Nothing beats top water action at the Cape Cod Canal. Seeing a 30 plus pound striped bass demolish a pencil popper is a sight not soon forgotten.
The only problem is that consistent top water action only occurs in brief, fleeting moments-usually at the crack of dawn during particular stages of the tide. What about all those times when the bass aren’t showing on top?
There’s a multitude of ways to catch fish at the canal when bass aren’t whipping the surface into a white water froth. Often times there’s a feeding frenzy going on 50 feet below the canal’s surface, right on the bottom. Presenting an offering on the bottom in the right fashion, in the right spots and at the right time is a far more consistent method of bagging a big bass than solely relying on breaking fish.
Jigging the canal for big fish sounds simple and easy enough. However there is a humongous learning curve if you want to adopt this particular brand of fishing. I expect this to be the first of many posts about how to jig the Big Ditch. Nevertheless you have to start somewhere!
As mentioned above, there are a few key ingredients that you need to possess in order to be a successful jigger. These ingredients are, in no particular order:
1) The correct gear
2) A knowledge of productive locations
3) An understanding of the tides
4) The right technique
If you possess all four of the above ingredients then awesome! More than likely you are the guy with the bent rod making everyone else jealous.
If you have one or two of the above ingredients then you are well on your way to consistently being able pull bass off the canal bottom. Of course, if you have no idea what any of this means then that is OK too. All canal fishermen were once in your boots.
The easiest of the above ingredients to take care of is the gear. If you are willing to make an investment of a few hundred dollars, then you can outfit yourself with a setup that will jig the canal well. The good news is that you can use the same jigging setup to plug the canal, cast swimmers or fish bait. The reverse scenario is, however, not true. You can cast swimmers, plugs and bait using a variety of setups that will not work well when it comes to jigging.
At the moment I do not have unlimited funds to be spending on canal equipment, so for me it made sense to purchase an outfit that would cover the entire canal spectrum. Again, this is just how I like to do things.
Essential Jigging Gear
Braided line is an absolute savior when it comes to jigging the canal.
Braided line has zero stretch, which means it will be much easier to feel the bottom and bites from bass. Braid also casts extremely well, allowing you to reach those far off gulleys, rips, and breaking bass.
The diameter of braid is also much thinner compared to the same poundage test of mono filament. You’ll fit a lot more 40 pound braid onto a reel than you ever could dream of if you choose mono. Those extra yards are important when you are battling a 40 pound striper in the canal’s relentless current.
I typically spool up with 40 pound Berkeley Power-Pro. 40 pound Power-Pro has the diameter of around 10 pound mono. Most canal suitable reels can easily hold a few hundred yards of 40 pound braid.
Have you ever gotten stuck on the bottom of the canal? Have you ever had a day when you lost all your hooks and sinkers to the “Ditch Gods?”
We all pay our homage to the Ditch Gods on occasion, but there’s no need to continually be losing gear at the canal.
Because braid has zero stretch, it’s easy to know when you have hit bottom. You can literally feel your jig bumping off of rocks. Therefore, it’s much easier to keep your jig a foot or two above bottom-therefore avoiding the snags.
I used to jig the canal with mono up until the age of 17. I’d say I lost more gear to the canal bottom from age 13-17 than I have from the age of 17 to the present day-solely because of braided line.
The Right Reel
The ability to cast long distances is important when fishing the canal. Long casts are often required to reach breaking fish in the middle of the land cut, however big casts also come in handy when jigging rips and gulleys located far off the rip-rap.
Using a reel conducive to lengthy casts will certainly help your chances at the canal, whether jigging or plugging.
I chose the Daiwa Emblem Pro 5500 spinning reel. For the money ($150) the Emblem is a good all around reel, conducive to long casts and battling big bass in the heavy current.
There are many quality reels on the market that will perform quite nicely at the canal. When selecting a reel, line capacity and the shape of the spool are two of the most important characteristics to consider.
Personally, I would not feel comfortable fishing the canal with less than 300 yards of 40 pound braid. For casting purposes, a “tall and shallow” spool allows for longer, smoother casts. On the other hand, a “short and deep” spool will create more friction during the cast-hindering casting distance.
The Right Rod
As with fishing reels, there are a plethora of fishing rods available today that will fish the canal well. Some of these rods costs hundreds of dollars, however it is possible to find a suitable rod for around $100.
After snapping four Lamiglas rods over the course of two seasons, I decided it was time to check out a new manufacturer. For around $100 I purchased a two piece 11′ Tsunami Trophy Series rod from Dick’s Sporting Goods. I’m happy to report that for the past two seasons the rod has performed nicely, and most importantly-hasn’t snapped in half!
10 or 11 feet is a good all around rod length for fishing the canal. Often times I encounter situations in which trees or bushes hinder my back cast. An 11 foot rod has in the past been a bit too much pole for these types of scenarios. Even though it is just a difference of one foot, a 10 foot rod will make it easier to get a decent cast off despite the shrubbery and trees.
It’s important that the rod you choose have enough backbone to heave a 6 ounce jig or plug, but also enough action to give a pencil popper some wiggle and to detect when your jig hits bottom.
Be sure that the rod you are purchasing is rated to cast at least 6 ounces of weight. I’ve always chosen rods on the beefier side of the spectrum just to be safe. Before you buy, give the rod a little wiggle and envision working a pencil popper across the surface-without whacking any lights out in the bait shop.
If the rod is rated for around 6 ounces, is 10 to 11 feet in length and has a nice wiggle to it then it’s a good canal stick in my book.
From bucktails to eel skin rigs, there exists an overwhelming number of lures that jig the canal well. The important thing is to find a jig that catches fish, casts well, and one that you enjoy using and have confidence with.
As always I enjoy keeping things simple. 90% of the time I jig the canal using a 9 inch black slug-go super glued to a 4 ounce lead head. I’ve had pretty good success day or night, spring, summer and fall with the slug-go.
Maybe you will prefer tossing bucktails, Hogys, RonZ’s or a host of other artificials. As long as your chosen jig casts well and can reach bottom in a strong current, it will more than likely produce.
I seem to be most successful using a 4 ounce jig when the tide is running. Sometimes I’ll beef up to 5 ounces if the current is particularly strong. And sometimes I’ll slim down to 3 ounces when the current begins to slow.
There’s one spot in the canal that I fish regularly. This particular spot features a tall rocky peak that at low tide, probably only has around 30 feet of water above it. However to the left of this rocky peak, the bottom falls out to more than 50 feet. On the opposite side of the gulley another rocky peak shoots up 25 plus feet towards the surface. Essentially, this spot is a gigantic rocky “bowl” that bass love to check out.
The only problem is that I have never been able to land a fish heavier than 25 pounds at this spot! I’ve consistently been broken off, time and time again by big bass. I’ve tried putting the screws to the fish and playing them out. I have even used wire leaders-all have failed.
I actually headed down to this spot yesterday evening. I planned ahead and decided I’d try 180 pound fluorocarbon leader that I typically use for giant tuna.
The point I’m trying to make is that the canal is full of snags, rocks, and other sharp stuff that bass routinely use to break free. It’s vitally important to use an abrasion resistant leader when jigging the Ditch.
180 pound fluorocarbon is definitely overkill for most canal jigging locations. 50 or 60 pound fluorocarbon is certainly a better bet. Although fluorocarbon is more expensive than similar poundage monofilament, the investment is well worth it-due to fluoro’s abrasion resistant characteristics. Fluro is pretty tough stuff and works great as a leader.
I attach fluoro to braid via a slim beauty knot.
Having the right gear at your disposal is a sure-fire way to set yourself up for canal success. If you are serious about catching fish from this slim ribbon of water, then make an investment in your gear-it may one day help you land that bass of your dreams.
As always, this is just how I like to do things. Comments are encouraged!
Follow My Fishing Cape Cod on Facebook by clicking here.
Tight lines and go get ‘em!