August 28 2020

Fly Fishing The Cape | with Ian Bragdon of The Goose Hummock Shop


Kevin Collins

Welcome to another edition of the My Fishing Cape Cod podcast!

This episode will be a great listen for not just fly anglers, but for anyone interested in learning about the diverse array of saltwater (and freshwater) fishing opportunities on Cape.

Today we interview Ian Bragdon-passionate fly angler and member of the team at the Goose Hummock Shop in Orleans, MA. 


Ian is a great resource for fly fishing here on Cape Cod. He's caught many species on the fly, including stripers, albies, bluefish and more.

In addition, Ian has also fished in some exotic places around the world, including the Yucatan Peninsula and the Pere Marquette River.

Ian’s dad first discovered My Fishing Cape Cod when Ian was a teenager. The site was influential in helping them get up to speed after the family moved from Michigan to Cape Cod.

Here are some talking points for this episode:

  • Fly fishing for striped bass (especially BIG stripers)
  • Best flies, tackle and most productive types of areas for fly fishing
  • Fly fishing from shore on Cape vs. from a boat
  • Fishing at night
  • The diverse array of species you can target on Cape Cod
  • Ian's plan to catch a bluefin tuna on the fly
  • Additional tips and experiences, as shared by Ian

You can click play below to listen, or scroll down to read the transcription of today's chronicles podcast.

Podcast Transcription
(for those who prefer to read)

Click to open transcription

- The My Fishing Cape Cod Chronicles are brought to you by the Goose Hummock Shops, Cape Cod's largest outdoor outfitter, serving New England since 1946. Shop them online at Welcome to the My Fishing Cape Cod Chronicles. The My Fishing Cape Cod Chronicles podcast profiles impactful members of our fishing community and beyond. Now, here's your host Kevin Collins.

- Well, hello, and welcome to another edition of the My Fishing Cape Cod podcast here from I'm your host, Kevin Collins, back with you for episode number 11 of the 2020 Chronicles podcast season. It's a pleasure to be back with you because we've got a great show in store for you today. We've got a great guest lined up. His name is Ian Bragdon and he works down at the Goose Hummock shop down in Orleans, Massachusetts. Ian is a specialist of a fly fisherman. He's been doing it pretty much his entire life. He grew up out in the Midwest and started fly-fishing at a very young age, and now he brings that wealth of knowledge and expertise right to the Goose Hummock down in Orleans, Massachusetts. So, without further ado, let's get right into "Fly Fishing Cape Cod" with our guest, Ian Bragdon. Ian, how are you this evening?

- Great, Kev. Great. Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

- It's a absolute pleasure to have you on the podcast. We've been texting a little bit the last few weeks, trying to coordinate a time to get you on, so I'm really excited to talk to you, Ian. I wanna, right off the top of our conversation, kinda introduce you to our podcast audience here. I understand, Ian, you grew up in the Midwest. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

- Yeah, I was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Super awesome state, a lot of opportunities to freshwater-fish, specifically. Salmon, steelhead, and brown trout in the Pere Marquette rivers of Northern Michigan really honed my trout fishing skills. Steelhead, or technically they're lake-run rainbows, but same thing. Salmon, it was just some great people there and great waters, and overall a great upbringing, especially in the out of doors.

- Yeah, and you probably grew up fishing with your dad and some other friends out there in Michigan, and then you decided to transition, as a family, from the Midwest in Michigan all the way out to Cape Cod. What was that like, and how old were you when you came out here to Cape Cod?

- Well, we started coming to Cape Cod just for the summers 'cause my dad grew up here. So we started coming here when I was like 10 or even 8, just for a couple weeks, and then it turned into a month, and then it turned into two months, and then all summer, and then we just decided that we were an ocean family and that the cape was just an amazing spot, so my dad actually moved out here, and I've been out here ever since.

- When you transitioned to Cape Cod, you started to dabble not just in freshwater but start to get into the saltwater game. We've talked with a couple different podcast guests so far over the last couple years about the transition from freshwater to saltwater, but, from your perspective, what was that like transferring from rivers and ponds and lakes to the Atlantic Ocean and Cape Cod Bay?

- Well, I'd tell you that the fish were faster and stronger and had sharper teeth. There were a lot of changes you have to make, but overall it's just too much fun in the saltwater. Getting used to the tides and the constant wind and the big ocean was tough, but the fishing can be so great here. So it kinda made the transition easy. Even just learning how to throw poppers and the rips at Monomoy and learning how to judge the tides and judge what bait was coming in, matching the hatch, that sort of thing, Cape Cod, with the perfect learning ecosystems, very simple. Part of it, the squid would come and then the mackerel would come and then the water would warm up and the bluefish and albies would come, so it was awesome to be able to learn that and, of course, learn it from other people like my dad and friends and MFCC or my people at the Goose Hummock, stuff like that.

- Yeah, and I know that My Fishing Cape Cod that you just mentioned was a good resource for not only yourself but your dad as you started to spend more time here. Ian, talk a little bit about what it was like when you guys first started to get involved with My Fishing Cape Cod. I'm hoping that, not just the website but also in the forum, all the other members were semi-helpful to you guys as you started to get into saltwater.

- Yeah, no, absolutely. It was a great information source. My dad used it a lot as well. But, yeah, there's nothing better than fresh information. It was a great source. We used it all the time. Whether bass or, I know he's getting more into tuna. But, yeah, we checked it a good amount. It's a great site. It's awesome that people are still so involved.

- So, Ian, the main topic of today's podcast and what we're gonna title it is called "Fly Fishing Cape Cod." I know that you're a fly-fishing guy. I wish I could say the same. I just don't seem to have the skill set or the patience for it, but it's something that I hope that, as I age and I get a little bit more patient and I have a little bit more time on my hands to practice a new craft, I'm hoping that I can kinda pick up on it, and I'll definitely rely on yourself as well as Sam Brown and some of the other great resources we have down at the Goose Hummock that fish on the fly. But what do you love the most about fly-fishing? What does it for you?

- Now, that is a very good question. I am still not sure. I don't know, it's a little more difficult and there's... It's just a peaceful, interesting way to catch fish. Also, I think my favorite part is, you're so in tune with the fish and you feel everything. You're pulling the line. The line isn't against the bail of a spinning reel. Nothing against spin-fishing. That's how I grew up. That's where I learned to love fishing. It's never fly verse spin. It's never like a competition. I just loved how you're so in tune with it, you're matching the hatch, you really have to learn the insects or the bait, whether using full sinking lines or floating lines and poppers. There's just so much info on it, I was always learning, and it just caught me and I've never looked back.

- I've heard, Ian, from several fly fishermen that I respect and that I talk to that are members of My Fishing Cape Cod, I've heard a couple guys say something to the effect that there's just something primal about it without the spinning gear. Can you relate to that?

- Yeah, absolutely. You get to feel every head shake of the fish. They rip line out of your fingers, then you get a line burn on your finger. You're feeling all the drag, scream. And also just matching the flies and tying flies that work or figuring out if it should be a spawning shrimp or just a more natural shrimp. It's real, you know, it's not scientific. It's not quite... I mean, it could be a little scientific, but it's just so involved and it makes it a lot more fun and satisfying.

- Let's get into talking about fly-fishing on Cape Cod for stripers. Let's talk about trying to catch big stripers, which is even more challenging on the fly. Plenty of guys go out and schoolie-fish the flats, and that's a ton of fun. But I know you're a guy that also likes to target some of the bigger fish and you enjoy the challenge. Can you just kind of elaborate a little bit for us on trying to target these bigger fish on the fly. Talk a little bit about the challenge and, in particular, the challenge it is to pick the best flies, the best tackle, and try to pick out an area that you can be successful targeting big fish on the fly.

- Absolutely, absolutely. I always ask clients that: "Do you wanna catch a lot of smaller fish or do you wanna target one or two really big fish?" And those big fish make the yearly trip worth it. They're a lot of fun to chase. They're difficult to catch. You usually only get a couple shots a season at those really large migrating females. So, yeah, that's definitely something I love to do. First thing first, usually a 9-weight or a 10-weight fly rod. I fish a 10-weight just because you want an intermediate or full sinking line. And you're always throwing large flies. I love the Clouser, which is a small, little deer hair fly, no bigger than two to four inches, but a lot of these fish want something in the 10-inch range. So the first thing I always tell people is, throw the biggest fly you're comfortable throwing. That definitely will help. Whether it's herring, mackerel, bunker imitations. Whether it's a big, articulated squid fly or even a big old lobster fly crawled on the bottom of the flats with an intermediate or a slow sinking line. First thing first, definitely wanna be throwing a big old cheeseburger fly at 'em.

- So when you talk about these big flies, as a guy that doesn't know anything about it, are you going and picking these up at the Goose or are you one of these guys that has a workbench down in your basement that's kinda modifying them or making them on your own? Tell us a little bit about your selection of flies.

- Yeah, both. I definitely am obsessed with tying, of course, as every tier will tell you. It's always fun to create your own version and tweak patterns and create prototypes. Whether it's bigger or smaller or more complex, definitely fun. So, yeah, I do tie the majority of the big flies, but also Goose Hummock has some great large flies, big-profile synthetic flies that are easy to cast and still hold a big profile under the water. So a little bit of both.

- That sounds good. Another thing I wanted to ask you about fly-fishing, coming from a guy that doesn't have any experience or next to no experience, is, I know you can obviously do it from shore, I see guys doing it all the time, do you have a lot of experience doing it by boat or from a boat? And talk a little bit about the challenges of trying to do it on a boat versus doing it from shore.

- Definitely, the shore, it'll be more difficult from shore. I had to shore-fish a lot before I had access to a boat, so I still love the hunt of pulling in a big fish off the sand or off the jetties. A key thing for shore fly fishermen targeting the big fish is, A, obviously, a big fly, B, an intermediate or sinking line probably in the four- to six-inches-per-second sink rate range. Some might say that's a little aggressive, but getting pretty close to the bottom and slow-stripping a real erratic strips on the evening high tides can be really productive for those big fish. And then boat-fishing-wise, boat-fishing, I always use a 10-weight as well, throwing a big 10-inch fly, whether it's a big squid or a big bunker. And that, you want the heaviest sinking line you can get, about 400 grains, close to 10-inches-per-second sink rate, 9 or 10. Yeah, they're pretty different. From a boat, you're fishing the Ritz where you're fishing big schools of bait fish or you're fishing Billingsgate depth. The depth changes and you're throwing these huge flies and you're dredging them on the bottom. Nice, slow strips kinda get the big girls to come out. And then, from shore, you kinda gotta bounce around from spot to spot depending on the tide because the prime fishing from shore really, in my opinion, only lasts a couple hours on either side of the tide. So if you miss your opportunities, then you have to wait for the tide change or you have to bounce to a different spot. Very different, but both are a lot of fun. Cape Cod's got huge access to shore spots, which is awesome. I've always loved that. Even if you don't have an expensive boat, which I don't have, great shore opportunities here.

- So let's talk a little bit about shore opportunities. You just touched on tides. I also wanna touch on something else that I find critical as a spin fisherman: time of day. I generally target two hours before high tide to two hours after high tide, that four-hour block of time.

- Exactly.

- And I try to target

- Exactly.

- before sunrise or late in the evening. I also find spin-fishing from shore inside Cape Cod Bay, that's when I tend to make the most headway and catch the greatest quantity of fish. Is it pretty much similar for the fly guy?

- The beach-fishing or the jetty-fishing, you're really just standing on the edge of these jetties with an intermediate line and you're just blind-casting off these jetties into the deeper water. So once you're comfortable with one or two spots, you can just go to those spots at night, obviously, you mentioned. At night, you definitely have better chances at getting those bigger fish. A lot of times, those huge migratory females will only, or will more confidently, I should say, not only but more confidently rush the flats and be cruising around those flats or those jetties at night. You don't wanna use your headlamp, actually.

- Okay.

- The fish do not like that. So I actually use my phone light as a light when I'm changing flies. I only use the red light

- Got it.

- on my headlamp, at times. If I do hook a fish, then I'll turn on the headlamp. But even when changing flies, you really wanna angle your headlamp down. You don't wanna be blasting that 'cause that's super, super bright under the water, and the fish are very responsive to that and they won't like that. But it can be a little tricky. You definitely want a stripping basket. All shore fishermen will know you're gonna need a stripping basket to control your line. And you're gonna wanna be comfortable in the spots you're going to. I always try to tell people you wanna fish, the spot you're gonna fish at night, you wanna fish that in the day at least two or three times. You wanna be very comfortable with parking, walking to the spot, walking in the water at night, walking on the slippery jetties at night. And also, casting. Casting the bigger flies. All fly fishermen will know the double haul technique using your left hand to manipulate the fly line. Definitely necessary when fishing from shore. But also, they say you never make a bad cast at night.

- We talked a lot about stripers just then, Ian, we spent a good portion of our chat on them, but there's also a lot of other species available on Cape Cod. I understand you're not just a striper guy. You like to branch out and also target other species of fish whether it's albies, blues that you mentioned earlier in the podcast. Talk a little bit about the other fish that you've been able to land on the fly and just about how, those techniques, maybe they're a little bit different than striped bass fishing.

- Yeah, well, the bass fishing is epic here but it doesn't always last long and sometimes there are only small fish around. Bluefish, of course, a 30-inch bluefish will rip off 100 yards of fly line or braid or whatever you're using real quick. They're a super underrated game fish. They jump out of the water. They've got sharp teeth that requires 20- or 30-pound wire. They're just super fun fish. They're even great eating. They're sustainable fish to harvest as well. Which, it's great to take a striped bass home for dinner. There's nothing wrong with that. But if you really want a lot of meat, definitely try to target a more sustainable fish species like bluefish. And, just like I said, they fight hard, super fun, they eat poppers, they eat anything. Albies also, false albacore, they also come with the warm water. Obviously, it's a mini tuna. It just screams drag. A lot of fun. And they're picky, too, sometimes, which makes it even more fun. And then there are some weird fish. Sometimes, flounder and fluke will eat flies. Black sea bass, crushed flies. Even way off shore, tuna fishing at the canyons, I've caught trigger fish and mahi-mahi on fly, casting at the high fliers that they swim around and chill around. But, yeah, a variety of species, another reason why I love the cape.

- Let's talk about bluefin. You just hit on it. It's a passion, it seems like, that is growing, Ian. And the more and more bluefin that are around, and you have a wide variety of spots, you've got out east at Chatham, you've got Stellwagen Bank, and then, all of a sudden, the last couple of years, including this year, the Cape Cod Bay bluefin population, at least this time of year, seems to be exploding. And there are some pretty epic feeds going on just inside Cape Cod Bay that are proving you don't necessarily need a 35-footer capable of going to steam 50 miles to go target bluefin. So let's talk about bluefin. I understand you have a dream of trying to hook up with a bluefin on the fly. I gotta hear more about this and what you plan on doing once you hook up.

- Yeah, bluefin are special fish, one of my favorite fish. They're absolutely insane. Probably the strongest. Not one of the fastest in the world. They're epic, and Cape Cod is just an epic environment that hosts the bait that is able to sustain such massive fish for such long periods of times. I mean, these fish are coming in June and they're staying until December. Phil and I and a bunch, Danny, the manager, and one of our marine techs, Nick Packett, we all caught a giant December 1st last year.

- Mm.

- So it's pretty insane here. The fish just keep getting bigger and they keep coming closer. Yeah, Crab Ledge, the Bank. Even in P-town, people in the bay, they're catching them right in the bay in 80, 100 feet of water. So it's quite insane. And even more insane is trying to get one on fly. It's actually been done before by a variety of guys. Some other fly guys I follow on social media who are up in Maine. They've been able to get great-sized bluefin, 40- to 60-inchers on fly. It's definitely very difficult. The success rate is about 1%. You just have to have the biggest gear. You just gotta run and gun and try to hope that you can find these fish feeding on surface. Usually, they're targeting halfbeaks or bunker or sand eels on top. You just gotta get lucky and get into a good feed.

- Ian, in your estimation, based off the guys that you know that have accomplished this feat, once you hook up with a bluefin, of, like you mentioned, that 40- to 60-inch range, once you get it on the line, you're out there in the boat and you're running and gunning, like you said, and you're trying to maneuver the fish, how long do you think it takes these guys to get the fish to the boat once they hook up?

- That's a great question. One thing that's super important is getting it to the boat quickly, especially with the bigger fish, 60 inch and above, you gotta really beat them quick. Otherwise, you can have a real long battle, and that's not what you want. That's not what the people on the boat want and definitely not the fish. You're basically using a 14- to 16-weight fly rod and a 12- to 14-weight reel. The Hatch 11 Plus that I was able to fit over 500 yards of 60-pound hollow-core, C16 hollow-core is a super cool line that's actually, obviously, hollow and it's splice-able, so not only does it lay flat so you can hold more backing but it's also splice-able so my connections are seamless. I actually have a lot more line than a lot of people think. The 100-pound core fly line is spliced into the 60-pound hollow-core. And then I'm using an 80- or 100-pound leader, so it's a really strong connection. Basically, my weakest point is about 80 pounds. So, thankfully, I'll be able to put close to 30 pounds of drag on these fish between the reel itself and me palming or cupping the spool. But I would guess in the hour range, two-hour range. I don't wanna go much longer. To be honest, you hook into the... Well, I haven't done it yet, but hopefully, you hook into the fish and you have your drag preset. It should be 20% of your line's breaking strength or something close to that. And it's gonna take the most excruciatingly long, insane run that you've ever seen. You basically don't touch the reel at all. It can break a finger.

- Oh, yeah.

- So basically you just gotta hook it and hold on. And then, after about 10, 15 minutes, then you just sock down the drag as tight as you can go and you hold on and you really just try to break that fish's spirit. If you don't tighten that drag down and just stop it, it'll never stop. So it's real important you gotta just kinda break its will.

- All right, so we're going, talking about some of the largest, most powerful fish on Earth. We're gonna pivot, do a complete 360, turn it around, come back in shore, and we're gonna talk a lot about the freshwater opportunities that Cape Cod has to offer, which not a lot of people take advantage of, especially all these great kettle ponds we have around the cape. I know that you started as a freshwater fisherman out there in Michigan. Talk a little bit about Cape Cod as a freshwater fishery and all the great opportunities that it has for fly fishermen.

- Absolutely. Totally underrated fishery. Changing out the 14-weight for a 4-weight or a 5-weight, the Cape Cod kettle ponds, I think there's over like 200 of them or 150 kettle ponds around the cape. There's just so much you can do, throwing dry flies or grasshoppers on the surface, catching smallmouth, largemouth trout. You can put on a slow sinking line and also catch trout or, using crayfish, you can target the smallmouth. Smallmouth population here is extremely healthy. They're great fish. They're even in the five-pound-and-up class range. And even the trout, they're all stocked, some are holdovers. But there are some serious fish. Some of my buddies and fellow captains that fish all around the cape, you catch 22-, 24-inch browns on big streamers or crayfish flies or... It's just a great fishery. There's perch. Yeah, and it's actually shore-accessible as well. The shore fishermen, it's great access everywhere. The ponds do sometimes get, the water levels rise, and it can be tough to wade, but if you have any waders or you just wanna wet-wade a little bit, there's a lot of shallow flats with little drop-offs here and there and structure and fallen trees for bass and trout and even pickerel. Go out there with a nice big streamer and you definitely get into some pickerel.

- So, with all this experience that you have, Ian, both saltwater and freshwater, I'm gonna put you on the spot here. Do you have a memorable experience that kinda stands out in your mind as one of the coolest fishing experiences that you've had on the fly so far in your life?

- In Cape Cod or just in my life?

- In general.

- That's a tough one.

- In general. It could be Cape Cod.

- In general-

- It could be as a little kid growing up in Michigan. Take your pick.

- In general, to be honest, my favorite fish is permit. Every year, I go down to Mexico or Belize, it's been Mexico recently, and just DIY fish all around for permit, triggerfish, bonefish. I do it with two buddies who have done it for a while now. Honestly, sight-fishing the permit that you DIY'd with your buddies on crab flies that you tied, that's pretty special. It's just an insane adventure down there. The flats fishing is pretty epic. I'd have to say, getting some of my first permit down in Mexico on full crab flies that we tied, just exploring using Google Maps, using forums, as a guide myself, I love taking guides and I encourage everybody to take guides and use local knowledge. But sometimes, you just can't. Sometimes, it's expensive. The DIY fishing is definitely super fun and it's a really great way to get out there and explore and use Google Maps. It's very rewarding, you know. But I'd have to say permit in Mexico is pretty high up there.

- All right, so you mention guide-fishing and the different fly-fishing guides that we have to offer here in Cape Cod, and I'm talking to one of them right here on this podcast. I'm a lucky guy, Ian, because you do do some guiding. Talk a little bit about what that's like. And if folks that are listening to this podcast that may be avid fly fishermen and may wanna do a guided trip or folks maybe that, like myself, that don't have a lot of experience that want a guide to teach them the ropes, what's that experience like for you and how do we get in touch with you?

- Well, absolutely. Come on in to the Goose Hummock here in Orleans. We've got a number of captains and guides who will be able to help whether you wanna chase tuna on conventional gear or fly only, a number of different ways. We have offshore trips. Captains can take you out offshore like to Monomoy where you're using heavy sinking lines and dredging big flies trying to catch, trying to get into the 30-inch-plus class game for those stripers. The boat trips can be awesome. Half days or full days. But also, the wade trips, also half days or full days, just wading the Brewster flats, sometimes getting some great sight-fishing opportunities. Or just wading out to the low tide and casting into the channels during that incoming tide, it can be great. It's a great way to learn how to cash better, learn how to perfect the double haul technique, casting bigger flies. And it's also just a great way to learn how to fish a flat or how to fish a flooding flat and fish these channels and how to find fish and how to sight fish and what a fish looks like underwater, how to match the bait. Definitely, if you ever need anything. And also, if you don't just want a guide trip and you just wanna perfect your technique, we also do casting lessons. I actually enjoy doing them 'cause my casting gets better when I do casting lessons as well. So it's a fun way to learn a variety of casting techniques, whether it's a heavy, 400-grain sinking line and a 10-inch fly you wanna get used to casting safely or if it's just presenting a tiny bonefish gotcha at 60 feet, making 80 feet, making these longer, more accurate casts at spookier fish, it's a lot of fun to work on those techniques. It's definitely the way to go.

- All right, Ian, I wanna thank you for sharing so much of your time with us and so much of your expertise with us here on the My Fishing Cape Cod Chronicles podcast. You were an awesome guest. It's been great to get to know you. I hope to get to fish with you pretty soon in the near future. But thank you for everything you do for My Fishing Cape Cod, for the Goose Hummock down in Orleans, and I'm hoping we can get you back on the podcast in the near future.

- It was my pleasure, Kev. Thanks so much for having us. Yeah, definitely come by the shop. If the weather and fish align, let's get out there and chase something. Whether it's tuna or bass, it'd be awesome.

- Thank you so much to our podcast guest today, Ian Bragdon of the Goose Hummock Shop down in Orleans, Massachusetts. Hope all of you enjoyed our chat here on this edition of the My Fishing Cape Cod Chronicles. It was great to learn a little bit more intel and knowledge about fly-fishing Cape Cod with Ian. If you like what you heard, be sure to leave us a comment in the section below and I'll be sure to get back to you. I've really enjoyed reading all of your feedback throughout this My Fishing Cape Cod Chronicles podcast season. That's gonna put the wraps on episode number 11. This is your host, Kevin Collins, signing off. Until we meet again, tight lines, and take care.

- Thanks for listening to the My Fishing Cape Cod Chronicles podcast. From all of us at My Fishing Cape Cod, tight lines, and take care.

- For the latest information on how to fish the cape, be sure to check out Become a member today and receive your first month for just $1. Join us as a My Fishing Cape Cod member.

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