December 30 2023

Chasing “The End”

by Calvin Toran-Sandlin

*This report and accompanying comments were first shared inside our private members' forum.

On a cool December 27th night my headlight cuts a winding path through the foggy dark for what may very well be my last hopeful trip of the year.

Gearing up quickly and quietly, I grab my rod and surf belt, and check the tide one last time before creeping into the night.

Picking a familiar hidden path across boggy ground, I move through the wrack lines and flattened grass, around the sucking holes that threaten boot and leg. The sod banks descend on glassy waters, misted with a heavy haze of low hanging mist.

A silent rip rolls through, lost in the shadows of the opposing bank as it slowly settles into the still of slack. Nearing the top, it's a final window in one of the last tides of my striper season.

Searching for Elusive Winter Bass

The heart of the surf has now faded and the last of the migrators are long gone from our inshore waters. In this cold tail end of the season, the final prospect of a bass rests in the quiet waters, deep in the rivers and bays that interrupt the sandy coastlines.

These dark backwaters seem all but removed from the washed boulder fields and sweeping beaches of the Cape’s surf. The bass that inhabit these waters are unique and hardy. Stubborn holdouts, lurking against the expanse of mud and grass in this unique aquatic environment.

Finding these fish can be difficult, while actually enticing a feed is all but daunting. I search the back for these holdovers much the same way I would break down a boulder field during the height of the run - by locating convergences of moving water, staging and forage.

In these systems the holes and undercuts of the muddy bottom offer bass an opportunity to feed and rest. At times a small population of resident fish may spend the entirety of a winter sequestered in one particular cove or depression and special care has to be taken to not overpressure these individuals.


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About the author 

Calvin Toran-Sandlin

Calvin is a passionate surfcaster who grew up in the town of Falmouth here on Cape Cod. Calvin joined My Fishing Cape Cod as a member back in April of 2020, and he quickly became one of the top posters inside our forum.

  • Calvin you have written a great story in regards to winter local bass fishing It was also a wake up call for yours truly from other times when it was more common to find more out winter fishing for bass then it is today , To help answer the question by our leader Ryan in regards to Hold over reproduction . Factually we did have many areas where the winter holdovers produced during the times they spent inside these hidden locations and that would be evident by the amount of small 6 to8 inch bass that were available to be caught during the spring run if fish.
    It is sad to say that most of these marked fish have been caught and removed from the resource , but we still have a few locations where they can be caught through the ice if we ever have ice. The department of Marine fisheries will deny that they never did have a population of bass that reproduced, because they could never find any roe [eggs] when they dragged netting wherever they did. One of the more well known locations was here in Sandwich where those winter fishing with fly rod were able to latch onto some rather nice specimens. Scortan Creek .
    The same could be said about Town Neck . I had a friend that between he and his son had caught no less then 9 fifty pound plus fish from Old harbor during the spring runs in another time. He had them all mounted in his living room.
    That was until we had a complete freeze of on the water surface and the ice became so heavy when a minus tide hit us the ice imploded trapping and killing the majority of the bass that had spent the winter over many years were killed. THis was at Scortan Creek .

    If I can recall the numbers of fish was a high number , which one would not expect to find during that time of the year still around, but these fish were marked to do just that. High numbers and an assortment of sizes, from small to large . How can one dispute the facts over many years that not all striped bass migrated back South. That also many of the spring run fish were actually local tribes going on a journey to put on the feed bag looking for herring , sea worms, sand eels. Some of our runs also came from places like Canada and the more colder water tribes that had managed to adapt in some manner to keep the population going.
    Every one would always wait for memorial day to head down to the cape to be into the spring run bass from down south, while those who had experiences catching them before Memorial day in the months of March and April at the mouths of most river systems along with cod told a different story that has been denied for what ever reason. It happened , my log books that remain from that time frame show a clear pattern, it existed . Some of those fish of recent years that were in suicide mode and being removed inside the canal also were some of the marked local tribes. Like Calvin, we caught so many 6 to8 inch bass up inside the River system, you would have thought you were fishing in a fresh water pond for blue gills. These fish never made any long journey from a far away place, but found a place to survive and reproduce, back during those early times. Right here along our coast line . Peace and Prayers

  • Striking out finding holdovers. I’ve been looking deep in estuary systems tracking through marshes with no luck and I’m trying to figure out if I’m wasting my time on entire watersheds or if I just haven’t found em’. Some questions for anyone who has gotten them in January or February…

    How much do you consider tidal current when scouting new spots?

    Should I be looking near ponds/more still bodies off the main estuary system?

    How important is it to find holes deep enough to create thermoclines?

    Do they move location much with the tide? Stay in a hole?

    For those catching recently, are you returning to the same spot(s)?

    If so, do you ever get skunked when you KNOW they are there and just not biting?

    • considering tidal current is really spot dependent at least for me, Some spots I hit are closer to the ocean and some spots look like a freshwater pond. if I’m fishing a less tidal “freshwater” situation I focus less on the tide and more on where I think they’ll set up (deep hole/choke point etc.) so yes, definitely check out those salt ponds less effected by tides with darker murky brackish water and a muddy bottom.

      in terms of the importance of finding deep holes – I have caught small holdovers in January in very shallow water in a tidal estuary situation directly behind a beach. I’d say that it’s more likely you’ll find fish in a deep hole BUT I’ve been standing thigh deep in the water casting into a hole and fish pop behind me in jan/feb… so I often fish holdover spots like im fishing for largemouth, fishing the whole area deep and shallow rather than focusing on one specific hole/rip/seam etc. because despite what we all think they continue to prove us wrong LOL

      I think in tidal situations they definitely can move with the tide, that’s just based on a few spots I fish that will only produce fish surrounding low tide… It could be that they are down in a hole and it’s easier to access them at low? They could just be hunkered down there at high tide and not eating. who knows? some one here probably does.

      I do return to spots frequently even if I get skunked several times, This time of year I focus less on tidal estuary situations and more on muddy freshwater like situations less effected by tide. A few spots I catch my bigger winter bass at I often catch largemouth in the same outing.

      towards the end of feb into march I’ll start focusing more on those tidal situations, but still hitting my salt ponds in the mix

      yes i’ve gotten skunked when I know they are there. we’ve heard them pop and seen them in the water and didn’t even get a hit fishing for several hours. frustrating.

      Also, I’d say 9/10 bass come at night with low pressure and unseasonably warm temps

      That’s just my two cents, hope it helps you out!

  • Way to go Calvin completing the 30in+ holdover challenge. Great write up too! I felt like I was out there alongside you.

    What are you thoughts on whether or not these bass are spawning in some of these holdover areas come springtime?

    For example, I can’t imagine a 25 pound holdover that spent the winter on Cape Cod is going to swim south to the Hudson or Chesapeake to spawn.

    I’ve always been curious if there are some special spots around here where bass are reproducing.

    • Congrats Calvin! This experience was written like poetry, a beautiful read. Congrats on a beautiful fish! Thanks for the beautiful share.

    • Ryan, speaking from my experiences I can tell you we occasionally run into very small bass, often in the 8″ to 10″ range or smaller far into the back in late Feb into March. These fish are healthy, bearing the colors of the local holdover populations, the size and timeframe doesn’t line with any migratory pattern’s. Couple that with a small but evident winter population of breeding class 25# to 35# fish and I would think that it’s a safe bet that at least a percentage of these fish are bred in local waters. This holds true for a number of watersheds from RI up to ME.

    • I’ve caught some aquarium sized fish, usually in early May off a south side beach and thought the same thing. No way they migrated at that size.

  • You nailed it Calvin. Looking like Santa in the surf carrying your gift bag. Way to Represent the Hold over area. Nice fish Dude.

    • I’ll give them a break in the new year, as I said there’s no need to pressure these fish past a point. When the first rumors of herring start coming in the big girls will wake up. Those spitting, low pressure night tides at the end of February and into March are an excellent shot at an early season 20 or 30 lb fish to kick things off.

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