The past 7 days have been a lot of fun for yours truly and I am already chomping at the bit for this weekend! The fish are here and the weather’s been cooperating, so I can’t ask for much more than that.
In this post I will recap what I have found this past week fishing on Cape Cod, and I will share with you some “best guesses” of what to expect this weekend.
After releasing the fifth schoolie bass of this the trip, I decided that was enough for me.
When I was younger I would have continued fishing and catching to my heart’s delight. I vividly remember one trip 15 years ago when I caught 85 schoolie stripers in just 3-4 hours of fishing.
That’s what you do when you’re a kid. You catch as many as you can. Then you try to catch the biggest that you can. Finally you get to the point where I feel I am at now, which is to catch a few, and then leave the rest alone.
This is a guest report and photo contest entry from Brian Atchinson, local Cape Cod recreational fishermen.
Only 3 more months to go until the bass return! Do you have an epic 2011 report or striped bass fishing story you’d like featured on the blog? Send it over to firstname.lastname@example.org for your chance at free eBooks and charter fishing discounts.
By Brian Atchinson
My most interesting day on the water this year was certainly not my best! Early in June I had gotten on a hot striper bite in Cape Cod Bay. The day before I had crushed them with my father and girlfriend.
Brian with a beauty-moments before engine trouble cut his trip short.
My brother (not a big fisherman) had not been out on the water yet, so I convinced him that he had to get in on the action. We got out there at first light, same spot we hammered them the day before, and of course…. there were no fish to be found. We trolled around on top of Billingsgate, in the deep water off the north, over towards Wellfleet, and finally found them back where we started on the southern edge of the shoal. After looking for several hours we had finally found the fish and the bite was amazing!
We were on the fish for all of 3 minutes and were doubled-up when the motor stalled. I didn’t think too much of it as I was in the middle of battling my first striper of the day. We both landed our fish and it was time to get back over on the breaking school of bass. I went to start the motor and it only turned over. I tried again…. just turning over. Long story short, the fuel pump had seized up while we were fighting the bass and our day was over… just as soon as we found the fish.
The Sea Tow captain was great, and was out there in less than an hour to give us a pull back in. However, bobbing helplessly in the ocean while watching breaking bass out of casting range was a pretty tough pill to swallow. As you can see, my brother was not a happy camper on the tow back to Sesuit!
A lot of effort goes into catching a tuna. Especially when you are just starting out.
Even though we have caught numerous tuna in the 50-170 pound range, and one tuna over 670 pounds, I’d say we are still in the “starting out” phase-especially compared to some of the top tuna veterans in the Cape Cod area.
Believe it or not, there are some guys on Cape Cod who catch 20 or more giant tuna each season! And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’m sure there are some who catch way more than that.
The good news is that if we can catch a 600 plus pound giant tuna in our 21 foot boat, then you can too. Catching a tuna from a small boat does take some effort, patience, and a lot of time, but it can, and will happen if you give it 110%.
It all began with a bluefish surfcasting tuna bait run Wednesday evening. We’re pretty sure we’ve found a spot down Cape that will consistently produce small bluefish from shore-which is a rarity. The spot offers easy access to a deep, dredged out channel that is currently holding a ton of baby pogies.
Only problem was the tide was slacking when Mazzola and I arrived at the spot. Like usual, there were a ton of juvenile menhaden, but really not much life at all in the form of bluefish. We saw a few blues break the surface here and there, but ended up getting skunked. I think things will be different if we hit up this shorebound spot half way into the incoming tide.
The weatherman was calling for southwest winds of 5-10 mph for Thursday, so we decided to make our first giant tuna trip of the fall yesterday morning. Hopefully the blues we had stowed away in our bait pen were still alive and kicking, and ready to be fed to some tuna.
In my opinion, September is the best month for fishing Cape Cod. The early morning air has a crisp bite to it that was not present during August, the crowds at the boat ramp dissipate, and the fish show up in larger numbers and are more aggressive.
Being surrounded by bass while standing in two feet of water is always exciting. The experience is even cooler when the fish are feeding way back in a tidal creek, in the troughs between sandbars.
At Old Harbor Creek in Sandwich, schoolie stripers, as well as small keepers, have been flooding the tidal pools and shallow water in the mid to upper reaches of the creek on each incoming tide. On the flood, dozens of fish infiltrate the creek, attracted by the smorgasboard of baitfish, crabs, eels and who knows what else, that call the creek home.
This tidal pool had dozens of bass zipping around in it as soon as the tide began to come in.
The creek is chock full of undulations and structure. Much of the creek is completely exposed at low tide. Mounds of sand bars can be seen in the distance. Throughout the estuary, gulls and Blue Herons pick at food hidden under just inches of water. Old and broken lobster pots, half covered in mud, ironically provide a nice home for green crabs. Kids and their parents build elaborate sand castles, and float down the creek in inner tubes.
Needless to say there is a lot happening at Old Harbor. However there is even more life hidden underneath the water’s surface. Mixed in amongst the sand bars and mud flats are the tidal pools. At low tide, anything that swims is forced into these tidal pools, which are often no more than four feet deep.
Having all this bait jam packed into just a couple pools of water makes hunting much easier for striped bass. Stripers are very cunning creatures and fully exploit this opportunity. Some bass will remain in the tidal pool throughout low water, terrorizing the bait that is stuck in the pool. Most of the fish squeeze into the tidal pool once the tide begins to flood back into the creek. The bass ride in from Cape Cod Bay on a gushing flow of cool, oxygenated water.
Dozens of stripers entered Old Harbor’s tidal pools this past Thursday and Friday within the first few minutes of the flood tide. I could see the fish zipping by me, chasing mummichogs and other small minnows. For such skinny water, some of the fish were surprisingly large-pushing the 35 inch mark.
A blue heron stakes his claim at one of Old Harbor’s many tidal pools.
The baitfish did not stand a chance as the bass began their assault. Fish began breaking all around me as the current increased. A few fish were cruising behind my legs in less than a foot of water. Before I knew it, I was surrounded!
These stripers were fearless, and had no trouble chasing down minnows in just inches of water. At one point, a cut in the sandbar to my left held around 10 bass in no more than eight inches of water.
I was casting live eels and having no trouble enticing the fish to strike. Bass after bass would take a swipe at the eel, or chase the eel up to my feet. Unfortunately none of the fish seemed interested in finishing the job by gulping down Mr. Wiggly. Before I realized it, I was up to 21 hits without a single hook up! These bass were terrorizing the eel and teasing me, but did not seem interested in swallowing the eel.
The action lasted until an hour and a half after the tide change. At this point, enough water had entered the creek to free the bait from the tidal pools. The bait and bass were now more spread out, thus proving more difficult to locate and entice.
Final tally for the trip was an incredible 0 for 21! Figuring it had something to do with my choice of live eels, I returned to the creek on Friday with unweighted slug-gos. Final tally for Friday, 0-11! The fish were everywhere, but boy were they tough to hook.
I think my hook up ratio will improve dramatically when I return to this spot at the same tide during October, when the bass are bit less fussy.
If you forget a dry rag, like I did, use sand to help get a grip on a live eel.
Which brings us to the dilemma of actually getting to the spot in the first place. Some of the best tidal pools in the creek are only reachable via a short swim or paddle. This can be a dangerous undertaking when the current is cranking, as it was this past Thursday and Friday.
I planned ahead and brought along a Coast Guard approved Type I PFD (life jacket) as well as flippers. On top of that I am a relatively strong swimmer. However even the strongest of swimmers can tire easily in a strong current. I had to enter the creek one hundred yards up-current of my target on the opposite shoreline. This way I could enter the water while wearing my PFD, kick hard with my flippers, and ride the current to the opposite shore.
The crazy things we do to catch a fish.
It was a lot of fun, however this type of scenario can quickly turn into a nightmare if you do not take the proper precautions, or if you are prone to panicking while swimming in a heavy current etc. Sadly, people do lose their lives each year fishing in areas with strong tides.
So in conclusion, fishing the tidal pools of Old Harbor Creek was awesome, even though I did not land a fish. I saw tons of bass in very skinny water, and located a prime spot to try during the fall migration.
The necessary tools for fishing the backwaters of tidal creeks-a life jacket, flippers, water proof bag, eel bag, and a fishing rod.
I’m still 0 for 14 on my Cape Cod Surfcasting Challenge. I think catching a striped bass from shore, from each of the Cape’s towns, may prove to be a lot more difficult than I initially imagined.
Do you guys/gals have any spots on the sand you think I should try fishing? I am definitely going to need some words of wisdom and insight. Does anybody know any easily accessible, and productive areas in Dennis, Yarmouth or Harwich?
This giant tuna article was published in June of 2011.
With reports of seriously big tuna being spotted by planes flying over Cape Cod Bay, it may be time to start thinking about drifting a bluefish off Sandy Neck.
A plethora of mackerel invaded Cape Cod Bay over the past few days. Some nice bass and blues have been caught by anglers trolling tube and worm rigs around the mackerel schools. However you can be sure that stripers and bluefish are not the only predators that have taken notice of the large amount of bait currently present in Cape Cod Bay.
The stickboats have been having good success off the backside of the Cape and around Provincetown. I would not be surprised if we soon hear of giant tuna being harpooned inside the Bay sometime over the next few days.
Beefy tackle in the form of 80 and 130 class reels are a necessity for rod and reel anglers set on catching giant tuna.
The nice weather predicted for this weekend presents a great window of opportunity for small boat tuna fishermen hoping to hook up close to home.
Recently fishermen departing from the East End of the canal have reported bait balls of tinker mackerel extending from the Sandwich shores, well eastward off Barnstable. Odds are this is not the only area in the Bay holding mackerel.
Areas to Check Out
The Fishing Ledge, which sits almost smack dab in the middle of Cape Cod Bay, could be a prime spot to take a look for Charlie (tuna) this weekend. If the seas are glass calm, keep your eyes peeled for giant tuna cruising just underneath the surface.
Giant tuna will often create a V-shaped wake as they cruise just inches under the Bay’s surface. If you plan on targeting smaller tuna on spinning gear, it may be smart to gauge the size of the tuna before casting.
Last year, around this time, tuna in the 150 pound range could be found a few miles north of the Fingers outside Barnstable Harbor. This class of fish would be much better suited for spin fishermen, compared to some of the larger specimens being caught by the stickboats and anglers utilizing heavy conventional tackle.
The area referred to by old timers as the Square off Billingsgate may also be an area worth taking a ride too. A smart tactic would be to spend the early hours of the morning catching bluefish over the shoal, and then drifting the blues in the deeper water west of Billingsgate in the afternoon.
The bluefish I have seen so far this week in the Bay have all been monstrous. We had good success on fat, 34+ inch blues on Thursday. These larger specimens of the bluefish population make prime bait for giant bluefins.
Techniques to Try
Kite fishing is one of the most exciting ways to catch a giant tuna. It’s essentially the same thing as topwater bass fishing, except the fish is about 100 times bigger.
Details matter when kite fishing. Using braided line on Penn 80 or 130 conventional reels can really help a kite to fly high and strong even in a light breeze. Dropper lines set at intervals from the line running off the kite rod will help to decrease the severity of the angle of the main line running from the reel to the bait. “Bridling” baits can help to increase the longevity of precious live bluefish, pogies and mackerel.
Nothing beats seeing a giant tuna at boatside. Photo courtesy of TR Schilb.
Balloon fishing allows a tuna fisherman to strategically place live baits at specific depths. An appropriate size egg sinker, say 8 ounces, is attached a distance up from the live bait on the main line using an elastic band. If the depth you desire to place your bait at is 80 feet, then 80 feet of main line is paid out. A balloon is then attached 80 feet up from the live bait. Float the balloon away from the boat and start the drift.
We’ll discuss the finer details of balloon fishing in subsequent articles. Until then, tight lines and good luck in your pursuit of giant tuna!