigged on 2- to 4-ounce bucktail jigs, whole squid, and sand eels.
The Menemsha area can also be a hot spot for bonito and false albacore. Look for these fish to gather outside the harbor entrance and throughout Menemsha Bight from late August through mid-October. Productive lures include small Deadly Dicks, KastMasters and Hopkins No=Eqls, as well as small, white Slug-Go’s and Zoom Flukes rigged on worm hooks. If you like to fly-fish, try a small, white bonito bunny, Skok Mushy or a fly that imitates whatever baitfish the fish are feeding on.
Offshore fishermen love Menemsha because it puts them close to the tuna and shark grounds south of Nomans Island. Numerous spots along the 20- and 30-fathom lines routinely hold bluefin tuna, blue sharks, makos, and threshers, as well as white marlin and mahi. Hot spots include The Star, The Dump, Gordon’s Gulley, The Fingers and The Claw. Vineyard tackle shops can give you up-to-date advice on where the fish are and what they’re hitting. Bluefin tuna action can be best in June.
If mahi move in, look for them to gather around any type of surface structure, be it a floating log or weed patch. However, the lobster pot “high-fliers” are often the best mahi attractors, and you’ll find no shortage of them along the 30-fathom line. Mahi are easy to catch once you find them, and will take a variety of small shiny spoons, jigs and flies. They make mighty fine eating too!
Oak Bluffs & Vineyard Haven
Striped bass usually arrive along this part of the Vineyard in May or early June, hot on the heels of herring and alewives. Schoolies from 5 to 20 pounds can be abundant at this time, with cows of 40 pounds or more a real possibility.
The waters of Vineyard Sound can be very productive, as well, due to schools of squid that normally invade the local waters in late spring/early summer. Middle Ground is a perennial early-season hot spot, where stripers and bluefish are often seen chasing squid out of the water in the first wave of the long rip line that forms over this shoal. Everything from parachute jigs fished on wire line to squid flies fished on intermediate line will do the job if the bass are present. Position the boat ahead of the rip and let your fly or lure (soft-plastics and pencil poppers work great for this type of fishing) swing downcurrent and into the feeding zone.
Throughout June, fly- and light-tackle fishermen often score with schoolies by fishing the outgoing tide at the entrance to Lagoon Pond, just east of Vineyard Haven. The Tashmoo Pond inlet also produces well on the outgoing, especially at night. Slug-Go’s, Hogy’s, Ron-Z jigs and small, soft-plastic swimbaits work very well when fished around this type of structure. In the fly department, Clouser Minnows, Surf Candies and white Deceivers fished on intermediate line around structure or over eelgrass beds will take fish.
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 turbulent rips off Wasque Point, on the island’s northeast tip, can also hold bass in early summer, especially if squid remain abundant.
Of course, bluefish often mix 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 parachute jigs and trolling swimming plugs work 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; you could be rewarded with some incredible action.
While the bass and blues garner top billing, anglers interested in catching a few fluke 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 can find fish right in front of Vineyard Haven Harbor, along the breakwater and outside the Lagoon Pond 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 farther west and you can find fish along the sloping bottom from Squibnocket Point to Nomans Island, or run out to the steep drop-offs along Lucas Shoal in Vineyard Sound. The drop-offs around Muskeget Channel and the Hooter buoys also produce doormats for those willing to make the run.
In mid- to late August, Vineyard anglers begin to keep a watchful eye out for bonito and false albacore. Both species can be notoriously hard to catch, and tend to pop up sporadically as they push baitfish to the surface and slash through the schools. After a few seconds of frenzied 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.
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 blind-casting until the school swims past.
Good spots to look for albies and bones include the Oak Bluffs ferry terminal, East Chop, West Chop, State Beach, The Gut and Cape Pogue. The best lure depends on what the fish are feeding on, which can be 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- to five-inch pearl Slug-Gos and Zoom Flukes, fished weightless on a worm hook, are dynamite, but are 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.
Edgartown-based anglers are uniquely poised to take advantage of the Vineyard’s often world-class fishing for striped bass, bluefish, fluke, sea bass, bonito, false albacore and a variety of offshore species.
Stripers can sometimes be taken by sight-fishermen on the flats off Eel Pond and the shallow, sandy bottom skirting Cape Pogue, particularly in June. Further afield, the local rips and shoals, including famed Wasque Shoal to the east, have the potential to hold stripers and blues all season. The striper fishing can be excellent in the rips here if squid are ganged up over the shoals, with June being prime time. Trolling the edges of the deeper shoals is another good way to score, but normally demands the use of wire line and parachute jigs.
Sea bass and scup action can be phenomenal, too, with these species holding over any type of hard bottom or wreck in 15 feet of water or more. A good spot is the rocky bottom south of the R “2” bell. All you need to catch sea bass is a small bucktail jig baited with a strip of squid. Hop it over the bottom with short lifts of the rod and you should score quickly. Scup can be caught on a high-low rig with squid strips or seaworms for bait.
In mid- to late August, bonito often take up station at the “Hooter” Buoy (RW “MC” Whistle) at the southern end of Muskeget Channel. Trolling a Rapala X-Rap or Bomber lure along the edges of the shoal is a proven way to score with the bones and bluefish.
As fall approaches, schools of bonito and false albacore move in along the north shore of the Vineyard. The waters off Edgartown Harbor are famous for producing excellent albie fishing, and many times the fish can be taken inside the harbor itself. Look for schools all along the Cape Pogue shoreline and around The Gut, as well as along State Beach, the Oak Bluffs ferry terminal, Vineyard Haven Harbor and East and West Chops. The best bet for catching these fish is to throw a small, unweighted Zoom Fluke or Slug-Go (pearl and Arkansas Shiner are effective patterns). Small metal spoons and epoxy jigs, as well as flies, also work. Try to match the available forage, as the fish often “key” on a particular prey.
Fluke are another local favorite, and can be taken over the nearby shoals such as Squash Meadow, Hedge Fence and the deeper parts of Wasque Shoal. Lucas Shoal in Vineyard Sound is another good spot for fluke. Use squid strips and shiners fished on jigs or three-way rigs.
Offshore fishing for sharks, tuna and the occasional white marlin takes place south of the Vineyard in midsummer and fall. It all depends on water temperature and bait availability, but perennial hot spots include The Dump, The Star, The Claw, The Fingers and Gordons Gully (see “Menemsha” section for more information).
Vineyard Fishing Resources
Bait & Tackle:
Coop’s (508) 627-3909
Larry’s Tackle (508) 627-5088
Dick’s Bait & Tackle (508) 693-7669
Capt. Tom Rapone, Highly Migratory Fishing (508) 922-1754
Capt. Rob Morrison, Gut Feeling Charters (508) 726-6312
Capt. John Potter, MV Skipper Partyboat (508) 693-1238
Capt. Scott McDowell, North Shore Charters (508) 645-2993
Capt. Buddy Vanderhoop, Tomahawk Charters (508) 645-3201