March 15 2022

Herring Are On Their Way To Cape Cod


This post was originally published on March 23rd, 2021. With the arrival of herring right around the corner, I figured now would be a good time to re-publish this post.

One event which many locals and visitors look forward to each spring is the arrival of river herring on Cape Cod. Herring migrate from the open ocean into Cape Cod's streams and rivers, en route to the freshwater ponds and lakes where they will spawn.

For many centuries, perhaps thousands of years, Cape Cod herring were harvested by the indigenous Wampanoag people, and later the European colonists, for many different reasons.  

However, today river herring are a protected species on Cape Cod.


When The Herring Run On Cape Cod

Last year during the third week of March I received reports of herring being spotted in the Middleboro. Oftentimes it seems the Middleboro herring run is where the first herring are spotted in our general region. 

During 2021 I then heard about herring being spotted at a herring run in Orleans. Other herring runs on Cape Cod experienced the arrival of herring at different times, depending on the herring run.

Usually in the spring while walking my dog, I will hear ospreys and hawks chirping from high above the trees for the first time. This is a strong clue that river herring may have arrived. 

cape cod trout fishing hawk

During the spring, hawks and ospreys (plus other birds of prey such as the great blue heron) gather near herring runs. It's a feast they don't want to miss out on!

Once I hear those ospreys and hawks I will often swing by the Bournedale Herring Run at the Cape Cod Canal. Typically I see herring at the Bournedale run starting sometime in early April. 

Have you seen any herring yet this year? 

Please let me know by commenting below!

Watching The Migration At Cape Cod's Herring Runs

Visiting herring runs on Cape Cod to watch herring on their annual migration is an event that myself, along without countless others eagerly anticipate.

Cape Cod herring signify spring, which is always exciting. From March through early June, schools of herring will "sit" in pools of calm water, just out of the current, at Cape Cod's numerous herring runs.

The herring are "waiting" for the right moment, when they will surge forward into the rushing water, and continue their migration up-current, towards the Cape's many freshwater ponds and lakes.

When I was 6 or 7 years old, my parents would take me to the herring run at the Cape Cod Canal and let me "catch and release" herring with my bare hands.

Of course grabbing herring from the river is now illegal activity, but back then it was a life changing moment for me. 

Nowadays, instead of catching the herring, I prefer to photograph them underwater, and I'm learning some cool new things from the footage.

For example, if you look closely at the image below, then you might notice that one of the herring has what appears to be scratch marks on the top of its back.

I was thinking that this herring could be the survivor of an attack from an osprey or hawk.

I can imagine, for example, an osprey swooping down from above and encircling its talons along the dorsal of this herring. 

Special thanks to My Fishing Cape Cod member Matt Murphy who shared the above photo here inside our forum. Matt photographed this osprey with a herring on April 9th 2020 in the town of Dennis.

I am sure there was a struggle, which resulted in the herring breaking free and dropping back into the relative safety of the stream. 

All I can say is I was fascinated by these fish as a kid, and I am still fascinated by them today!

Where To Watch Herring Run On Cape Cod In 2022

One of the cool things about herring is that they have a funny way of making it into "secret" streams and ponds that few people know about. If you spend some time exploring, then you might stumble across one of these little-known herring runs.

However, most of the major herring runs on Cape Cod are well known to the general public, and there are many Cape Cod herring runs where you can watch the herring on their annual migration.

Below are some of the better-known herring runs on Cape Cod that I'm aware of. I developed this list a long time ago, and I am by no means a herring run expert, so please forgive me if I've made any errors in this list.

If you have an intimate knowledge of the areas below and believe I have made an error, then please kindly let me know in the comments

1) Bournedale, Cape Cod Canal

2) Mill River, Sandwich

3) Stony Brook, Brewster

4) Bee’s River/Herring River, Eastham

5) Herring River, Wellfleet

6) Sparrow Pond, Orleans

7) Chathamport Alewife Brook, Chatham

8) Herring River, Harwich

9) Swan Pond, Dennis

10) Bass River, Dennis/Yarmouth

11) Parker River, Yarmouth

12) Centerville River, Barnstable

13) Herring River, Marstons Mills

14) Mashpee River, Mashpee

15) Santuit/Cotuit River, Mashpee

16) Quashnet River, Mashpee

17) Childs River, Mashpee

18) Coonamessett River, Falmouth

19) Many of the various ponds located in Falmouth

20) Red Brook, Bourne

21) Monument River, Bourne

Certain groups on Cape Cod are also doing amazing work restoring herring runs which have been damaged by development. Most notably, the damming of rivers and streams has had a detrimental impact on river herring habitat.

One interesting project which I hope to see come to fruition is the restoration of the Herring River in Wellfleet. This is such an incredible area of Cape Cod, and a lot of great work has already been done to help restore the river to its pristine state.

I thank anyone who is involved in this type of commendable work!

Cape Cod Herring Caught On Video

If you are just as fascinated by the herring migration as I am, then you might enjoy the following video.

Some of you might actually recognize this video as part of the "Angler Education" series which has been airing during commercial breaks of season four of My Fising Cape Cod TV.

These segments feature my favorite underwater and drone footage of Cape fish and wildlife.

Please click play below to watch! ?

In Conclusion

More schools of herring will arrive with each passing week throughout the spring. Once the month of May rolls around, striped bass will arrive on Cape and will begin hunting the herring.

Right now is without a doubt one of the most exciting times of the season. I know many people are "chomping at the bit" for the saltwater season to kick off, and the arrival of the herring is always great to see.

I've included some more links below for members of My Fishing Cape Cod who are interested in learning more about herring.

Please LMK if you have any questions or herring reports of your own by leaving a comment below. 

Tight lines! ?

Learn more about herring

If you'd like to learn more about the herring migration, then we have the following content here on My Fishing Cape Cod which you might be interested in. ?

Access The Full Episode

This river herring video was part of our Early Spring Saltwater Fishing episode. Members can click below to access the full 28 minute episode.

Watch More Angler Education Videos

Members of My Fishing Cape Cod can watch more Angler Education videos by clicking here, and new videos will be added throughout 2022.


Have you seen any herring in the runs?

Let us know by commenting below!

  • Not sure where sparrow pond is , but Pilgrim Lake to the saltwater inlet at KescayoGansett Pond , now I’m aware that many places on cape can have more than on name, but the second one for this area is Lonnies Pond.

  • I never understood why the Middleboro run is always way ahead of others on Cape Cod. It was especially confusing since the town of Middleboro is both further inland and further North than Bournedale, Brewster, and all of the other Upper Cape runs. Then last year my friend Tom and I visited Middleboro while the Herring Migration was in full swing with Herring in the run then reentering the river above the dam. Some research before our trip provided that the answer is access to the ocean, not proximity nor geographical location. The connection from the ocean to Middleboro starts in Mount Hope Bay near Newport, RI. From the bay, the Herring enter the Taunton River which winds northeast then connects with the Nemasket River in which the Herring swim upstream on their way to spawn in the Assawampset Pond complex in Lakeville, MA. The Middleboro run is in the middle of the Nemasket River stretch of their journey. So the Middleboro run is independent from the other Cape runs and actually on a timetable more aligned with that of Rhode Island than that of Massachusetts. Thus, the appearance of Herring in Middleboro should signal the start of the season in Rhode Island but mean that we still have about three weeks to wait for them to appear in Massachusetts waters.

  • A great blog with lots of beautiful pictures. Love the herring video too. I have been noticing a lot of hawks while driving lately. The “vibe” of Spring is in the air! Thank Ryan, great job as always.

    • I’ve also been seeing more hawks than usual this week. There is also a group of beautiful ducks in the abandoned cranberry bog behind our house. The ducks arrive each year during early March. I am still waiting to hear an osprey, but I’m sure I will soon. Have a good day!

  • Ryan, I coordinate the volunteer herring count for Orleans. Herring showed up about 2 weeks early this year, arriving in decent numbers March 14th. A second surge came in yesterday. We have a small run compared to Bourne, and Stoney Brook in Brewster, but numbers have increased over the past 5-6 years which is encouraging. Should be good “schoolie” bass fishing soon in certain areas of Pleasant Bay, such as up in The River, and Lonnies Pond (AKA Kescayoganset) where the herring run is located, and also along the sandy bluff on Strong Island in Big Pleasant Bay. Ospreys are also here now. Loved your video!

  • Any change in season is still a real kick for me, senior citizen that I am. Spring is my true joy and your herring video signals the annual regeneration of species and hope for the future. Your video captures both and it inspires me for yet another season on the salt. Good job!

  • I checked out the herring run at the Brewster Grist Mill over the weekend (3/27/21). There were a few (a dozen) swimming about. The Harwich run with the electronic counter was at 428. They are slowly working their way here.

  • Ryan! That is so cool! Yes! now I remember the voice actors name, David Attenborough. Great job! Some day I’ll be saying “I knew you when!” Strong work!

  • Tom and I went scouting yesterday. Stopped by both the Middleboro and Bournedale runs. Middleboro is in full swing with Herring in the run and then reentering the river above the dam. I have always wondered why Middleboro starts so far ahead of the other Cape runs. Found the answer with some research before our trip. The connection from the ocean to Middleboro starts in Mount Hope Bay near Newport, RI. From the bay, the Herring enter the Taunton River which winds northeast then connects with the Nemasket River in which the Herring swim upstream on their way to spawn in the Assawampset Pond complex in Lakeville, MA. The Middleboro run is in the middle of the Nemasket River stretch of their journey. So the Middleboro run is independent from the other Cape runs and actually on a timetable more aligned with that of Rhode Island than that of Massachusetts.
    There were no Herring at the Bournedale run although there was a good sized Yellow Perch finning in the current

  • Ryan I love the angler education videos! Who is the lovely English narrator!? In this herring video? Sounds familiar, like someone I’ve heard on Nat Geo or something! Great job! Thanks!

    • The narrator is Scott Tunnix. He’s from the UK and is a professional voice actor. He does a pretty good David Attenborough impersonation (David is the world famous narrator for Discovery, Nat Geo etc.), and that is probably why the narration sounds so familiar to you. Lots of fun creating these videos!

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