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It had been a while since I had been fishing in my Old Town Sportsman 106 pedal kayak. I got out a few times in the spring, but the consistent southwest winds quickly warmed up Nantucket Sound, and the night bite I wanted to fish from the kayak in the Bass River never really materialized.
That meant the kayak collected dust for most of the summer since I almost exclusively fish at night from the surf during the heart of the season. Kayaking in the dark in Cape Cod Bay with the ever-present risk of great white sharks is a little too much for me.
Kayak Fishing with Members of MFCC
However this changed when I got a text from fellow MFCC member Brian Larsen. He invited me to chase sunrise stripers and morning bluefish on the eastern Cape Cod Bay flats back on Sunday September 11th.
General area we were fishing
Brian and I met through the MFCC forum and we fished together a few times last season, both in the surf and from the kayak. While the 20-year age difference might separate some people, we both have a passion for the bend in the rod that leads us to new adventures. For this trip I also invited another MFCC member I had met through the MFCC forum, my friend Lenny Lozinsky.
A 6AM start time and a 30 minute drive prompted me to pack up the day before. I am glad I did because the night bite that evening lasted past midnight! The last thing you want is to forget a critical piece of equipment that spoils your trip because the morning coffee hasn’t kicked in!
A Flat Calm Morning on Cape Cod Bay
When we arrived at our rendezvous, the tide was still moving out and a ¼-mile stretch of sand lay exposed between us and the water. Even with the big full moon tides, I didn’t think the walk was too bad (I’m used to the water moving out a mile on my home turf around the Brewster flats).
Balloon tires on our kayak carts made the haul easier, but it was still a challenge in soft mud and sand. We were relieved when the yaks started floating just past the surf line with nothing but open water in front of us.
As soon as we had caught our breath, our focus shifted to fishing, and we quickly spotted fish in various locations within casting distance. Brian got a toss off and a good-sized splash was followed by an expletive. He got bit off, leading us to believe we missed the dawn stripers and were already into the target species - gator blues!
We then spotted a group of shadows making their way across the water nearby, headed right towards us. I cast a small topwater, a bone Heddon Super Spook Jr., in front of the shapes, hoping to elicit a strike by walking the dog in front of their path.
Heddon Super Spook, Jr (3.5", 1/2 oz)
My cast was a little short, but the fish didn’t startle, and I landed a nice mid-20 inch schoolie. I had replaced the trebles with inline singles, which made for a quick release - better for the fish and safer for me. Hope ran high for more bass among our band of amigos, but alas, that was the last sighting of Morone saxatilis for the day.
Bluefish On The Flats
We were in the remnants of the outgoing tide in two feet of water with beautiful calm conditions as the sun started to rise in the sky. Even from our low vantage point on the kayaks, we could see the dark silhouettes moving across the light sand.
Soon we were all hooking up on good sized bluefish.
MFCC Member Lenny Lozinsky and author Tim Donnelly doubling up on bluefish
The fish were on the move, so by the time each of us caught and released one or two fish, we’d typically have to search for them again. However the search didn’t take long, often just a matter of moving a couple of hundred feet or so. While mostly site fishing shadows, we also focused on irregularities in the water's surface ("nervous water") and areas of dark bottom with vegetation.
Since the stripers had probably retreated to deeper water as the sun rose and the clouds cleared, we put on larger plugs to create more surface noise. My choice was a Heddon Chug‘n Spook, again in bone, which has a cupped face to move a lot of water when worked in.
Heddon Chug'n Spook (5", 1 oz)
This might have scared stripers off in these conditions, but for a bluefish, it's the dinner bell. They are very excitable and the splashing often induces some thrilling topwater hits with multiple fish jockeying for your offering.
These choppers were pushing 30” and were well-fed. While none were big enough to develop the snub nose of a true gorilla, they had the power to burn drag on our light setups and send us for rides across the flats as we pumped and reeled them in - a modern day Nantucket sleigh ride.
Bluefish are known for their fight, but the shallow water must have inspired them, because they took runs that would make an Albie proud! More impressive than the streaks across the skinny water were the aerial displays.
Brian was a great cameraman, and captured a few in mid-air!
Author Tim Donnelly brings in a bluefish as it leaps, trying to shake the hook - photo Brian Larsen
Bluefish Digging In The Sand?
As we worked our way across the shallow flats, we could sometimes see fish finning the on the surface. However, as we came closer and got a better look, the fins we saw were often not the dorsals but the tails.
The blues appeared to be rooting in the sand, nose down. I have seen striper activity like this as they try to scare up sand eels, but this is the first time I’ve seen the behavior from bluefish (if that is what they were doing).
Surprisingly, we could not entice fish engaged in this feeding tactic with our topwater offerings. However, there were always other bluefish nearby to hit our plugs. Therefore changing our presentation to an epoxy jig or spoon to present to the bluefish that were digging along the bottom wasn’t needed.
MFCC member Brian Larsen with a healthy bluefish!
Author Tim Donnelly displaying a bluefish he caught on the flats in Cape Cod Bay.
Off in the distance, we noticed the Rock Harbor charter fleet doing their late summer dance, trolling in a well-coordinated oval, like horses staggered on a race track. The constant whoops and hollers of their customers carried across the calm water and still air. It seemed that everyone was enjoying a good bluefish bite!
There were also a couple of 20’+ center consoles in the general area looking for the bite. The commotion inspired our own hoots which let out our success be known. Nevertheless we had no worries of a boat running and gunning to our location, because one of the benefits of fishing from the kayak is that you can go to places the boats can’t. This is particularly helpful and nice on a beautiful weekend, when a lot of boats are on the water.
A Memorable Morning of Bluefishing
The hours flew by and the water got deeper as the tide continued to roll in. While I was still hooking fish with topwater, Brian and Lenny moved to jigs for a presentation deeper in the water column. The presentation was also very successful, leading to a number of catches on the Monomoy Tackle sand eel jig.
Brian Larsen with one of the many fish he caught on a Monomoy Tackle sand eel jig
It was tough to pull us away from still-biting fish, but the current had carried us far afield of our launch point. Lunch was fast approaching and we each had obligations to get to. The pedal back took a while, but thankfully Cape Cod Bay was nearing high tide, eliminating the over-sand walk that we faced earlier in the morning.
Invigorated, but tired from fighting bluefish non-stop for over 4 hours, we loaded up our gear and regrouped to say our goodbyes. While we all had lost track of the number of fish we had caught, the memories from the magnificent day on the water will stay with us for a very long time.
Another bluefish ariel display, photo Brian Larsen
I feel very fortunate to have fellow MFCC members like Brian and Lenny to fish with. They are just two of the people I have met through the MFCC forum, many of whom have become part of my fishing family.
The fall run is just beginning and I look forward to more adventures with fellow fishing zealots and enthusiasts from MFCC.
Tight lines! 🎣