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Handlining For Striped Bass On Cape Cod

Ryan Collins

When I was growing up, my father and I fished "blind"without sonar and GPS. We used very basic equipment and fished from a 12 foot boat powered by a 6 horsepower engine. 

We found fish by paying attention to the wind, tide and past experiences. Instinct, determination and sheer luck also played a major role.

Since that time, catching fish from boats has become much easier. Now my father and I fish from a 21 foot fiberglass boat powered by a 150 horsepower engine, with sidescan sonar and a top of the line GPS. 

My boat fishing success is now more reliant upon my ability to use my electronics, than my understanding of the winds and tides. This realization hit me like a bag of bricks when my friend Noah and I went handlining in Costa Rica.


Since using handlines in Costa Rica, I have dreamed about using handlines for bass and tuna here on Cape Cod.

Finally the opportunity for handlining presented itself last week when I encountered acres of adult pogies, big striped bass and monster bluefish in this area off the coast of the Cape.

After several missed hits and topwater explosions, I finally had a take from a what looked to be a 20+ pound striped bass. 

I felt the sudden jolt of the bite, and the line jerked out of my hand.

Then the fish took off for the bottom and I knew I was in for a battle.

That bass snapped me off despite the 50 pound monofilament I had loaded onto the handline. I feel like I now have a better understanding of the power of a 20 pound striper, and how important it is to play the fish out and not horse him in.

Soon we were surrounded by acres of adult pogies. The area we fished during this trip was loaded with thousands, perhaps more than one million, full grown menhaden. 

The next fish to bite on the handline was even more powerful. At first the fish did not know he was hooked, but that all changed very quickly. The fish made an unexpected violent run which caught me off guard and resulted in several line gashes into my left forearm.

I spent the next hour trying to land a bass and/or a bluefish on the handline. ​I hooked up several times and watched some amazing topwater hits, which you can watch by clicking play below.

I tried like crazy to land a fish but things were not working out. By noon time we decided to call it a trip and head back to the dock. My dream of successfully landing a big striper or bluefish on the handline would have to wait until another day.

At this moment in time I'm not sure I would recommend targeting large fish on the handline. I can see how it would be easy to get the line wrapped around a finger, foot or hand, which could result in some nasty injuries.

Nevertheless I plan on continuing to give handlining a try. If you are reading this on Monday August 8th, then I am currently out in my boat fishing with handlines.

Please follow MFCC on Snapchat (username: fishingcapecod) for live updates of how today's handline trip is going, and be sure to check back here on later this week for more videos and written reports.

Members of My Fishing Cape Cod can also click below to download the location of the area fished during this trip.

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Location of the area fished

  1. The first bass I ever caught was on a hand line. I was 10 years old and out with my “Uncle Dave”, in his 14 foot wooden lapstrake hull boat. Dave had no electronics, just a knowledge of where the deep holes started and stopped out in the middle of the channel between the Chatham mainland and what we called the “Outer Bar” in those days. He gave me a roll of 40 pound test Ande line with a hook on the end and a small strip of lead wrapped around the line. A sea worm on the hook and I was good to go as we drifted over the deep trenches. I had a hit and brought the bass right up to the other side of the boat. As “Uncle Dave” was lifting the 10 pound bass up it came off the hook and fell into the water. I had been able to pull harder with the hand line than if I was using a rod and reel with a drag and the hook had pulled out. I never saw that fish but “uncle Dave” always said that “I got hooked by a bass” that day as I became obsessed with fishing for them after that.
    The technique with a hand line seems to be to try and simulate the give and take that you do with a reel. A bit like ice fishing. It’s hard to do especially with a big fish. Possible a dowel in the middle of the spool would help?

    1. Awesome story Dex, I really enjoyed that. I am sure many other folks here on MFCC also began their fishing career in similar, simple fashion.

      I am going to give the handline another try later this week (possibly tomorrow morning) and I will keep you posted!


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