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Stripers in the Snow

Winter can be a tough time of the year for us Cape Cod fishing nuts.  And guess what?  Winter on Cape Cod is just getting started...

Perhaps we'll enjoy another mild Cape Cod winter like last year.  Or maybe we'll get dumped on by snow like we did in 2011.  Regardless of what happens, we still have another 4 months to go before our migratory friends, the striped bass, return to our favorite Cape Cod fishing spots.

Cape Cod fishing during the winter can be pretty sparse.  The freshwater scene is often pretty darn good during the winter, especially if we get cold enough temperatures for ice fishing.  Other fishermen and fisher-women take to the woods to chase white tail deer, while others launch a skiff to shoot a few ducks.

Then there are those who watch the Patriots and just dream of that first Cape Cod surf fishing or boat fishing trip-still months away.  This is the category most of us Cape Cod striped bass fishing nuts fall under.

Regardless of where you fall in the winter fishing spectrum, one thing is for sure-if we are not careful, cabin fever can quickly set in.

Avoiding Cabin Fever and Fishing Cape Cod during the Winter

When I was a bit younger than I am today, the winter was just too long for me to handle.  I would lay awake at night during January and February, conjuring up new ideas and fishing tactics to use during the season.  The stretch from December thru May felt like nothing short of an eternity.

Then one day I came across an old copy of On the Water Magazine.  On the cover stood a man with a striper while snow fell around him.  "Was this some sort of a cruel joke?" I remember thinking to myself.  "Could it be true that this guy is fishing the Cape and catching bass during the winter?"

I read the article with such vigor that my eyes hurt.  According to the article, it was possible to catch stripers fishing on Cape Cod year round.  "If this guy can do it, so can I!" I recall thinking.  And so started my next Cape Cod fishing obsession-learn how to catch striped bass during the winter.

I quickly discovered that fishing the Cape for stripers during the winter  is easier said than done.  I recall dragging my Dad for hours through estuaries and marshes, trudging along in sub-freezing temperatures looking for signs of life.  I tried plugs, swimmers, jigs, and shad bodies of all sizes and shapes.  I tried different estuaries and many obscure locations, each time hoping that this spot would be the Cape Cod fishing hot spot that produced a bite.

But nothing happened.  And nothing did happen for 5 more years.

5 Years is the "Right" Amount of Time

Learning something new requires a fair amount of time, effort and energy.  If something is worth learning, it is not going to be learned instantly.  Thus far I've found Cape Cod fishing to be no exception.

Maybe I am a little slow, but for me 5 years seems to be the right amount of time to really learn something new.  Said another way, if I am hoping to tackle something brand spanking new (like catching a striper during the winter) I am most likely going to have to put in 5 years of effort before I really experience any significant results.

Thus I spent 5 years in the marshes during the winter, trying my best to figure this damn holdover striper thing out.  I had a bunch of fun, but I will admit that my hopes of success began to dwindle after the 5th winter fishing season passed by without a bite.  Yet with all this time logged in, I found it impossible to give up-thank God because I would finally crack the code the very next season.

The year it finally happened I was 19 and home for the Holidays after my first semester of college.  It was mid-December and the sun was shining nicely during an abnormally mild afternoon.  I had high hopes as always, but no real expectation of hooking a fish.  Nevertheless I set out on foot to a virgin Cape Cod fishing spot I had not fished during the previous 5 years.

I walked for a long time that day, bypassing many good looking fishing spots for no apparent reason.  Maybe I had a hunch or maybe I just didn't feel like logging in anymore "casting practice" as I had been the previous years.   I forget the reason why but I just kept on walking until I stumbled upon a section of water that looked just too nice to pass.

And then it happened. For a moment I thought I was actually hallucinating.  Was that a swirl or just my eyes playing tricks on me?  Are there really fish breaking the surface, way back here, in the middle of December-or am I experiencing some post-college freshmen party/drank too much cheap booze and now I don't know what the heck I'm looking at syndrome?

fishing on cape cod

Doubled up with a pair of winter stripers.

I made a cast towards the swirls/hallucinations and hoped for the best.  Nothing.  I made another cast.  Nothing.  As I made my third cast I was indeed starting to believe that I was seeing things.  Then my line went tight.  What the hell is happening.  My rod bent.  What is this.  Something splashed the surface.  Is that a fish?  Is this really happening?  Is it healthy to be this excited about hooking up with a striper the size of shoe?

Yes it is.  And yes, I was actually hooked up with a striped bass!

That day ended up being nothing short of epic as far as winter Cape Cod striper fishing is concerned.  Final tally, according to my 2004 fishing log, was 34 stripers between 12 and 24 inches.  I was astounded.  It was true, some bass really do spend the winter here on good ole Cape Cod.

Free eBook - Stripers in the Snow

Since that day I have returned each season to particular winter Cape Cod fishing spots with hopes of repeating that day's success.  Some winters are better than others and some Cape Cod fishing spots produce while others shoot blanks.  I've enjoyed days of double digit catches while snow pelted down from above, as well as many days with nothing as much as a sniff.

Each winter is different, that is for sure.

Yet if you are hoping to mix things up this winter and head out on your own for a chance at a winter fish, then I do think you may have a pretty darn good chance.  This striper fishing on the Cape this past season was better than normal in my opinion (as well as just about everyone I have spoken to) which means that there were a lot of fish around the Cape-right up until Thanksgiving in some Cape Cod fishing spots.

Are some of these fish spending the winter here on Cape Cod?  I believe this answer is absolutely yes.

More than likely you will have to log in some time and effort in order to find and catch these elusive winter specimens.  I'll say a silent prayer that you don't have to log 5 years like I did - LOL.

Tight lines and enjoy!


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by Ryan Collins

Ryan Collins grew up on the beach, and has been fishing since he was 5. Ryan has great family, friends and fishing experiences to be grateful for. Just being there is enough...catching a few fish is always a bonus!

  1. Hey Ryan I enjoyed this reading this piece. I was wondering as of now where would be a good place to surf cast from. Maybe some locations and what there hitting . Thank you, appreciate it

    1. Thanks John! It’s still early in the season right now for stripers, but I feel your best bet would be around the estuaries in Vineyard/Nantucket Sound as well as Buzzard’s Bay.

      They usually show up their first. I would think we would start hearing about confirmed catches beginning this week.

      Small lures like the 3.5inch Storm Shad work very well on these early spring, small stripers. Keep me posted if I can assist with anything else.


  2. What fish can be caught on the cape during winter & with what bait & lure?

    1. Hi Ed – are you looking to fish freshwater or saltwater…or maybe both?

      Let me know! I’m happy to help.


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