July 17 2020

How to Rake for Sand Eels on Cape Cod

32  comments

ryan collins my fishing cape cod breakfast

Note from Ryan: This post was originally published on August 4th of 2015. I figured now would be a good time to re-publish this post, because there has been growing interest in the forum about raking your own sand eels.

This past Friday morning I received a text message invitation from MFCC member "frankzappa" asking if I would be interested in raking up some sand eels.

I have always wanted learn how to rake sand eels so I jumped at the opportunity.

We launched Frank's 14 foot tin boat at 4:30PM.

More...

tin boat fishing on cape cod

Our plan was to rake sand eels 1.5 hour before until 1.5 hour after low tide.

The wind was blowing at a moderate speed, and although we were in a protected bay, we still paid attention to the chop, and wakes created by larger boats.

After a nice cruise we reached our destination, which can best be described as a Cape Cod "tropical paradise."

cape cod's tropical sand flats

Frank maneuvered the boat around the sand flats until he found the perfect spot.

cape cod sand flats tin boat

It was then time to go to work. 

We both grabbed rakes and began scratching up the sand flats all around us.

ryan collins raking sand eels on cape cod

I soon had a couple sand eels on the rake. Success!

sand eels on rake cape cod

Then Frank started hitting them hard. He had found a sweet spot right next to the boat, where a large number of sand eels had gathered.

raking sand eels in tidal pools on cape cod

We stayed in this general area for the entire trip because there was no need to move. The sand eels kept filtering into the sand beneath our feet.

We tossed the sand eels into a basket which was tied to a belt.

sand eel basket

This convenient contraption was designed by Frank and is not available in tackle shops!

Sunscreen, sun glasses, a light t-shirt, bathing suit and some sort of footwear to protect your toes from crabs is a good idea.

raking sand eels on cape cod

By the end of the tide we had filled 2 plastic bags with a couple hundred sand eels.

fresh sand eels for bait on cape cod

Both Frank and I have plenty of fresh bait for stripers and fluke!

I hope to give these sand eels a try throughout this week.

How You Can Do This!

Raking sand eels is a lot of fun, plus it's simple! Fresh sand eels make great bait for striped bass and fluke.

However there is a learning curve involved, which is why I created the following 5+ minute video which includes more information about the technique, gear and best areas.

Thank you Frank for sharing your expertise! Myself and the rest of MFCC really appreciate it.

Click play below to watch.

What do you think?

Let me know by commenting below.

About the author 

Ryan Collins

I'm fortunate to have grown up on the beach, and I've been fishing since kindergarten. I have great family, friends and fishing experiences to be thankful for. Just being out there is enough-catching fish is just a bonus!


  • Raking for sand eels is a art that the shore fishermen should attempt to learn. The Physical motion is how you apply pressure to get the most effort for your attempt to rake them from the sand. One hand on the lower part of the rake applies pressure in an upward motion while the upper hand applies the pressure in a downward motion. Once you have them in a container , simply place in a flat tray with all of the sand eels out straight and pat dry, before placing in bags and on Ice [very important to ice them down ] If you decide to freeze them do it right away, not wait and keep them straight in the bag for best results. If you have some that you have not injured in the raking process you can obtain a container of sand they are in and put them in the container and cover. WE have kept them alive for 4 to 5 days on the beach in another time. One can hook the sand eels like a sea worm starting with the head or allow the hook to penetrate the tail end in two places and let hang. One of the best sand eel rakes around is made right here on Cape Cod and is called the Ribb rake, Made by a Mother and daughter team . Peace and prayers Carl

    • I need to correct my physical approach i posted it is incorrect. The lower hand applies pressure in a downward thrust while the upper hand applies it in an upward thrust. Work both together on the rake handle . Peace and Prayers Carl

  • can anyone recommend decent sand eel raking spots in buzzards bay area? backside of taylor point near mass maritime? Back River? dike?

    • I have not raked for sand eels in Buzzard’s Bay, but I would give the Mashnee Flats a try. Maybe look for areas where the terns are diving. Back River could definitely be worth a shot. If that fails, then maybe try the northside at Town Neck or Scusset Beach. Gluck and LMK how it goes! ?

  • Excellent pictures and video Ryan. Brought back memories from the early 80s raking sand eels at Race Point and the Pamet River. Dead low at the Race was usually amazing and using them on that incoming tide was money. Also, cash at times as vacationers would pay up to $5 for sandwich bags of them! We used an Up and down rig with a few on each hook. Also, the low tide flats in your front yard used to have them. Check it out!

  • Do you brine them or add anything to toughen up? Every time I tried keeping some they turn really soft and barely stay on the hook.

    • Hey Brian! Good to hear from you. To be honest, I don’t consider myself a sand eel fishing expert. I need to do more of it in order to offer any first-person advice. I’ve never experimented with a brine.

      However, when I used to work at a bait shop, I remember it being really important that we sold the sand eels quickly after we got them in. I think they will fish best the day you caught them.

      Do you remember how many days old the sand eels were that you tried using? Were they ever frozen?

  • I have done well netting eels in the Canal, though this year they are super scarce. I think the dredging of the Canal this year temporarily disrupted the habitat. I have a rake but have yet to try it… Any suggestions for a decent spot to try..

    • Very interesting observation Peter.

      For raking eels in the canal you might want to try along the Scusset Jetty at low tide. Perhaps this is where you have netted them in the past.

      I’m not sure if you want to travel, but I would imagine the creeks nearby the canal would also have some sand eels. Maybe a low tide spent raking the tidal pools would produce enough sandeels for a fishing trip.

      Let me know if you give it a try and good luck!

  • Great information……………thanks a bunch!
    Built myself a sandeel rake 15 years ago, have never used it successfully.
    Hopefully now this will change after viewing your tutorial.
    I am retiring this fall to CC; have a house in Eastham.

  • Yes they are Ed. That is because I made them myself. I like them longer than store bought ones. I find them easier to use. I always seemed to be falling off the end of the store bought ones I have owned in years past so being that I am a machinist I just made them myself out of tubular aluminum to be a little more comfortable on my boney shoulders. I used hardened ice picks for the times and stainless connections. I have made them from 6″ wide to 24″ wide to power rack them. The power raking was too much trouble so
    I cut that one in half and made 2 out of it. A little welding and Bob’s your uncle. Hope that helped. P.

  • So that’s how they rake sand eels, never put much thought in it, very interesting! I always wondered why the sand eel ended up with that hole in there side. Looks like fun!

  • Thanks… Capt. Ed Wagner taught me how to “rake” and this video reinforces yet another experience on the water.

    Thanks Ryan, Frank and Ed

  • Thanks. I have been raking sandeels for years but would appreciate a little more info on the rakes In the video. They looked like the handles were longer than any I’ve seen.

    Thanks
    Ed

    • I would guess the rakes were 6-7 feet long. I’m not sure if Mr. Zappa purchased the rakes or made them himself (he’s quite the craftsmen).

      I will say that the foam on the rakes is a great idea. It saves your shoulder from making direct contact with the metal.

      I’ll see if Frank can elaborate…

  • Great report and video ! Ryan and Frank thanks for taking the time to show us who are not in the know, how to rake em. I bought a rake last year but had no idea how to use it. Seems simple enough, hope to get out there and try it soon.

    Bart…great tip on “strippers” taking sandeels. I’ve been trying for years to catch em with $1, $2, $5, and sometimes $20’s …LOL

  • Excellent article.
    These were all over the east end of the canal last weekend.
    They were even washing up on the sand and gravel and made for great bait.
    I found about a dozen and used them to catch two strippers.
    There were people with buckets half full of them.
    Now we know how to collect them at low tide.

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